Selling to School Districts: the Unhittable Pinata?

by Glen McCandless

Selling to School DistrictsYou may have seen an episode of America's Funniest Home Videos called the "Unhittable Pinata." It was a LOL moment for me because someone told me recently that selling to school districts is like trying to hit a pinata. Watch the video: it's a real hoot and a good metaphor for selling in the school market.

Are You Hitting the Mark With School Leaders?

Many visitors to this site are new to the K-12 school market and are seeking advice on how to get access to school administrators who buy instructional materials. Others have had some success but haven't made a big hit yet. For both groups, the ultimate candy is trapped inside big pinatas, those high enrollment school districts. Yet, for so many K-12 focused sales people, getting access seems like blindly and wildly swinging without making much impact.

During the past twenty years of my consulting practice -- helping companies succeed in the education market, I've coached dozens of entrepreneurs and assisted countless company managers about how to remove their blindfolds and perfect their swing. I get frequent requests to make introductions to distributors, independent reps, or established companies that are assumed to have the inside track.

Be assured, even those organizations and other experts in education sales and marketing don't have a magic bat or a secret swing that consistently gets the candy. The reality is this: unless there's a mandate that creates urgency for whatever you are selling (for newcomers and even for established brands) schools adopt new things very slowly. Engagement takes so long that you may get worn out or it seems like you've missed the mark. 

The School Market: Slow, But Not Sealed Off!

When results fall short of expectations, management teams (and sometimes investors) come to the conclusion that something is wrong -- ineffective sales reps, the product price is too high, weak marketing campaigns.  Sometimes managers decide they hired the wrong ad agency or marketing consultant. Some managers fire employees and get increasingly frustrated. What everyone who has ever been part of our K-12 industry feels is the harsh reality of a public sector market.  However, you can be assured, school districts may seem impenetrable, but they are not unhittable pinatas!

Imagine how awesome it would feel to be able to have predictable and meaningful conversations with district decision makers who control multi-million dollar budgets!   Making solid hits on the big pinata would give you confidence and the candy would be like sugar on your bottom line.  But how?

Start here! This web site is a great place to hone your skills. It's a treasure chest of proven approaches that will improve your ability not only to break inside the pinata but to be able to do so over and over again.

It's Time to Hone Your K-12 Sales Skills! You Can Win this Game!

Let me summarize the key points here, and encourage you to take the steps you need to see better performance in this important game. First, you need not feel blind to school market.  Study the environment and understand where, when, and how you can best make your first swing. Timing is everything in the school market and miscalculating your efforts will yield poor results which are often misinterpreted. Too many product developers enter the game with unrealistic expectations and with inadequate resources to stick with the program and reap the rewards that will eventually come if you play the game by the rules.

Second, be mindful that breaking the pinata and getting the candy inside requires multiple hits. Making a perfect swing the first time at bat is rare. Plan to work the pinata from head to toe and all points in between for quite a while. Expect many misses, but know that with a solid strategy and persistence, you will make hits and eventually, the candy will flow. But you have to be patient and not let another player who understands the game beat you at it, or worse yet, give up and go home just before the candy drops.

Finally, be mindful that every pinata is different and so is the candy inside. There's a temptation to get excited when you get that first hit and then assume you can do it again the same way and get the same result and end up eating all the candy. Today's education market is changing rapidly. Making more successful hits requires constant adjustments to your swing, rewards to customers that drive referrals and recognition for those who are making it happen.

Stay Passionate and Seek Help to Be Successful

I know you are passionate about your product.  You have something that is so incredible and unique that you believe it will break the rules of play. Frankly, if you didn't think this way, who would?  I want to encourage you to keep your passion but also to get the help you need to be successful with sales to school districts.  Nothing really worth working for comes easy. Selling to schools is no exception!

About the Author

Glen McCandless is editor of SellingToSchools.com,STS Radio,STS LinkedIn,STS SlideShare and is president of Focus Marketing Inc., a business development firm that specializes in the educational technology market. Glen has over 25 years of experience helping companies efficiently and effectively sell and market technology products and services to K-12 and higher education buyers. gmccandless@educationmarketexperts.com.