K-12 Sales: From Pilot to Adoption

A Proven Process Turns Pilots into Adoptions

Let's set the scenario before we get going.  Let’s assume you're a manager for a company that sells instructional materials or educational software. You've built out a new product or service to meet a market need that’s already been identified and acknowledged. You've identified a geography that you have researched as a good market-entry point, and you’ve got five pilots running in that area.  These pilots, or tests, might be small initial purchases that you hope will expand to larger installations, or, you may have provided your solution for a free pilot. There are a number of things you must do to ensure these pilot sites turn into the broader adoptions you hope for and become valuable references for you, your company, and your product or service.  Let's look at a four-step pilot to adoption process. For even more insight, listen to my interview on this topic with Glen McCandless, on STS Radio.

How to Ensure A Successful K-12 Product Implementation

In beginning the project, make sure you’ve created multiple points of contact with the pilot site.  Very often companies will rely on a single point person, and that falls apart if the person leaves the school or district, is promoted, or is handed other priorities.  To be successful, your product needs to be imbedded with multiple points of contact and this may include a technical liaison, several educators, an administrator, or specialists, depending on the product.  Your staff needs to develop comfortable but non-intrusive relationships with people at the site.  Usage and results should be monitored closely and highlighted so that key personnel at the pilot are aware of what’s going on.  You may need to budge several site visits or teleconferences to ensure all of this happens.  If the pilot is showing positive results, you should move to step two.

Use Champions to Capitalize on the Success of Your K-12 Pilot Sites

There are many ways to benefit from a successful pilot, but the key is having the educators who are seeing success with your product, from the pilot site, speak on your behalf. Don't speak for them. Here’s a list of possibilities, and you should do as many as your budget allows:

  • Success Stories
  • Press releases
  • Hosting site visits at the pilot
  • Referrals from the pilot
  • Pilot connections to LEAs, service agencies, consortia and other spheres of influence
  • Conference presentations: session and having educators in your exhibit area
  • Webinar presentations (be careful, these have really proliferated)

Getting to Scale: When to Expand Sales to the School Market

Every situation is different. For starters, you need to consider how your sales team is organized, how quotas are defined, how much you can afford to spend, and how quickly you may need to scale.  I recommend that you scale up in stages.  Scaling too fast has implications for support and implementation requirements.  Adding staff to manage that growth can be very challenging and can have client satisfaction challenges.  A good approach is to look at each of your pilots, characterize them by their size, economics, staffing profile, technology capability, socio-economic characteristics, and identify target districts that mirror this profile.  School district administrators - the decision makers — like to hear about successes from schools similar to theirs.  They have more confidence that a product that has been successful in the first instance will be successful for them as well.  Of course, which characteristics matter most is a function of each unique product or service that is being offered, but I have found over many years of experience that this is a general rule. You should not expect to go from pilot sites to a full-blown national marketing and sales campaign right away.  Do your planning in phases and remember to consider the growth implications for support, implementation and training.  All aspects must scale up in parallel.  These second stage sales will teach you a lot about your product, your message, your packaging and pricing.  Be prepared to continue the learning process and make changes as needed to align more tightly with customer needs and considering competition. 

Marketing to Schools for K-12 Adoptions

Once you’ve successful migrated to growing from your pilots to your initial new sales, it's time to more heavily invest in marketing programs and honing your messaging.  It will be important at this point to identify all aspects of your sales history and everything you’ve learned along the way to craft a message that is easily understood, hits the right buyer squarely in his/her area of need, and makes the buying decision reasonably straightforward.  Getting marketing support to help you make your value clear will let you reach a broader audience.  Using the full range of communications strategies available in all types of media will make the sales process easier for your representatives.  Building company name recognition and product recognition diminishes the perceived risk for the buyer and makes it more likely that the customer will answer a phone call or set up a meeting when your sales representative calls.  If you’ve done the previous steps, it’s likely your rep will have all the tools, references, and confidence to close the sale. 

Create Your K-12 Sales Blueprint to Attract and Retain Customers

There are many layers and decisions to be made at each and every one of the steps I've described.  This article is intended to provide guidance, as an overview of some guiding principles. How to move from pilot to broad based market adoption will be unique to each situation.  But, these elements are common to all pilot relationships.  If you can follow and successfully take these steps, you’ll have the outcomes data to prove efficacy and the referral sites to mitigate risk for future buyers.  And you’ll have a proven implementation blueprint from which to begin future implementations.  Ideally, you’ll be able to replicate patterns for successful client relationships that ensure retention, renewals, and expand sales. I wish you every success!


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About the Author

Farimah Schuerman is Managing Partner at Academic Business Advisors. She specializes in the business of educational technology and has helped hundreds of education companies bring new products to market while providing guidance for sales, marketing, product development and many other pivotal areas. She is active in many education industry professional associations.

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