All sales is about change. We try to get our customers to change from a competitive solution, or change from doing nothing. A big part of our job is to lead prospects through the pain of change or they won’t be able to make a purchase commitment. The psychologists say no organization will change any one system until they are comfortable with the risk of disruption to the overall system. In other words, while we want to fix our accounting problem we can’t deal with a higher turnover in customer service. It’s very important to understand where our B2E customers are coming from when they evaluate the changes we propose when trying to sell them new solutions.
Even when it wants to, a school district struggles with change because it is handicapped by its exceptionally flat org chart. There are 3.5 million U.S. teachers working in independent classrooms, managed by only 120k principals in different buildings and let’s be generous and call it 15k directors of teaching and learning. That’s a ratio of one CD for every 233 teachers and not a whole lot of middle management to help them.
Sit on that curriculum director’s front porch a second. If buying a new tool means you will have to manage the rollout to 233 people, and those people will have exactly 2 hours to devote to learning it, and when they are frustrated or have setbacks, all their angst will land on your desk, how easy is it for you to pull the trigger on that purchase? Now perhaps you understand more clearly why you so frequently have great sales meetings with prospects that like your products that never turn into sales. As you sell to that CD, remember you are selling organizational change and take time to discuss the bigger picture, not just the benefits of your solution dropped into a lesson plan 20 minutes a day, 3 days a week.
It’s particularly important to message around change management this summer as we slide into the ESSA Era. New rules force a school system’s hand and alter the risk equation. Remember above we learned that the risk of disruption to the overall organization is weighed during purchase decisions. What if the risk is dramatically lessened by new rules that must be followed? Maybe that accounting system from our example is now mandated by law and the customer service reps are just going to have to deal with it? Suddenly the status quo is less attractive, and change is welcome. ESSA is definitely going to matter to our buyers, slowly but surely. How will you react to make sure you’re a winner in the new era?
Let’s start with the good news for startups and new products. Historically it has been easier for newcomers to grow in a change environment. Speaking from experience, when you have a user base of 10 million students, it’s nerve wracking to implement even the tiniest change to your platform. Your own organizational risk equation determines you’re better off keeping the status quo and praying your customers are slow to leave you for more recent, better aligned, better integrated solutions. In times of change, new edtech products use that opportunity to win over educators focused on new workflows and goals. The lesser known products also get to build their message fresh for the ESSA Era, where older ones unfortunately sound insincere if they paint a new face on a well-known brand. Startups, your messaging theme next school year is “revolution.” Focus on the student themselves who is highly resilient to change, and not the comfort of the organization. If you can, work at the building level not the district. Talk about the risks of not changing.
Established products, don’t worry too much just yet as most states and districts will move slowly through the transition. In a time of change, people want to work with brands and people they trust. Tried and true partners that re-train their user base, or add integration support in a timely way, will be able to beat back competitors at the gates and hang onto their market share. Your messaging theme will be “evolution.” Talk about the teachers who are the heart of any education system and how critical it is to maintain context and guideposts for them during a time of change. Even if you have primarily sold at the site level, it’s time for you to control the district and particularly the superintendent level conversations. Talk about the risks of rapid change.
The scope of your solution also impacts your ESSA message. Supplements can make hay with their ability to fill gaps and their nimble rollouts. “Use our solution to avoid risky bigger changes.” More invasive curriculum and platforms have more to lose and gain in the ESSA Era but change here will depend on comfort with revolution and identifying the exact tipping point when the pain of change beats the pain of not changing.
Step one of smart selling under ESSA is learning more about what’s changing and how it will affect your territory. Over the coming weeks, I’ve partnered with several guest bloggers to bring you some special edition sales hacks that can help us prepare for the new legislation. An additional resource you might want to check out is a webinar this Wednesday to be put on by the fine people at Acumen Partners and Agile Education Marketing: ESSA Update: Staying Relevant and Competitive in a Changing Market, http://agile-ed.com/resources/webinars.
I hope to see you back in the coming weeks as we all rethink our messaging and strategy to kick off the first of many ESSA school years!