If you’re just getting started promoting your product into K-12, you are probably staring at either a map or a long list of districts thinking, where the heck do I begin? Abraham Lincoln said if he had 8 hours to cut down a tree, he’d spend 6 of it sharpening his axe. The best way to approach your distribution plan is to sharpen your axe, cutting the 132k US school market down to only the best segments for your B2E.

I am convinced that one of the luckiest accidents of the early years at Study Island was that as a state-specific product, we only focused on one state at a time as each version of the product was released. The biggest markets, and ones most appropriate for our service were addressed in ranked order. It was almost 8 years before we got to Wyoming, but due to market size it didn’t hold us back. The laser focus on small geographies one by one resulted in hot pockets of organic word of mouth. There was usually a critical mass of about 100 schools in a state that kicked off a mushrooming effect—independently–in one state after another. When I later started consulting with other B2E products I realized that when they had no organic way to eliminate big chunks of the ed market, they were not nearly as effective in their go-to-market approach. Whether it’s demographically or geographically, you’ll find more success when you narrow down your focus out of the gates:

Public or private? Let’s start by selecting either the 98k public, or 33k private schools. Which segment is right for your business? Let’s assume public schools are your target. Private schools don’t have to be strictly avoided, but trying to message to both public and private schools’ accountability issues simultaneously will complicate your message.

Which grades do you support? There are 67k elementary, 24k secondary, and the balance are “combined.” Even if your product or service supports all K-12 grades, are there some grades that make more sense for you to focus on first? Would it be smart to start with elementary schools only, and later age up to the middle and high schools with your users, or perhaps work back down from the less crowded secondary market toward their feeder schools?

Would larger, medium or small districts make the best target? More than half of all students are served by school districts with over 25k students, and 14% of them attend the 100 largest districts in the country. Which segment you focus on could be a function of the ease of implementation, cost per student, hardware needs, or internal support required. If your product only makes sense at the scale of a large district, there’s your list. But if you lack district implementation tools, an advanced training and support infrastructure, or the ability to integrate with their existing curricula and systems, start with the 30% of students attending districts from 2500-10k students. And here’s another tip. Certain states have the corner on the larger districts. Getting focused on a size segment will help you set geographic priorities too.

Would urban, suburban or rural districts make the best targets? This is likely a function of the difficulty level of your product, ability to differentiate for lower or higher performing students, need for internet access outside of school, and cost per student. About ¼ of students attend schools considered rural. They don’t get a lot of visitors and are typically as well funded as any urban schools. They might be your best first option.

What funding applies to your B2E? States can have special funds and initiatives that make them ripe for your offering. Early childhood, technology, analytical tools, STEM, programming and more all have geographical hot spots that could give your marketing plan focus.

What special populations does your product best serve? If you have a specialty product such as ELL, you can focus on the largest ELL states, but in every state there are districts and schools with relatively higher ELL populations. By setting a cutoff percentage, you can filter the entire country down to a smaller list of target schools.

What standards are you aligned with? As I write this, there are about 43 states still implementing some version of the national Common Core Standards. Are you better off focusing on the non-CCSS states with custom alignments or sticking with the main stream CCSS? In which group of states would you have the better competitive advantage?

What technology do you best integrate with? Do you support all operating systems or maybe just iOS right now? If so, certain geographies are heavy into Apple. Are you compatible with multiple LMS’s or have you focused on a single tool? Then just follow their strong geographies for a while.

Which assessment programs are you most compatible with? Does your product ingest any assessment data? If so, find out where your “friendly” tools are most deeply penetrated. They are typically bunched up in well-defined segments, including statewide contracts, which can give you a roadmap to follow.

You’re getting the picture. If you are able to take a few swings with the segmentation axe, you’ll make a substantial dent in those 132k targets. You will be able to put a profile of your client on the wall and speak directly to him when you craft your sales and marketing message, as well as save a lot of time on addressing geographies that don’t give you the best shot…yet.  Read everything you can about the topics your solution benefits and you’ll see certain states and districts keep turning up in the conversation.  There’s your market!

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