Purchasing involves risk. Clients must decide which is safer – grabbing the brass ring of change or playing it safe.  Change can be dangerous but letting change pass one by is dangerous too.  Salespeople that help clients assess and mitigate risk when considering district-wide implementations make their prospects feel comfortable, confident and ready to buy.  Are you doing all you can to manage your clients’ risk?

None of us that service the education industry believe the solution we sell isn’t going to be successful when used with fidelity, but not every client will share your definition of fidelity.  What if the new curriculum you are helping a client implement has a weak take-up from teachers?  What if adequate professional development time wasn’t budgeted, or students had such large pre-requisite skill gaps they went home frustrated each day?  Those are real risks that need to be brought on the table early in the sales process. 

It sounds like a negative conversation to have, but your clients didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday – they’ve seen purchasing failures and the resulting loss of credibility, internal strife, and maybe even firings that came along with them.  You can gain credibility and grab a seat on the planning team by being the first one in the sales conversation to bring up risk and how to manage it. 

Here’s what that process looks like for a large scale implementation:

First:  Define how the district measures success in terms of both quantitative (test scores, graduate rate, enrollment, etc.) and qualitative evidence (surveys, evaluations, climate).  It’s fair to limit the scope of this question to the general area your product impacts, but since surprisingly few measurements of success exist for school districts, don’t be surprised if everything from nutrition to yearbooks to laptops is measured in terms of the same test scores and retention rates.

Second:  Determine the positive impact the purchase of a solution like yours can make on the measures of success.  “How would you define a successful rollout of a new LMS?” I’ve also heard it phrased as, “Tell me what a first class LMS rollout looks like.”  Be prepared for the client to fall off their chair when you ask that because as critical as this question is, it’s almost never asked by B2E reps.

Third:  List what might stand in the way of success.  “Let’s list anything that could stand in the way of that success.”  Be honest enough to add the things your client doesn’t list that you know can go wrong.  It’s the only way to avoid them.

Fourth:  Plan how to avoid all the pitfalls.  For example, if bandwidth might not be sufficient at peak times for effective use of your solution, add a to-do item and the cost for upping the bandwidth to optimal peak usage.  Plan big in this stage, and keep saying “We can always cut back to a more acceptable risk level.”  This is bold, and I know you reps out there hate doing it as they perceive losing the sale due to rising total cost of implementation.  Guess what?  The customer prefers to know not just what “fine” is, but what “recommended” and “ample” are.  They are realistic, more so with each passing year, that genie in a bottle solutions are merely snake oil, and to be successful they will have to invest in not just a product, but the ancillary training, technology, and/or restructuring to see results.

Fifth:  Deliver a proposal with all the risk mitigating factors outlined as options.  Let it be the district’s informed choice to right-size that proposal for the level of risk they are comfortable with.  Presuming you’ll be the listing the price for not only your solution, but a high level or training and other ancillary “pitfall avoidance” elements, you won’t have the lowest bid.  You will, however, have the safest bid.  If this is a competitive situation, the fact that you have the most detailed and thoughtful solution will stand tall against the rest of the field, including the most dangerous of all competitors; the competition of standing pat and not making a change. 

If you sell supplemental and smaller scale solutions, this time intensive risk assessment is overkill, but it’s worth thinking about how the evaluation of risk causes a great deal of the purchase paralysis affecting your sales as well.  There are a few tried and true methods for giving comfort to an education buyer that is weak at the knees.  Success stories and references are excellent ways to help the client feel safer in their purchase.  Awards, news stories and social media presence also bolster your product’s credibility and reduce the perceived risk.  And always make available the opportunity to pilot or sample your live product.

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