Anyone with experience selling products to support the curriculum knows that professional development (PD) has become a key provision of federal funding programs. More important for companies that sell curriculum products to educators is the realization that the sale isn’t really made until there is an effective implementation of the product. Until teachers use the product and enthusiastically support it, you cannot gain critical mass. And, it takes PD for that to happen. In the case of technology products, it may take a lot of PD because finding the best way for tech products to fit into the school day is still a struggle.
A few years ago, I was leading a research project for Ohio’s Department of Education at the School of Education at the University of Cincinnati. I was new to educational research as my PhD, MBA, and Bachelor’s degrees were all from the business school. One day a coworker came into my office with a draft of our report and with a concerned look on her face. She politely explained to me that throughout the report I had used the term “training,” and that this word was inappropriate in a document concerning teachers. She went on to explain that Dean Johnson, the Dean of UC’s College of Education, says, “Dogs get trained. Teachers receive professional development.”
I considered that an important lesson: I was not giving teachers or the products I was writing about the appropriate level of respect. After all, many teachers choose a career in education because they love learning. If my coworker had not taught me that lesson, how many teachers or professionals with teaching backgrounds could have been disappointed or even offended by what I had written in that report? How often have all of us overlooked the many benefits we could potentially provide teachers if we thought about providing professional development instead of product training?
I consider PD to be the most rejuvenating service that an educational marketer can offer teachers. According to Susan Johnson Moore, an expert in helping novice teachers and veterans thrive in their jobs, teachers seek growth in many ways. Some want to know about new developments in their area of specialization. Some seek new pedagogies. Some want to be able to try out a few new ideas in the classroom. Others seek variety because they are tired of seeing the same things and providing the same lessons year after year. The bottom line is that teachers appreciate the opportunity to invest in themselves, and professional development is an important service and support that can build new sales and maintain customer loyalty.
I recently helped design a school market research project aimed at sales and marketers who sell hands-on science products. Their selling situation is tough, as the products are sometimes perceived as more costly than textbooks; also, science is considered a lower priority than other subjects, and there are mixed views on how science ought to be taught.
Here are four highlights from our research study that will help sales and marketing professionals understand the power of professional development to sell products and services to schools:
Professional development increases adoptions. Among the sales strategies we studied, promoting PD is considered the most effective selling tool to increase product adoptions. Professional development is considered extremely effective by 65% of the respondents. Surprisingly, professional development is considered more effective than meeting decision-makers in sales calls or attending conventions.
Professional development breaks sales barriers. Maybe professional development on its own can’t do much about the biggest barrier to sales, insufficient budget. But it does address another barrier that is almost as problematic: the misconceptions that potential buyers have about products. In interviews with sales and marketing personnel, respondents frequently mentioned how much more comfortable teachers are with products once they can try them out, hold them, and see them in action. This sort of depth may only be available in all-day learning sessions.
Professional development is not for teachers only. It can be easy to overlook administrators when planning PD because they are so difficult to reach. But school principals and other administrators may be the most important advocates for your product during times of tight budgets. When districts face budget cuts, school principals often drive the decision for which programs are cut. And, a recent study by MetLife concluded that about half of principals feel that they have substantial impact on curricular decisions. So, it is important to provide principals and other administrators enough professional development that they can be appropriate advocates for your product.
Professional development gets you noticed and appreciated. The availability of high-quality professional development can make the difference between whether or not your company and products are noticed, because it’s a service that makes teachers feel appreciated. Teachers don’t just want to use your products, they want to use the purchase of your products as an opportunity to update and refresh their teaching skills.
I hope that I have convinced you that companies that sell to schools and are involved in education marketing ought to be providing professional development, not just product training. Training may not motivate a sale, but in many situations, professional development may do the trick. The hands-on science-product market has learned that educators may think of science as a third- or fourth-priority subject, but the availability of professional development gets their product lines noticed and adopted.