Rant on Ed-Tech Reps as the Market Reaches Critical Transition

Market Insight
LeiLani Cauthen, CEO & Publisher

What is going on with Ed-Tech representative transition right now?  Like last year, loads of reps are getting knocked around.  Companies fire whole battalions of them at once.  Then they show up in other companies.  The volatility is enough to take anyone’s breath away.  Here is what is really happening, some advice, and some hope for all those reps. 

The market is maturing

The Ed-tech purchases to date have pretty much been side-show-Bob sort of stuff, largely augmentative and not truly transitioning the whole market into new states of being.  The real transition is yet to come.  Most companies have been selling to the classroom.  Schools have been getting requests up from teachers and fulfilling them.  Some companies sold at the other end, the senior-most executives.  They sold big, giant packages of systems and books. 

Both of those ways are largely over as of 2016. The reigning in of willy-nilly spend on random bits and parts of hardware and chunks of software are so last year. 

This year—2017—is all about getting your act together as a school with a full-on strategy and the mid-tier executive or leaders is where all the traction is now.  The market has largely left the enthusiastic early-adopters on the curve of maturity and is now nearing the top of the first half of the early majority.  This bell-curve of adoption is where real selling has to start happening.  On both sides – the products by all the sales reps, and getting high-level executives in schools “all-in” to transition by securing budgets from their Superintendents and Boards.

The early and late majority are not the early-adopters.

Early adopter schools were so easy to sell. They came to you, as vendors. They fell into your lap like ripe fruit. They bought just about anything you asked them to.  Life was fine. 

Again, over. The early and late majority of schools where most companies must try to sell to survive are by no means as enthusiastic or dedicated.  They aren’t used to this chaos in Ed-tech and are extra careful. There are also a much, much bigger number of them. Tactics must change. 

By the end of this year 85% of students will have devices for a significant portion of the day in the U.S.  However, all that device purchase will have two faults that thoroughly bother the executives in schools. 

  • Lack of curriculum software in a coherent comprehensible coverage model, and
  • An unsustainable cost structure.

The reason for these faults are not blame-worthy at all, they’re just part of maturing.  It goes something like this for most schools as they adopt Ed-tech:

  1. A non-systems view of implementation – due to the one-offing of a lot of software in every flavor imaginable, other one-offing even in hardware and not keeping track, the running-of-things-from-the-bottom-up, and
  2. A disregard of transitional structural change that matches the change of teaching and learning dynamics, that together with the (1) non-systems view causes, wait for it…
  3. A frozen budget because nothing moved from old budgets or staffing to pay for what is basically a new delivery model of learning.  “Automation” was for teachers and not really for the students. Ah, the crux of the matter.

Company reps say, yeah, yeah, whatever.  They might not be getting the significance of this, but it means no money will be what they hear the most. The Education market, like others that have gone before, has hit its point of inertia, a.k.a. the greatest point of resistance.  We’ve all just witnessed the bulk of the retail world go through years of resistance only to see truly majestic failure, like closing 150 stores in one week.  In the face of Amazon, retailers like Walmart, JC Penney’s, Sears and whole malls are closing across America. 

We have reached the greatest point of resistance now in Education.  It will mean large loss of jobs on both sides, education institutions and companies, due to the mortal lockdown of true transition at exactly the same time alternatives, including straight-up consumerized learning Apps and online sites and organizations blossom, and the roving eye of the public goes elsewhere.  Faster. 

Related Video: Keynote Presentation on Industry Shift

Then quicker than we know, the market dissipates into a sort of Uberization or Amazonization type of reality.  I wouldn’t be telling you this if it was not so obvious and so critically important a time to defend some of what is great about schools and teachers.  For one thing, teacher-student human interaction is perhaps the last line of defense in many ways to making little humans human. 

The fact is, education has more money right now in America than any time in history and now is the time, while the iron is hot and there are decent resources, for everyone to sell the future. Hard. Don’t soft-pedal anything. Districts and schools still mostly just spend on the old ways of spending – salaries and buildings are the vast bulk of the budget. There are still districts dropping huge wads of cash on books while buying millions of dollars in computing devices.

Yeah, yeah, we know that, you are probably saying. Not a lot we can do about that. No? Well, that’s what selling really is folks. Welcome to the big leagues. Back in the day a true salesman could sell a refrigerator to an Alaskan and have him also refer his friends. (No offense to the great Alaskans.) Selling and buying change is what needs to done, not products only. 

