“How do I find and hire great people to sell my product to schools?” It’s the question I get asked most often because companies selling to schools all face this challenge. Start-ups, especially, are looking for a low-cost way to scale up and hope to find just the right independent reps for commission-based sales. There’s good news and bad news. First, the bad news: The best K-12 sales reps do not post their résumés or participate in traditional job-seeking channels and you won’t find them with a search engine. Now the good news: you need not despair! There are proven ways to find good reps. I’m going to reveal five of my favorite methods for recruiting K-12 sales reps along with some related advice and cautionary notes.
Simply asking the educators you hope to do business with for a recommendation may be the most reliable way to find great sales people. Remember, the customer relationships that independent reps have are their greatest asset. This method of "going to the well" may seem obvious, but when I recommend it, it nearly always comes as a surprise. Here’s a cautionary note and reality check. The best independent reps are likely to be fully occupied representing one or more companies and products. Can you guarantee them they will do better selling your product? If not, you need to work on your sales pitch before making contact with them or it will be a short conversation!
Exhibits at local educator conferences are where you can meet potential customers and also see K-12 sales reps in action. It’s also the perfect place to ask for recommendations from your buyer audience. If you scan the exhibit area it won’t take long for you to notice reps who are actively working the floor. Approach them as if you are a potential customer to see and hear how they interact. You can quickly determine whether you would want them to represent you. Pose as a potential buyer and get their contact information. Soon you will know how and when they follow up on leads. My advice is to use this method not at national conferences, rather, at smaller local conferences organized by state professional associations whose members most closely match your target customer profile.
Professional recruiters know it. You probably know as well: Good sales people are opportunistic. How much money they make has a lot to do with their loyalty to an employer. But, there are some K-12 ed tech sales professionals who look for rewards and payout in the future and are willing to accept some risk especially for promising innovations. You might be able to lure them away from their employer if you have something to offer or a promise of future upside that is better than what they have. If they are selling similar products or services, they will be able to hit the ground running. Like the previous method, you can contact competitors as a potential buyer and interact with reps, experience how they follow up and experience their sales skills. In many cases, companies that serve the K-12 market have online directories of regional reps so you can contact them directly and use the Internet to learn more about their background and skills. As you know, increasingly reps are selling online and using technology to reach potential customers, so this method is highly targeted and maps to current channel trends.
The K-12 sales professionals you want to hire use social media and have LinkedIn profiles. Using LinkedIn for recruiting is mainstream and hopefully you already know the basics of how it works. But what may not be as apparent is how you can use peripheral components of LinkedIn to identify sales reps who might be looking for a new opportunity. Two features come to mind. First is the advanced search which allows you to more carefully specify who it is that you are looking for. The other is to find LinkedIn Groups that relate to what you are selling, and then to join these groups and participate. Important note: if you plan to tap into LinkedIn as a channel to find reps, then you, personally, must have a top-notch LinkedIn profile page. Reps who use LinkedIn, the people you want to represent you, will be checking you out carefully as you want to look at them. So, plan to impress them and you will improve your chances for success!
Educators themselves, your customers and prospects, others in your target audience, are a good source of sales representation, with some caveats. Suffice to say, educators have been, and will continue to be, a reliable source of sales talent and could be for you as well, depending on what you are selling and the price point. If you are introducing a new or sophisticated educational technology, if the selling process is complex or a purchase order is going to require senior level administrators to sign off, then some educators may struggle to close sales without a lot of sales training and coaching. On the flip side, the compensation they expect to start at is likely not going to be as high as the top gun sales reps and you may be able to hire educators on a trial basis during the summer.
Independent reps are an important (but somewhat hidden) sales channel. Independent reps have been core to the K-12 sales scene for generations. Be assured, the five methods described here to find them do work, but these methods are not the only way for you to recruit and hire sales talent. There are some very good professional sales recruiters who know the K-12 market deeply and will do the hard work of finding the right ones for you. But recruiters are not a good source for independent education sales reps. And, as a reminder and final cautionary note, using independent reps is not the best option in many situations, especially when your timing is off. So, before you charge ahead with any of the tactics I’ve suggested, I encourage you to take the time to invest in a well-conceived channel strategy that gives you the efficiency and effectiveness you need to succeed. SellingToSchools.com is packed with advice about channel strategy, how you can successfully work with independent reps and how you can steer clear of common pitfalls as you seek to expand your K-12 business. I encourage you to do your homework and if you are still confused or need to validate your education sales plans or need more insight into how to find really good sales reps, seek help from a seasoned K-12 sales consultant!