What’s forecasted to take center stage in K-12 educational technology? How can you take advantage to boost your career, build your brand personally (and corporately) and reap financial rewards? With the dynamics and pressures presented by today’s selling environment, it’s easy to get down in the weeds and miss money-making opportunities. With that in mind, I want to call your attention to three trends with timely implications that you might consider as you develop your sales and marketing plan the coming year. My advice is based on conversations with education industry leaders, my experience with clients, and also sparked by the findings in the 2017 K-12 Horizon Report. I study this comprehensive market analysis each year, because it has, for over a decade, been one of the best prognostications of hot trends and related challenges for the K-12 industry.
There is more urgency to help students solve real-world problems and be prepared with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. What can your company and your products offer to authenticate learning? What is your response and how might you ride this trend to build your brand and drive sales? Offering internships, visiting schools to share with students the value of workplace skills, giving teachers a chance to work more closely with you in an advisory capacity, giving administrators and students an opportunity to visit your company. These are some examples of active involvement and community partnerships you can initiate. All share the goal of shifting your focus from selling products to being consultants and partners who provide authentic learning. Proposing this type of relationship early in the sales process will likely catch the decision-maker, (who expects the typical sales pitch or product demo) off guard and change the conversation. The positive sales impact can be huge and is explained more fully on STS, for example, read an article I authored, A Fantastic Education Marketing Program: An Army of Students Selling Your Product.
There is a growing disparity in academic outcomes for students of color and students with disabilities. This achievement gap has been driving the population of students receiving expensive special services and a rising special education budget. Funds to support general education are being siphoned off and that is fueling a range of related challenges. This hot trend has the attention of educators and policy makers at every level. Yet, I still see and hear most ed tech sales and marketing teams presenting their solution as ‘one-size-fits-all’ instead of adjusting their marketing message and sales pitch. Sales people who work for companies not specifically focused on the special education space are often uninformed and may miss a chance to engage in more meaningful conversations with customers and prospects. My advice is to audit your current products and services, your messaging and positioning and to consider making changes that address the achievement gap issue. Along with that, be certain that everyone and every channel that interacts with customers and prospects reflects your understanding of the magnitude of and reasons why we have this gap. Importantly, you need to be aware of related federal legislation that demands equal access to products and to be able to confidently discuss and explain your commitment to compliance.
Classroom teachers, in view of two other trends cited here, and like all of us, are being called to do more things than college prepared then to do. Yes, a lot of what they learned in school is still useful and relevant, but increasingly, especially for middle and high school grade levels, their responsibilities are shifting well beyond discipline-specific content. A lot of what they are being asked to do requires comfort with and skills to embrace educational technology. If you are an educational technology provider, then you can play an important role, and by engaging more fully with teachers, you will see a boost in your sales. Teachers have always played an important role in influencing buying decisions at all levels. What is it that you can do more of? A surefire way to build your brand and generate leads is to offer professional development that addresses the gaps in teacher knowledge. In other words, you need to become a teacher of teachers. There are a lot of ways to do this, of course, but the more creative you are, the more you will be able to position yourself and your company to compete and achieve your sales goals.
These three macro trends really jumped out at me this year, but the K-12 Horizon Report is full of more juicy stuff that will hopefully prompt thought, discussion, and action. Some of the other major trends cited in the report include changes in assessments, the ongoing need to differentiate instruction, the overwhelming number of new products and services being offered to educators. Really interesting and important to not be blind-sided by the Internet of Things (IoT) which presents opportunities for suppliers to embed new network functionality into their products. But what do you do with this information? An essential role for management teams is strategy development. That process includes a periodic check of external market conditions and internal capabilities and changes to tactical work to better meet customer needs, to stay ahead of competition and to reorder priorities. During this critical planning process, the perspective and guidance of an outside consultant with broad view and K-12 sales and marketing management experience can be very helpful. As is the case with most K-12 market news and studies, The Horizon Report scopes out technology and marketplace trends which are valuable mostly for educators. There is very little in the report about what ed tech sales and marketing professionals should be doing differently or doing better to benefit from trends by increasing market share, building brand, promoting products and driving revenue. For that, SellingToSchools has been, and will continue to be, the go-to resource!