The tough part is here, people, for both sides – for everyone with any stake in education from any level and any political orientation.   

Take Sides

You either protect jobs or you automate, you move budgets from one thing to another to survive.  That is the conundrum of this Age, for everyone.  As a rep you either sell hard or continue to show up at trade shows and then not bother to call anyone. Ever.  And hope revenue continues to pour in like the good old days.  As an educator, you either embrace what will help the whole institution survive, or you sacrifice the future for a generation, and probably for you and everyone you work with.  

For educators, this is where you make the choice to do what the Board and County approve of, that students carry in their backpack, that everyone is “used to,” or you launch off into an adventurous but vitally needed future of personalized adaptive curriculum that thrills every child with animated do-dads while teaching them calculus by the time they are 13.

You pivot teachers and the whole scheduling of things so that it centers on experiential learning, projects, great community and social-emotional interactions.  This pivot is the new competitive stance.   You move some of your best into digital curriculum management and allow attrition of teachers or don’t fill some of the empty slots so you don’t have to fade away as a whole organization. 

The question for education is:  Are you going to play it safe or are you going to dance?   One of the smartest Superintendents I know, Dr. Darwin Stiffler of Yuma, said last year in the Learning Counsel’s Phoenix event that he “didn’t want to be the last of the dinosaurs.” One of the best truths heard in a while. 

See, if you’re a sales rep, a.k.a. consultant or business development or marketing person, or on the converse side in Education as the Curriculum Director or Tech Director, the one thing you need to do right now on every front is push.  Get into deep philosophical conversation as to where this is all going.  Be the future, not the past. 

What’s wrong with Ed-tech Reps?

Nothing, really, except that this is new ground for most of them.  The list goes like this:

  1. The majority are order takers.  They’re not trained in conceptual professional selling so really, they couldn’t sell their way out of a paper bag.   They were very useful in the days of early adopters but now they need to be turned into a sales lion with a capital roar.  Educators get this because they are always doing professional development these days. Now is time to do some of that for sales staffs on the other side of the transaction. 
  2. They are one-off’ers.  They’re selling one-off point solutions in a mad-house world that can’t differentiate and asking the educator client, for crying out loud, to compare and contrast and figure it all out.  Too much!  If you’re a point solution, like just the overhead projector or just the Science curriculum for 3rd grade – your whole approach can’t be relationship selling, it’s gotta be marketing and preferably to the mid-tier education executive by direct jugular injection.  Companies in this position need to spend eighty percent of their go-to-market budgets on marketing, traditional media reach and events, not sales staff now.  Typical sales and marketing operations budgets should be fifteen to thirty percent of revenue.
  3. Don’t follow through. Enough said.
  4. Can’t construct or articulate context and relevancy.  When you are product-oriented only, you become boring very quickly because you’re not able to contribute anything of substance conversationally.
  5. Don’t ask for the order.  Hey, it’s just money, ask for it (this goes for schools, too, get that budget!)
  6. Expects big salaries for basic inside-sales type pleasantries and little outreach.  Every other industry took thirty to fifty-percent pay cuts for their top sales reps in the last ten years while laying off a large portion of the rest. If you are still in this pot of folks getting well paid you may soon be one of the tens of thousands being let go.  Education started joining the rest of the economy last year, with thousands of reps now roaming the internet job posting sites.  The smart ones are taking big cuts and jumping into the wide ocean of start-ups with good prospects for the future.  Or they are going back to teaching where they came from, a lot of them.  Teaching salaries are remarkably better than a lot of the private sector right now due to benefits.  There are also teacher shortages in some places. 
  7. Not mapped out. The education market has 3.3 million teachers, 98,000+ schools and over 13,000 districts. You need a battle plan.  If you’re just tripping through the daisies, hoping for the best, you’re about to fall.
  8. Doesn’t see the market shifting precariously towards either major wins for some products or major cataclysms for others, which it is doing.  This is called market correction. We’re in it now. 

The key to survival for Ed-tech reps is to look and communicate. This is also true for Educators who must lead like never before. The world is changing very rapidly.  

Stay tuned for stories about the transition for other industries as clues for Education’s future, and training at our EduJedi Camp this Fall. 

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