If you’re selling to schools or districts, you should spend the bulk of your marketing efforts targeting the senior-most decision makers, because there’s nothing more effective than going directly to the individual with the most control and purchasing power, right?
Wrong by a mile.
In fact, to successfully market and sell your products and services to schools, you also need to reach influencers — those who influence the decision-making process but may not be the final decision maker. In addition to providing critical feedback and guidance to decision makers during the acquisition of new products and services, influencers also are often the ones who make the case for new purchases and innovations. To be able to successfully advocate for such purchases influencers must be well informed and able to present a compelling case to key decision makers. To be clear, it is extremely important to reach key decision makers. But focusing disproportionately on them could neglect a large and powerful audience of influencers.
Engaging influencers is a critical tactic in selling to schools and is a form of influence marketing — but very different from the glitz and glam campaigns that use celebrities to endorse products, which also falls under influence marketing. The type of influence you will practice doesn’t rely on an individual’s “intrinsic” celebrity or even thought leadership. Instead, it relies on the influencer’s ability to influence education-purchasing decisions within his or her school or district.
No lead decision maker — whether it is a superintendent, a principal, or a district technology officer — makes decisions in a vacuum. Especially for larger, more expensive or long-term purchases, the decision-making process is methodical, often long, and always informed by many people who work across the spectrum in districts and individual schools. By reaching them – and providing them with the information they need to intelligently discuss your product or service – you both reach the chief decision maker and, in the best circumstances, also build an ambassador for your brand.
To understand how to market to influencers in schools, we first need to look at where they fit into their workplaces — not only on an everyday basis but also, and just as importantly, during the decision-making process.
Two audiences that greatly influence school purchasing that are frequently overlooked are teachers and parents. As the frontline staff of the educational system, teachers are often the first to recognize a need, the first to consider solutions to problems, and are acutely in touch with new developments and innovation. More often than not, teachers will be the ones who initiate the purchasing process by suggesting a new product or service to a lead teacher, building administrator, or even district administrator. Reach teachers with valuable content that makes it easy for them to demonstrate value to school or district leadership. You can read more about the purchasing and influencing power of teachers in the recent article, Teachers Have the Purchasing Power (More Than You May Realize).
Parents also have enormous influence in education purchasing. Organizations such as PTOs and PTAs help raise billions of dollars to supplement school budgets, and in addition to lobbying schools for improved technology and curricula, many parents have home licenses for educational software and materials themselves.
Agile Education Marketing offers a great resource, Be Buyer Aware, that provides an excellent overview of the roles and responsibilities of influencers and decision makers in the education-purchasing cycle in both school and district environments. In addition, it includes more in-depth information on how much each type of employee contributes to purchasing, as well as who is responsible for what types of purchases.
Given how vital influencers are, it’s critical that you make your marketing to them easy to use. Demonstrate value right away through case studies, data, testimonials, and other content that shows value to them first and then makes it easy for them to demonstrate that value to decision makers.
It's also worth considering that those who are influencers today could be decision makers tomorrow. Cultivating strong relationships that reinforce value — at all stages of career — pays off.