Marketing within the education sector is more important than ever before, so we've put together some useful tips to help you get to the top of the class, and successfully sell to schools.
It’s a time of change within the education sector, as schools convert to academy status and increasingly merge to form larger chains, or multi-academy trusts. With a more business-minded approach to management, academies are also more prepared to outsource elements of delivery and as budgets get tighter, schools are also looking for novel and innovative ways to get the best results – and for partners to help them deliver!
Whilst this might be a period of disruptive change - throwing existing client relationships into question – these changes also throw up opportunities to reach more clients and build new relationships.
Before selling to schools, you’ll need to understand the sector’s sales cycle and decision making structure. It’s important to bear in mind the academic year, how this will affect the timings of key decisions, and how to get this timing right.
Are you allowing the time you need to get in touch with decision makers, meet then face-to-face, send out a proposal and then follow this up? If you’re only starting in the Summer term, you’re probably leaving it too late! Think about starting things moving in the Autumn term – to catch your decision makers before budgets are set (often in April) and before they start planning for the next academic year. Managing your marketing across the full academic year allows you to build a solid lead pipeline which can pay dividends in the crucial Spring and Summer terms.
Know your decision makers
In the education sector, decision makers often aren’t desk-based, so be aware of practical considerations, and think about how to time your calls and messages. Layer your calls, leave messages, and try to find out the free periods of the key decision makers you want to reach.
When it comes to budgets, schools are still quite traditional - with relatively centralised decision making. Most budget-related decisions are made within the senior leadership team, but senior decision makers are increasingly guarded as they become more business savvy. It’s unlikely that you’ll be in a position to influence key decision makers straight away, so to be successful, you’ll need to get your offering sold up the decision making chain. Speak to heads of departments, heads of year, or other influencers, and if you can get them on board, you’ll have a much better chance of success – even if they can’t directly sign off the budget themselves. Try to think about creative, but practical, ways to get those involved in the decision making process on board. Could you hold twilight events outside of teaching hours, or offer product demos or taster sessions to show off your offering?
Also think creatively about budgets, and the sources of funding available to schools. They may need to link their spending to a particular funding stream to justify the budget (such as Pupil Premium or Catch Up funding) so think about how your offering relates to these streams and can clearly be linked back to the outputs they need to achieve. Help them think creatively about what you offering does – are you offering them an IT package, for example, or enabling them to deliver lessons in new and innovative ways which are more likely to engage students and achieve results?
Get your approach right
Coming from a non-commercial background, decision makers within schools often don’t react well to an overly ‘sales-y’ approach. Instead of trying to hard-sell to them, think about what drives them and the pressures they face within their role. Ofsted results, league tables and other targets mean there’s a lot emphasis on performance and results, so focus on how you can help them achieve these goals.
With increasingly tighter budgets, schools also want to know that they’re getting the best value for money and that their investment will pay off. Think about how demonstrate the value of your offering, and what evidence you can provide. How have you measured the effectiveness of what you offer in other schools? Can you share quotes from Ofsted or demonstrate the impact on grade outcomes? The stronger your evidence base, the stronger your offering will appear.
Also consider ways you can help them, and make this the focus of your events, pitches and content. Perhaps link your sales events to CPD, or offer a free demonstration of your product/service in their class? Schools have a very particular focus, so keep this in mind throughout your sales process.
Doing your homework
Get your research right – the better you know your target market, the more you can tailor your messaging! Use information from Freedom of Information data releases or Edubase to research school size, level, type of school, the number of SEN places, number of pupils on free school meals, funding allocations and Ofsted results – this can help you better anticipate their needs, and how you can meet them. For example, looking into the amount of funding they receive from specific funding streams, means you can make specific suggestions about how your offering could be funded. There’s a whole wealth of information out there which can help you understand each school – so don’t let this go to waste!