When you think of a consultant, you think of an expert coming to the aid of a management team to contribute some analysis or recommendation that the team doesn’t have the experience, confidence or man hours to achieve themselves. For more than a decade we’ve been told we all need to be more consultative in our selling so we can act as expert advisers to our school districts. I myself have used that term as I encourage reps to ask better questions so we can assist our educators better. The theory is that we can’t give any advice until we know what goals a customer wants to achieve. While this remains true, the recent frustration B2E companies are feeling as they struggle to close and retain business shows me that consultative selling is not the right approach for K-12 today.
Consultants have some great advice, but they generally deliver that in report form and leave. They have no stake in the game; they aren’t going to be the ones “doing” the work they recommend. They don’t sweat the outcomes and if they are engaged to measure return on investment, how many factors are they measuring? They might for instance ignore turnover caused by a new initiative that saves expense in another category. An in-house manager would take a different approach to the same project because they are more accountable to the organization. They have to live with the changes they make. That’s who we need to become for our customers.
Consultant behavior is unfortunately very consistent with companies selling to schools. Many put all their emphasis on offering advice before the sale, offer up a plan for how to implement their solution “in theory,” and leave the managing of that solution to the teacher, school and district.
What would you do differently if you were the person that was about to roll out this solution to teachers, parents and students? Would you spend more time talking to those stakeholders? Conduct a survey? Spend time in their classrooms? If you were personally responsible for the learning objectives you claim a district can achieve, would you be more hands on at your client sites post sale?
As terrifying as that time investment sounds, realize that our K-12 partners don’t expect us to guarantee their outcomes, nor do they want us as involved as it would really take to manage our solutions on site. For one thing our product fees would suddenly be astronomical. But it elevates our status in their eyes when we demonstrate that we are prepared to.
There will be a shift in mindset that drives your sales meetings when your approach is managerial as opposed to consultative. You’ll be a little bit more forthcoming about snags that should be expected along the way and the real length of time it will take to fully ramp up. You’ll be a little more active about engaging more stakeholders in the buying decision. You’ll put the teachers’ and students’ needs first not just as a slogan but as a matter of responsibility. That shift will speak volumes to the administrators you pitch. It will bring you deeper and more honest responses from prospects as well as a higher closer rate.