Beyond the Contract
The Voice of the Educator From EdNET 2015
Congratulations, you got the contact. But don’t pop the champagne just yet. For educators, signing a contract with your company is just one of many milestones in a long journey. At this year’s EdNET Conference in Atlanta, we heard a common refrain from educators: we need vendors who are partners, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with us as we champion your product from sales pitch to successful implementation to the next budgeting cycle. We spoke with MDR Business Development for Marketing Solutions, Rachel McCoy, about how companies can meet those expectations:
Be an Investigator
Before you set foot in a district, do your due diligence. McCoy recommends gaining an understanding of the environment into which you are selling by: looking at local newspaper coverage of education issues, reviewing the school district’s website, reading school board meeting minutes, and following your prospect and other key district leaders on social media. “Educators shouldn’t have to teach you about the challenges in their district; arrive informed.”
Help Them Make the Sale
In Jill Rowley’s keynote, she shared that there are 5.4 people involved in the average B2B buying decision—and that may just be within the school system. District representatives have to consider all the constituencies that have—or feel they should have—a say in buying decisions. EdNET session panelists identified:
- Parents who refer back to their own time in school and question the need; “I never had FILL IN THE BLANK, why do my kids need it?”
- Voters who demographically skew older, no longer have school-age children or don’t have the personal skin-in-the-game to support allocating more tax dollars for education.
- School Boards who are all about the budget and demonstrable positive outcomes for students.
“Salespeople should come ready to support their prospect with elevator pitches, talking points, press releases, public speaking points, or even collateral materials tailored to address the concerns of constituencies that will need to be brought on board to get your product purchased and implemented,” says McCoy. She also recommends that salespeople be ready and willing to present directly to school boards, parent groups, or anyone else the prospect suggests, to answer questions and gain backing for your project.
Don’t Be the Straw
It’s unavoidable: introducing your product or program will create an additional training burden on teachers already stretched to the limit. As one panelist in the Adoption and Procurement—Are Times a Changin’? Or Are Adoption and Procurement Keeping Up? session said: “Districts have 8 to 10 Professional Development days a year and those are already scripted; adding in new topics can be difficult.” Since no one will be handing you PD days or dollars, you need to have a variety of creative and flexible solutions for teacher training in your toolkit. Says McCoy, “Webinars, Twitter chats, train the trainer sessions, bundling training dollars into the contract to cover the costs…bring ideas like these to the table to avoid your project being the straw that breaks the back of an already over-burdened PD schedule.”
Always Keep It Real
One characteristic conference panelists brought up frequently when discussing what they needed from vendors? Candor. “Educators know there will be headwinds and hurdles when introducing something new to their district,” says McCoy. “They just ask that you are straight with them about what to reasonably expect in results, what’s required for fidelity of implementation, and give them a heads-up when something is going wrong.” As one district superintendent said in the session A Candid Conversation With Superintendents: Their Vision, Their Challenges, Their Needs: “We need honesty about what is and isn’t working—and early—to establish a sound working relationship… We don’t want to work with vendors; we want partners who will work with us… Let’s face what’s not working when it’s not. We can help you succeed if you let us in.”
Don’t Sign and Drive
Big, disruptive change takes time—for persuasion, budgeting, rollout, and evaluation. As a salesperson, will you still be involved in a district’s implementation process three to five years down the road, or will you have hit the road, moving on to court another prospect? As several panelists in the Candid Conversation With Superintendents session said: “Collaboration and connection is important. Where are you after we make the deal? During the lifecycle of the project?…” and “True partners stay with you and stay connected when the budget cycle comes around again, or just stay in touch and help connect the dots to make the transition easier.” If your company doesn’t support an ongoing, supportive customer relationship post-contract, it could come back to bite you. As McCoy notes, “Educators are avid users of social media. They talk and they share experiences. You don’t want your company to have a reputation for doing the big fade once the deal is done but before any positive outcomes are achieved.”
At EdNET, we always strive to achieve the right alchemy of people, topics, and atmosphere so that conference attendees come away with valuable connections and plenty of food for thought. What we can’t plan for, but are thrilled when it occurs, is that a common theme appears organically from within the sessions and topics. Beyond the Contract is the first of several themes we identified from EdNET 2015. Look for more in future EdNET 365 updates.
Rachel’s 25 year career in education brings a broad and deep understanding of the industry, K-12 and Higher Education, as an educator and a business leader. After obtaining a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education she taught in public high schools, learning about the importance of student engagement, involvement of the parental community, and strong leadership to improve teaching and learning, as well as how districts are funded, the influence of government regulation, and the decision making process at the district and site levels. In 2001, Rachel moved back into the business world and in different roles at Pearson, helped the organization move from a print-based content provider into the digital age. In 2013, Rachel joined MDR in a newly created role focused on partnering with companies to create strategies, supported by solutions, enabling them to be more relevant to educators and to be seen as a thought-leader via targeting audience to the message to the medium. You can reach Rachel at McCoyR@DNB.com.