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Selling to Schools: The K-12 Market Today

Selling to schools in the K-12 marketplace can be more than a challenge; with school funding in a drastic state of flux, it’s hard to keep pace with the changes. Sometimes even the most skilled and experience salesperson can get overwhelmed.

Here are a few tips for navigating the minefield.

Remember: The sales season isn’t over till it’s over

If you’re concerned that your sales numbers aren’t going to be as high as usual this year because those back-to-school orders haven’t been coming in, take heart; As school districts argue over budgets more and more, those budgets tend to be finalized later and later in the season. So the back-to-school buying cycle might begin and end later than you anticipate. Sometimes, selling to schools is a waiting game.

Beware the bigger markets; they often mean bigger marketplaces

What does that mean? Think of it this way: If things like school enrollment and per-student expenditures rise, the resulting expanded market might seem like Candyland to those of us who make our living selling to schools. But as the market expands, so too will the number and diversity of businesses who feed that market. More manufacturers may offer a broader range of materials; more small businesses might pop up to compete with yours; or schools may start buying from multiple suppliers. There’s no free lunch.

But don’t let that scare you off; find your niche and you’ll find success

A bigger marketplace often fragments in ways that can save the smart sales staff a lot of work. Think about it: Wouldn’t it be simpler to focus your efforts on selling one set of products to one subset of clients than to clutter your brain and your desktop with hundreds of clients with diverse needs? If you can focus your energies on selling, for instance, classroom texts to high school teachers, you’d soon become an expert on that product, since wouldn’t have to spend any brainpower on other products and other target markets. Keep your net wide enough to be economically fruitful, but narrow enough that your specialization can blow away the competition.

Often, the most direct approach is the most rewarding

Teachers and administrators have a lot on their minds. Many schools are understaffed, and even well-staffed schools have overworked faculties; teaching isn’t a simple job. That means the salespeople who do the simple legwork of keeping in constant contact with their clients are often the most highly rewarded. Teachers need to make up time somewhere, and if you can save them the time it takes to research products and pick up the phone, they’ll likely think you’re doing them a favor.

Know your tools

The smart salesperson doesn’t have a head full of information, but rather a list of resources to get all the information he or she might need. The information’s out there; all you need to do is find the right portals to it. B2E Alert, for instance, is a free weekly newsletter than covers the entire K-12 industry. Market Data Retrieval offers educator mailing lists. And Ask ERIC is a web-based service providing information for teachers and administrators. It’s worth spending an hour or so a week perusing resources like these, and spending maybe another hour finding new ones.

Marketingworks provides winning education market research and strategy techniques to professionals who specialize in selling to schools. Contact us today to see how we can help you.

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