Authenticity

What Educators Expect in Conversation, Content, and Culture

During an EdNET 2015 session with district superintendents, the EdNET moderator asked, “What is your vision for the future of education? One response: “That every adult who interacts with a child would communicate belief in that child.”

Educators are true believers in their mission, and they expect that you will be too. This commitment to a cause among your target audience demands that your business culture, and conduct, rise to the occasion. This sense of mission was a recurring theme at this year’s EdNET Conference. We heard again and again from educators—and those advising on how best to connect with educators—that authenticity is key to marketing to an audience that takes to heart the mission of educating the next generation.

So what does that mean in your day-to-day interactions with educators and how you, as salespeople, approach them? We spoke with MDR Marketing Strategist Stephanie Nash about what an authenticity-based sales approach means in conversation, content, and culture.

I meant what I said and said what I meant: authentic conversations

We heard in one session that educators “can smell a rat.” They know when they are being pitched, and they are not afraid to voice their displeasure with brands they view as disingenuous. “If you want educators to tune out fast, lead with your product,” Stephanie said. “But if you want to start building a relationship with them—rooted in a shared mission—then lead with something of value for educators, something that will help them and their students.” Here are a few rules of engagement:

  • Internalize the Mission: Sales skills can be taught, but believing in a purpose and being invested in the outcome cannot. Educators need to see your commitment to the mission. If you’re not a parent of a school-aged child, seek one out. They will quickly convince you of the stakes.
  • Be Proactively Protective: One of this year’s EdNET sessions was on student data privacy, a critically sensitive issue that requires thoughtful planning. Anticipate the questions superintendents, teachers, and parents will have about children’s education data, and be prepared with answers about data privacy that will put them at ease.
  • Understand the Ask: Educators’ time is precious, and adoption of a new system can have far-reaching implications. As Nash commented, “Schools aren’t waiting around with extra time and money to spend on your product—no matter how great it might be. Choosing to implement something new will cost them: in switching from their current system, in working through yet another learning curve, and in demanding something new of students and parents and getting their buy-in. Your respect for their challenges and your partnership in achieving the end result are absolutely necessary.”

Earning street cred: authentic content

In last month’s EdNET 365, we featured Jill Rowley’s suggestion of “Chief Helping Officer” as a better term than salesperson, and that spirit of helping instead of selling is critical to being authentic. A big part of authenticity is credibility—demonstrating an understanding of educators’ circumstances and the challenges they face—so brands need to show a commitment to helping them and their students.

Your online presence—your website, content, and social platforms—is the key to communicating credibility. As Nash said, “What does your content say about you? It should represent an organization that values education and cares about teachers and kids…not just the bottom line.” Not there yet? Here are some ideas:

  • Follow the Leaders: There are plenty of smart folks talking about education on social media. Follow those people, look at who they follow/retweet/share, see who retweets their smart ideas, and then follow them too. And most important, like and share posts that resonate with you. Soon you’ll have a stream full of good ideas and active conversations.
  • Share the Wealth: If educators show up at your site or social communities to find marketing language and “sales-y” product speak, they won’t be back. Instead, offer them valuable content that they can use, such as classroom tips, free lesson plans, or a fun or informative downloadable poster. Being generous with resources like these goes a long way to creating teacher brand fans.
  • Create Content Creators: When a brand says, “Here’s my product, and it will make your job easier,” it carries zero credibility with educators. But when a fellow educator says, “I tried this and it worked for me,” it resonates. Educators love to share their successful experiences with a product or service so other teachers can benefit from it. Free product trials are a great way to give educators first-hand experience with your product and to help you create brand fans. You can also ask your successful product trial users for a testimonial and incorporate their voices into your materials and outreach.

Staying the course: authentic culture

Education doesn’t happen overnight, and educators are accustomed to giving their all, knowing their investment in a child will play out over the course of years. Contrast that with sales organizations that live and die by monthly quotas and high-pressure, short-term targets. A culture shift may be required to align your company’s sales expectations with a market known for its “in it for the long haul” spirit.

Staying authentic in selling to educators is really about making sure your company’s heart is in the right place and not allowing a drive for today’s results to get in the way of helping good people achieve good outcomes for students in the long run.

As one EdNET session panelist joked, “Planning to be authentic is like planning to be spontaneous.” But if your company can plan to be there for your customers—through thick and thin, year after year—you will forge an authentic partnership that will pay dividends in loyalty and advocacy for your brand.

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