Depending on the territory, schools are entering what I call Popsicle Season starting this week. It’s the last two weeks of the school year, whichever dates that falls on in your state. I call it Popsicle Season because as a flagpole to flagpole rep I used to be routinely offered popsicles wherever year-ending events were taking place…Field Day, Honors Ceremonies, Class Picnics, etc. Once a principal forgot I was coming and said, “Just come sit through the kids’ play and then we’ll talk.” It was easily 2 hours long. And this was before smart phones so I couldn’t surreptitiously get other stuff done! District Offices are not much better. This is not a great time for them to launch a new program for many of the same reasons their buildings are distracted – end of year job musical chairs, graduation and honors nights to attend, and spending is pretty well spoken for by their wants list created over the past few months. This time of year is the toughest time to book new appointments, and the toughest time to capture your prospects’ attention at the meetings you do get. But by rolling up your sleeves, you can come through with flying colors.
Your clients are thinking fairly short term right now due to the funding cycle turning over July 1. It is the perfect time to reach out to all opportunities of the current school year, even those that have gone cold. There is fresh budget in a sense, because the last of this year’s use it or lose it funds will be counted and admins will know to the penny what is left. EVERYTHING MUST GO. Some might as well go to you. Focus on closing sales now through June 30.
Manufacturing a sense of urgency to match the K-12 budget window is key. For example if your company has a price increase planned for next school year, buyers will choose to buy your product now to beat the new prices, and let the other sales rep wait until July. Maybe there is another promotional offer your manager will approve such as free training or other offer if a purchase is made before new budgets kick in. Strategically this sounds kind of transactional which might not be your B2E sales model, but it behooves you to act like the short sales cycle reps do at this time of year. No matter what category, budgets are getting emptied. Make sure your hand is out. Worst case scenario, your proposal just misses but gets moved into the July 1 payment pile. That is good too.
If you are field based, or if you are an inside rep that lives in their territory, now is a great season to cold call. By “cold call” I mean visiting a client unannounced, not a phone call to someone you don’t know. Dropping in during Popsicle Season has better results than the rest of the year because of the casual atmosphere. Half the time the principal is hanging out in the foyer. Hard to refuse you 10 minutes when you’re looking right at him. I’m embarrassed to share this tip but it is a fact; if you dress a little more casually you can get confused for being a parent coming to volunteer for the many goings-on and they are more helpful at the front desk. Leave the laptop bag in the car, and joke around a little before stating your purpose. (You didn’t hear that from me!)
Leverage your Buyers’ Relationships
If anyone can get through to an administrator it’s a fellow administrator. For every sale you think is imminently closing, ask them if anyone else would like to get in on “group savings.” You put the buyer in a position to get a better deal for themselves, as well as an exclusive offer for their pals – it’s the kind of program I would personally participate in with my girlfriends. “Hey, let me know if you want 20% off at the Whatever Store. Let me know by Friday!”
When you are working with the district office, your goal is to get connected with the budget holder and work this same strategy. If you have a small sale, for a certain group of teachers or schools, that budget holder can be deputized to make a special offer to others. Take the State and Federal Programs Director, for example. She above all others knows the value of a discount, so a one pager about a beat-the-clock deal is likely to be shared by her with schools she knows are shopping and have money to spend.
Work Long Hours
As much is happening during the day, I find that admins are often working weird schedules at this time of year. It pays to call around 5 or 6pm. The HS principal is probably not going home between dismissal and Senior Honors night. It’s a nice quiet time to catch him.
And as a long time sales manager, the long hours tip is not just so you can catch those prospects, it’s directed at every sales rep that ever told me the reason they couldn’t make their spring goal was that it was too hard to get in front of people this time of year, when I knew they spent half their work week attending their kids’ class parties, getting their spring flowers in, or frequenting their favorite rooftop happy hour spot. If you want to be successful you have to work hard all year long, and harder when the going is tougher. Spring Fever is a number crusher. Be honest with yourself as to how many hours you are prospecting and you might find that the person that’s hard to wrangle this time of year is actually yourself!
As a mother of four that worked in sales through all my kids’ popsicle years I discovered the secret was scheduling my prospecting time first. I wasn’t going to miss important moments in my kids’ lives, nor was I going to miss out on my sales time. What got cut was some of the cleaning, weeding, and TV sweeps watching — all things that I don’t miss in retrospect. Have a successful year-end blitz!