Summer School Sales 101
How is your summer going? Kicking a** and taking names?
I could never understand why people expect not to make sales in the summer, especially in the education biz. It’s a great time of year. Teachers are on vacation. The new budgets are out. And decision-makers have about 10 percent more free time on their hands.
If you aren’t scheduling phone calls left and right, that can only mean one thing - you don’t expect to. Remember the old adage, “Expectation dictates response.” Or put another way by the immortal Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you are right.”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard colleagues tell me that summer is a slow time for sales. And almost always, they were right. They expected to have a slow summer and that is exactly what they got. However, in the education biz, if you aren’t absolutely killing it in the summer you just aren’t trying.
The biggest perceived obstacle during the summer is that everyone is on vacation. The fact is, the top decision-makers are there year-round. If your contact is on vacation, that gives you the opportunity to speak with the superintendent. It is always best to go as high as you can in the food chain and get kicked downstairs if necessary. This way, you have no choice but to go straight to the top.
The hardest thing to do in education sales is to get quality time with the actual decision-maker. You may still have to wait to include everyone else involved for your follow-up calls, but vacationers are generally back in early August, so you really have no time to lose.
I’m a firm believer in old-school sales. You may use sophisticated marketing to get to a decision-maker, but once you do, there really is no substitute for a relaxed, 45-minute phone call or a good, in-person visit. Regardless of what anyone tells you, education is a relationship business. And school districts buy what they want, not necessarily what they need. You may think you can dazzle someone by sending copious amounts of research, but your deal is going to turn on your relationship and your answers to four key questions:
- Will you still be around five years from now?
- Will your firm act as a partner and offer support when needed?
- What will the district have to replace in order to buy your product?
- How will buying your product be perceived by staff and the public?
Price is incidental. Districts will automatically tell you they don’t have the money in the beginning of the conversation - they have been trained since birth to do so. But the reality is, all school districts have money. Knowing that, your prospect will have to tell you three things before you can move on to the above questions. They must tell you the three Whys:
- Why they need to buy your product
- Why they need to buy from you
- Why they need to buy from you now
Even if you know the answer to the three Whys and you know they know it, they need to tell you verbally. Remember, if you say it, they can dispute it. If they say it, it is Gospel.
Now back to the four key questions.
Will you still be around five years from now? A school district doesn’t want to go to all the trouble to buy from you if you aren’t going to be here for them five years from now. If not, they’ll have to go to all the trouble to replace you. Regardless of what they tell you, it’s a bother to change vendors and they don’t want to get egg on their face if they made the decision to buy from you and then you disappear.
Will your firm act as a partner and offer support when needed? A school district wants you to be as invested as they are. That means you had better know what kind of support is needed before they ask. They want a partner that they can depend on.
What will the district have to replace in order to buy your product? Education is a zero-sum gain, and your biggest obstacle is time. There are only so many minutes in a day. In the school day, every minute is accounted for. If they buy your product, where does it fit in to that very crowded day? And what do they have to remove to fit you in?
How will buying your product be perceived by staff and the public? If they buy your product, how will that reflect on them? What will the teachers think? What will the parents think? What will the superintendents/curriculum directors/technology coordinators in other districts think? The right purchase can make them look good. The wrong purchase can show them the door. Every buyer you’ll ever meet listens to the same radio station – WII-FM (What’s In It For Me?) Buying in the school biz should be about one thing – improving learning. The reality may be very different.
About the Author
Charles Sosnik is an education journalist and editor and serves as Editor in Chief at the Learning Counsel.