Building an advisory group is a proven strategy for companies that sell to teachers and school administrators. Advisory groups can be simple or complex and can have a single purpose or many. The first step to making an advisory group part of your strategy is to consider the purpose of your group. Below I've listed five ways that advisory groups typically benefit companies that want to succeed in the K-12 school market. Read and consider these ideas, and also listen to the companion 15-minute interview with STS publisher Glen McCandless on SellingToSchools Radio.
Many companies organize and then use advisory groups to help evaluate proposed product features and to prioritize features for future development. Better alignment of product features with the needs of buyers means more sales opportunities.
In the education market, it is common to target geographic areas during a product introduction. It’s a good idea to identify those targets early in the product’s life cycle and to choose advisors who can make introductions to potential buyers in those target areas.
It's ideal if some of your advisors are members of professional associations that serve your target market and with members that match the audience for your products. Leaders of these professional associations may be able to provide your company with visibility and offer insights into how you can leverage the special programs and opportunities they offer.
Keeping current on the activities of your competition is a necessity. Knowing what your competitors are doing may not drive your decisions, but it will inform them. Sometimes advisors can contact competitors, register for their webcasts, and get information than you could not easily get.
Having subject experts on your advisory board lends credibility to the value and efficacy of your products. Associating their names with your company's name extends their brand to yours. Your advisors may speak at conferences, write articles for publications, and serve on task forces. Some may charge a fee for these types of services, so you must decide how much value they bring to your sales process.
How often your advisory group meets depends on the stage of your company and the level of advisory activity necessary to achieve the group's purpose. Group meetings should never be held more than monthly; however, you may choose to seek the help of individual members from time to time or hold meetings in conjunction with other events.
In summary, it’s necessary to have a clear set of goals for your advisory group and then, based on your goals, create a plan. You'll need to do some research, and you may benefit from the help of market experts to determine who your best candidates will be. The research process itself will likely become a valuable part of your company’s planning process. Remember that buying decisions in the education market are relationship-driven, and the relationships you create with your advisors can provide a very strong