Target Attainment: Teachers are No Longer the Target

Market Insight
LeiLani Cauthen

“Target attainment” is such a military term, wouldn’t you agree?  We hear it in military movies, and sometimes from sales leaders.  The term makes us feel so ruthless. Like we must make whatever the target is come what may, gritting our teeth and pushing deals through to a done despite clients we have to drag by the hair kicking and screaming.

If you’re in Ed-Tech, though, kicks and screams are rare because you just can’t reach the decision makers.  Why is this happening to reps across the nation?  Why are many companies exiting into the consumer markets and spending all their marketing money on fewer reps and more search-engine optimization and online ads?  Why do IXL Learning and many other Ed-Tech companies pop-up as ads if you do any sort of digital curriculum search? 

Two things: 

  1. Target attainment means you know your target.  The target has shifted in Ed-Tech, so pay attention. 
  2. Target attainment means you push.  You disagree with “can’t be done” and do it anyway. 

The target buyer in Ed-Tech for a long time was mostly teachers.  This is dramatically shifting.  Teachers are almost universally losing their “power of say” for purchasing anything ed-tech.  They are even losing power when it comes to what they have students use for free.  There are myriad reasons, but they add up to a consolidated purchasing in upper management, the same as other types of technology, janitorial services, food service and everything else. 

Distanced from the classroom equals distance in time and attention for any sales.  A basic structural reason is student security and privacy, a less commonly known one is that the overwhelm of options has led to waste and administrators are reigning that in.  If you are a major consumer brand also selling to schools, you might be provoked into ignoring this sales-consolidation trend and still try to engage teachers directly like Google has done in recent years to create such a major ground-swell for their products.  However, this is a double-edged sword because upper management may like “free” but they are exceedingly wary of threats to student privacy -- and free sounds like an inherent threat.  In this they would be entirely correct.  Free can be a whole new kind of infiltration with unwanted agenda. 

Reaching the target means playing pretend and living the life they are having to live right now – overwhelmed with options and without clear context behind what they need versus what is nifty.  To imagine being in their shoes can be an extremely helpful preparatory moment for sales staff to get themselves into the zone to be effective.  How does this executive want communication from you and in what form?  What tells your story and makes an offer that turns into a deal? 

Pushing does not just mean repetitive reaching out.  It means relevancy, each communication offering something of value in return for an ask.  Are you doing that?  That is the big secret to getting something done with sales.

And lest you forget, selling ed-tech at one time was like selling the proverbial refrigerator to an Eskimo (no offense to our indigenous  friends), it wasn’t “necessary” to their existence.  To achieve a sale in that scenario, the product needed to be necessary in the eyes of the buyer.  If you were living in the frigid north, what possible argument would cause you to buy?  Here’s one:  buy this refrigerator because it is heavy-duty enough to thwart polar bears when you go on a hunt for seal. If you leave meat out in your hut that could be smelled, bears could seek it out.   In fact, put anything you want of value in there and lock it. (Salesperson brings an extra latch with lock when he sells refrigerator, smart guy.)  See what this refrigerator salesperson did?  He converted the product’s appeal to meet a need – now that’s pushing a target through to completion. 

Pretty much all Ed-Tech is not absolutely necessary to learn something or teach.  There are work-arounds. But there are bears.  All around education in a wider world is moving at a faster pace than schools towards a new automated modality.  This is the bear, the boogeyman of education that almost universally, school leaders will agree is there and necessary to appease.  They want to be relevant in the current economy.  They might not always understand where they are going as a total picture but can be shown the necessity.  They are buying what most tend to think of as buzzwords:  1-1, personalization, STEM, social-emotional, single sign-on, analytics.  Behind each of these, education leadership attaches great meanings of equity and necessary modernity.

About the Author

LeiLani Cauthen is CEO of the Learning Counsel, and author of “The Consumerization of Learning.”


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