I remember one of the most deflating moments on the road as a rep came when I traversed my territory for back-to-back meetings with two very different outcomes. At my first meeting, highly progressive district personnel were eager to discuss data-driven teaching models and other pedagogical implications of the product I was selling. Fresh from engaging with them on ground-breaking teaching strategies, I walked into a presentation at an after-school teachers’ meeting in a small rural district. I failed to wipe my mental slate clean, and just started rolling along the same vein. The teachers dismissed my product at the end of the meeting saying, “Oh, we thought it was just something for kids to use in the technology lab.” It was too late for me to convince them it was that too. Ouch.

One question would have kept me from talking over the heads of the teachers in my second meeting. It’s the one the great philosophers have been asking for millennia. The question is, “why?” When you ask it of a prospect in the right situation, you can nail one of the toughest aspects of a sales pitch – hitting the right depth of the conversation.

If you speak in surface level benefits to a progressive customer, they think your product is shallow. If you speak of deep pedagogical benefits to someone looking for lighter fare, you lose the sale to over complication. One person views the Mona Lisa and says, “I like that picture!” while another views it and sees a symphony of contextual nuances. They are both art lovers. Both your deep and your light prospects can be your customer and get great value from your solution. Your job in sales is to make them both comfortable.

Luckily, most ed tech products are somewhat flexible. They can serve different uses for different users depending on what the need is. Think about the range of implementation uses for your own product. My guess is you could put them along a spectrum even, from low hanging fruit/surface level uses, all the way to driving the best structures for educational pedagogy.

Your goal is to figure out where along the spectrum your prospect is. You can gracefully take your prospect’s temperature with one essential “tell me about” question about your product category, assessment, reading, math practice, etc. Then ask them “why is that?” The way they answer “why” is going to show their hand about how deeply they are prepared to engage on the subject matter.

I met with four principals this past Friday. I started each meeting with, “Tell me how you currently curate portfolios of student work,” and followed up with “and why is that?” Here’s a table of their responses and their individual “buying sign” statements after I gave them a sales pitch customized to where I thought they hit my spectrum of implementations:

Why? Buying Sign
Show Parents The kids would enjoy this
Let the students reflect back on what they’ve learned This would save time
Describe the whole child This would be a clever alternative assessment for things we can’t test
Take Ownership of Learning This would build metacognition and therefore improve learning outcomes

Same product, big range. If I had arbitrarily picked any one of those four benefits to talk about each time, I would have only gone 1 for 4 that day.  That one extra word helped me set the right tone with each of them.  So don’t just get your clients talking, get them thinking with “why!”

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