The Five Biggest Problems in Ed-Tech Sales

Market Insight
Sshhh, this is for Industry Only
LeiLani Cauthen, CEO & Publisher

The biggest problems in the Ed-tech sales space right now are as follows:

  1. You’re complex.  Schools and teachers want simple solutions. In the past, they had textbooks that helped give a scope and sequenced steps to teaching and learning. As textbooks depart the scene, educators are faced with the great breadth of digital learning objects and options. They fall into despair.  They want simple and simple no longer exists. No human alive can possibly look at the sheer volumes of available options without their eyeballs falling out.
  2. You’re internally complex.  There is very little real looking going on inside the software curriculum that’s fast and easy to do.  I’ve been to 15 regional discussion events already this year and in each one I am finding some education leadership fails to inspect what’s happening inside the software their schools are purchasing. Inspection requires log-ins. It requires talking to some representative. Doing a whole lot of surfing and creative word searches to find an ever-increasing list of options. Again, despair. As a default, instead there is a whole lot of self-creation of relatively flat digital lesson plans that may, or may not, infringe on numerous copyright laws and largely use links and videos.  
  3. Market Maturity.  Companies making awesomely cool materials are finding that the major trade shows, and even smaller events built for executive curriculum directors and all the association events are waning in attendance. Why? Teachers are being told to stop meddling and let the central office do their work to lay out a master curriculum plan since it’s high time there was a whole transition to full coverage models of digital. This is so budgets can be swung over in full…eventually when things are all figured out. See (1) and (2) and you have an idea why the market has hit a point of inertia. There is a maturity of the market happening, a consolidation of power in the hands of far fewer individuals. This is normal.
  4. Highly inefficient market.  Go-to-market costs to reach education executives in a time of power-reign-in and lots of options is a bottleneck, and so costs of reach are going up. They are harder and harder to reach.  Just as in the early days of technology when everyone went to every event and trade shows were huge in every industry, a moment came for other industries when top executives realized there was a cost to have everyone go that was too high and they put the kibosh on that, and assigned emissaries. Or, bailed from going at all in favor of hiring specialists. Again, fewer people, even while total spend in those industries went up. Trust me, I watched this happen in the general government and business tech markets. I had a front-row seat.  It’s now happening in Education for real. 
  5. Training.  Sales staff in most Ed-tech organizations are not formally trained sales people. Check out this story for a little more background on this. They are personable, but not always highly polished and skillful closers. The majority in this sector are former teachers. Sales is a time-honored profession, with an actual technical skill underlying it.  If its non-skilled, it gets a bad rap, a.k.a. the un-classy car salesman and Dale Carnegie-ism.  Competition scares the non-skilled whereas it exhilarates the skilled. When times get tough, poor skill shows up in demands for leads or just poor performance. (Since I’ve run and trained thousands of people in sales, both who worked directly for me or for other companies, I can speak to this with a lot of certainty.)

This all boils down to new market dynamics for vendors on all fronts. Trust me, this is a major problem that will now cause a new wave of consolidations of companies, new marketing maneuvers, and the rise of a specialist class of executives in schools. A lot of these in schools are former librarians-turned-techie software people. Some are former teachers signing up to come to the Learning Counsel’s Gathering in the Fall to get a full immersion in building their digital institution. This is the new target for Ed-tech. 

Because this education shift has become such as storm of chaos, I made it my business to watch closely, to question, to speak with every stakeholder on the industry and school sides, to distill the major and minor changes and bring context to it all in The Consumerization of Learning. Pick it up if you’re ready for a deep dive into the disruption at hand for the way leaders lead education digitally. It highlights consumerization as the act of making something desirable and consumable by the individual. Something of a key understanding for any publisher or developer on the business side of Ed-tech.

The changes in education also point to driving awareness from a marketing perspective for companies. Differently. 

It also points to the need to show and tell not just talk about.  Schools want to buy.  At every one of the Learning Counsel’s Digital Curriculum Sustainability Discussion events there are top executives coming who want to see what software is doing.  Like a demo.  Then they buy. The best evidence of this is the run-away train of Google’s suite and Office365.  Both of those companies are into demo’ing big time.  Heavy attention is on both of them this year from schools, but it won’t last.  Productivity suites are an underlayment to the bigger things that will soon be coming to the front burner for schools. Productivity suites are but part of many of the total digital institution’s model software architecture in the future. 

A Plug for Sharp Tank

Since there are just so many Ed-tech companies, the fastest way to do this for a ton of hard-to-reach education executives is to clip together short video demos and show them live at our events so everyone can discuss them, then link the educators back with contact information to all those companies.  We do this in 28 cities with something we call Sharp Tank. The motto is “keeping Superintendents Sharp about Ed-tech” and it’s a growing program.

Turns out it is also the cheapest way to reach the buying executives nationally for most Ed-tech companies.  Your company should be in Sharp Tank. 

Get savvy about what’s happening and act accordingly. 


LeiLani is well versed in the digital content universe, software development, the adoption process, school coverage models, and helping define this century’s real change to teaching and learning. She is the author of the newly released book, The Consumerization of Learning.

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