To Say the Education Market is Nuanced Would Be an Understatement

Market Insight
Jacob Hanson

For those of us fortunate enough to call the education market home, we know that while there are certain things we can count on, there are many that we can’t. For the most part, we’re all subject to the whims of local, state, and federal policymakers—not to mention the stability of our customers or prospects, changes in the make-up of school boards, and the miles-long sales cycle we are forced to follow. Such is the public sector!

EdSurge recently published a fantastic paper called The Myth of the ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ K-12 Buying Cycle. When I saw it in my inbox I was intrigued. If you haven’t read it, I recommend that you do. It details the variations, or nuances, within the buying cycle for major purchases including curriculum, hardware, professional development, LMS/SIS, or insert other acronym here.

After reading the paper more than once, I started thinking about something we talk about a lot: personalization, not content, is king in our industry. (Maybe content can still be queen….) As education marketers, it’s imperative that we avoid falling into the trap of believing that two districts’ needs are the same because they are both rural, have high ELL populations, or share similar demographic. We have to personalize our interactions to show them, not just tell them, that we truly understand their pains, challenges, goals, and aspirations for their staff and students.

None of us has the time or energy to comb through the 13,000+ school districts across the country, but these four tactics have served me well in the past. You might consider implementing to achieve the level of personalization that captures the attention of education decision-makers.


1. Conduct research.

Thank you, Captain Obvious! I’m sure that each of you reading this is already investing in some form of research—into the efficacy of your product, a whitepaper validating why your solution exists, the laws and policies that dictate what our potential customers can or can’t do, etc. But I encourage you and your teams to dig deeper.

Dig into your prospects’ and leads’ situation.

  • Can you identify if they have recently purchased a similar product and may be in the middle of a multi-year subscription?
  • Were there recent cuts in their state or city that will dramatically affect their ability to purchase?
  • Has there been recent turnover?

Answering these sorts of questions will allow you to further personalize your sales, marketing, and PR efforts to make these people feel that you understand their situation.


2. Consider an account-based marketing approach.

Account-based marketing (ABM) doesn’t need to be limited to your marketing team, nor does it need to be the only approach you take. In many cases, especially when you’re dealing with larger school districts, it can be an extremely effective route to take—as long as your sales and marketing teams are aligned.

Hubspot defines ABM as a highly focused business strategy in which marketing teams treat individual prospects or customers like their very own markets. The team creates content, events, and entire campaigns dedicated to the people associated with that account or organization, rather than the industry as a whole.

ABM takes personalization to an entirely new level, and it can be replicated. Take the example I used above about the two somewhat similar (but potentially very different) rural school districts. By creating something of a templated approach, you could send the two districts the exact same mix of content, but tweaked slightly to make both feel as though it was meant just for them.


3. Talk to your customers and create buyer personas. (Then map their journey.)

I’ve written about this a lot in the past, and cannot stress enough the importance of buyer personas. These semi-fictitious representations of your ideal customer should be the foundation on which all marketing, sales, and PR efforts are based.

Crafting detailed buyer personas will also allow you to take into consideration the nuances of our buying cycle and map each personas’ journey to purchase. What will delay purchases? What solutions will you need to provide them to overcome hurdles to purchasing your product or service? Don’t forget to talk to your customers—after all, they are your buyer personas!


4. Remember that our industry values relationships and results.

In our digital world, oftentimes our target audience becomes words on a spreadsheet or numbers in a sales pipeline. If you talk to the most consistently successful sales reps or marketing leaders in our industry, though, they’ll tell you that you’re only as good as your relationships.

Yes, we need revenue to keep the lights on, but by focusing on building relationships and producing results (both during the sales and marketing process and once customer start using your product) you’ll create a foundation for long-term success. You won’t just have a customer; you’ll have an advocate, a collaborator (and maybe even a friend) who will bring you with them as their career grows in the years to come.

This article isn’t going to solve all of your problems, but my hope is that it has sparked new ideas for you and that keeping these things in mind will make you more successful in our lovely, rewarding, yet incredibly nuanced industry.


About the Author

Jacob Hanson is the CEO of PR with Panache!, an award winning integrated marketing and PR firm that serves the PreK-12 education market. Follow him on twitter, @PRPanacheJacob , connect on LinkedIn or subscribe to PRP’s blog to get more of these types of tips in your inbox every week.

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