By Janine Walker Caffrey, Ed.D.
I have been on both sides of the B2E equation. As an educator, I know how it feels to be bombarded daily by vendors who want a piece of you. As a service provider, I know how frustrating it is to be blocked by the people who really do need you. So how do you knock on the schoolhouse door and get let in? How do you stay in and get paid?
- Speak teacher. Teachers have a very hard job that gets harder every day. They want to know you understand their challenges, even if you have never been a teacher yourself. If teachers don’t want to use or implement your product, your stay in a school or district will be very short. If what you are selling is perceived as “one more thing” that a teacher has to do, you’re toast. Be ready to help decision-makers know how this will make life easier for teachers. Request to have teachers be part of the decision-making process. Teachers who are part of the process will become your biggest evangelists moving forward.
- Get an intro from a true peer. Have a super introduce you to a super, a principal to a principal and so on.
- Respect the calendar. There are times of the year when NOBODY in a school will want to talk to you. Never call during the first week of school or the last two. Don’t bother trying to reach someone in the guidance department (or testing/accountability) when they are coordinating state-mandated testing. Forget about reaching the high school drama teacher the week of the spring musical. Just look at the online calendar and think about the days when your audience might be able to pay attention long enough before reaching out.
- Time it just right. Once you establish the best day to reach out, think about the time of day. Principals are usually early birds and get into school way before anyone else. Early morning is usually a good time for an email. A school principal will generally not want to talk to you on the phone during arrival and dismissal time. A transportation coordinator will likely check email and be available for phone calls midday, between the two bus runs of the day. A super will not want to take a call on board meeting days. Understand the ebb and flow of a typical day for the person you wish to reach and time your communications accordingly.
- They are busy. People who work in and around schools are generally extremely busy and often can’t control how their time is allocated. Your message needs to be short and sweet, especially during your earliest communications. Don’t ask potential customers to take surveys to decide if your product is right for them. Don’t require them to provide a lot of data leading to sales or onboarding. Don’t make them wade through dense web copy. Send them exactly what they need to know at the moment and continue enlightening them as they ask for more information. Think of it as answering the “Where do babies come from?” question. You provide your five-year-old with much different information than your teen.
- Make a great impression. Be sure you honor the dress code of the place you are visiting. The dress code for most districts is business (polos with school logos on casual days or game days). You want to at least be up to business casual standards when visiting an office, and all business if you present at a board or committee meeting. The dress-down approach of many startups won’t cut it.
- Make connections with the gatekeeper. If your decision-maker has an assistant who answers the phones and keeps the calendar, be sure you develop a relationship with this person. This important, trusted employee will make or break you.
- The hurdles are high and numerous. Getting to “yes” with a school or district usually takes a very long time. The process is just as frustrating to your customers as it is to you. Be sure you understand the process and do all you can to support and assist your customer throughout the process. Which staff members must approve the purchase? What information will they require? Is board approval required? What are the deadlines for being placed on the board meeting agenda? Are there any staff or board members who might push back against this purchase? If so, what can we do to win them over?
- The sale is just the beginning. You made your sale! Congratulations, but don’t count your money yet. You still need to get paid. The larger the district, the longer this will take. Be prepared for the wait – which can number in months or (although rare) years. Find out up front what the invoicing and payment process entails. Learn exactly who is responsible for each part of the process. Establish relationships with people who can help you along the way. This human engagement with secretaries and clerks is absolutely critical. These are people who really run the district.
- Provide success updates. Be sure administrators and board members have evidence of how your product or service positively impacts students and staff. This will give them the ammo needed for renewal or new purchases in the future.
Following these steps will allow you to be a true partner instead of just a vendor. Together with your school partners, you can help ensure our schools have what they need to provide our students with the education they deserve.
About our Guest Blogger:
Janine’s mission is to improve education for all kids. She spent many years as a special education teacher and a little time as a physics teacher. She has been a principal, school founder, education director of a national non-profit, assistant superintendent in NYC and a superintendent in New Jersey. Her passion is teaching reading. Currently Janine is launching a new app called Classhopper, which will revolutionize the way elementary teachers teach reading. You can learn more about her on her website, or by emailing her at JanineCaffrey@gmail.com.