As ed tech solutions become more comprehensive and involve more interlocking departments, selling B2E is getting a little more centralized and a little more complicated. If you are finding your sales cycle lengthening and that you’re spending more time at the C-level, you can benefit from these tips on managing complex sales through to a win.
1. Your goal is not to sell a solution, your goal is to solve a problem
Complex solution sales occur when a problem exists that is big and painful enough to force a fairly impactful change on a school district. This could be a purchase that stems from a state or federal policy change, new technology, learning outcomes not meeting expectations, or a combination of many of these factors. You must begin your quest for this sale by defining that problem as specifically as you can. You must uncover what pain is behind the need, but that is only the beginning. To win the business you’ll need to fully understand how the district operates. Try not to take short cuts and make assumptions based on other districts you’ve worked with. Schedule as many conversations with department heads as it takes to listen to their perspective on the problem and their vision of resolving it. A tip is to have these meetings independently rather than as a committee. Only the loudest or most senior voices are heard in these group sessions and they could drown out key details that will allow you to make the best possible assessment of the situation.
2. Arrange to be the last rep in
Most complex sales are competitive. Districts will be bringing in multiple vendors and each of them is going to nudge the prospect’s thinking. You and other sales people are helping them better understand their need so things can change quite a bit from the first needs assessment. Create an opportunity to get back in front of the key decision maker at the end of the discovery phase so you get a read on the most fully evolved scope. It’s an extra step but one that is very well worth it. You’ll not only hear the full scope but you’ll also get a chance to correct any off track thinking that was planted by a competitor.
3. Create value with each interaction
There’s a weeding process going on. Districts can’t keep all qualified vendors on their short list or it would be called something else. If you want to survive the initial cuts, you’ve got to provide value with your every interaction. Ask yourself what you can do to make yourself useful to the decision maker(s) during the evaluation. Things like helping wrangle consensus among committee members, conducting a survey of district stakeholders, providing detailed reports and evaluations from similar implementations, arranging for a tour or conversation with one of your clients in an advanced phase of solving a similar problem, and running the numbers on the cost of the solution including not just your fees but internal costs.
4. Recruit support from within the district
If you’re used to selling at the C-Level in B2B, be careful about overlooking the power of grass roots in B2E. I’m fond of a scene in the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding where a young Greek American woman is consulting with her mother on how to get her traditional father to allow her to take college courses. She says something like, “Mom, he’ll never let me do it and he’s the head of the family.” The mother responds with, “The man may be the head of the family but the woman is the neck and she can turn the head any direction she wants.” Priceless. In education, teachers are often the “neck” of their organization. If they don’t like a product, it will eventually fail there. You can avoid that by cultivating grass roots support for your brand alongside your work with the administration. Social media work, small pilots, samples, trade show sessions and webinars are all ways you can promote your brand and solution with teaches and building administrators who often have a voice in the decision-making process, and who always are going to make or break an implementation.
5. Put the full might of your organization on the table
The sales process for a solution company is an audition. Conscript every department in your company to help you win the business by demonstrating their competence, concern and responsiveness. Create opportunities for the prospect to meet their future counterparts across all functions, and of course make certain they are fully briefed on the needs assessment work you’ve done and the scope of the solution. Especially when you are a David up against Goliath, you will stand out by the effort your full organization demonstrates in sincerely asking for a district’s trust and chance to help them reach their goals.
Rather than become intimidated by a complex solution sales process, take charge and outsell your formidable competition with a little extra listening, a little extra hustle, and a lot of extra service.