I’ve been involved with schools and technology since the early 2000s. Back then, working for a council, I could easily connect with headteachers. Even when I started my first EdTech business in 2005, bypassing ‘the gatekeeper’ wasn’t an issue.
Times have changed drastically. Now, reaching the right person in a school is almost impossible, even if you have a rapport with them. I think it’s on us, the EdTech community. We overused cold calling and mass emails, leading schools to raise barriers.
Despite these methods becoming less effective, EdTech companies persist with them, distancing themselves from schools more and more. To fix this, we need to ‘Seek First to Understand’, as Stephen Covey suggests in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I bang on about this book, loads. But I’m not sorry! Ha! It’s amazing!
We must listen to others and understand their perspectives before expressing ours. Let’s truly understand how and when school staff want to converse with vendors. In this blog, I’ll share five tips that have served me well over the years.
A Quick Word Of Warning
These tips I’m about to share… they’re how I’ve built incredible relationships with school staff over the years. But let’s get something straight – and this is crucial – these strategies do work, but only if you’re genuine. Schools can spot a phoney from a mile away. You really have to want to help the people that are educating our future generations.
These ‘tricks of the trade’ won’t work if you don’t have a passion for making a difference in schools. If that sounds like you, then keep reading, there are some real treasures ahead.
1) Understand Your Audience
The foundation of forging relationships with schools lies in understanding the person you want to speak to in school. It’s insufficient to merely know the existence of an IT Manager, a Business Manager or an Assessment Lead; it’s essential to familiarise yourself with their identity, responsibilities, and challenges. Utilise Social Media to locate these individuals – you might be surprised at how accessible they are. Engage them on LinkedIn or Twitter, where I’ve had considerable success, but also consider Facebook’s numerous active groups.
Once you’ve established connections, invest time in understanding them without resorting to sales tactics. The following points on empathetic listening and trust-building will guide you in this.
It’s crucial to inquire, document, and truly comprehend how school staff perceive EdTech companies. Social selling – leveraging social media to engage in problem-solving conversations – is an effective method for achieving this. An excellent social selling strategy equips you with the means and proficiency to genuinely understand your target audience by fostering more dialogues. The mantra is: familiarise, don’t sell. The selling opportunity will arise later – if it aligns with both your and, most importantly, the school’s interests.
This can be done by sharing relevant content specific to the person’s role, engaging in direct messaging, and commenting on their posts. Consistently doing these things will open doors for more face-to-face conversations (likely through MS Teams or Zoom, though). Give this tip a whirl, the rewards are well worth it!
2) Be an Empathetic Listener
Once you’ve identified your key contacts, and when you get the meeting… it’s time to start listening. Not just to the words they say but their underlying message and emotion. People love to talk about their own jobs and their own challenges. So, simply, ask questions. But, really listen. Like, really listen!
Known as ’empathetic listening’, it’s a skill that takes practice but it’s essential if you want to build trust with schools. Ask open questions that allow them to express their views and challenges. Take a genuine interest in what they’re discussing, don’t jump into a sales pitch after these conversations.
Always make it a point to ask, “Is there anything I can do for you?” The reply may be ‘No, not at the moment.’ But you could also get a ‘Yes, possibly.’ Remember, this isn’t the time for a sales pitch. Be genuinely helpful. If you know someone who can help them overcome their challenges, don’t hesitate to introduce them.
In my journey, most people usually respond with “I’m not sure, what exactly do you do?” Here, too, I avoid going into a sales pitch. I just explain what our business does, and the problems we’re working to solve and wrap up by expressing my passion for working in Education.
If your solution happens to directly address their problem, you can say, “I didn’t plan on pitching today, but I think I can help you with that. Would it make sense for us to arrange another chat to go over it?” But, in all honesty, this doesn’t come up at this particular point. That’s usually later, after you’ve established a good relationship.
3) Build Trust
Once you’ve reached a good level of understanding, you can begin building trust with schools. It’s essential to deliver on whatever you’ve promised. You need to keep that emotional bank account in the positive! If there are any delays in the process, be sure to communicate this early and often.
One of my most successful strategies has been to consistently share case studies, make introductions to others, and tell stories of how another school was able to solve a similar problem. All of this helps to build trust with the school. Again this is all aligned with a robust Social Selling methodology. These techniques will show you how to do this with individual schools, but also at scale. You need to be able to industrialise this relationship and trust building.
You can read more about this in my blog, Building Trust with Schools and MATs: Lessons from Stephen Covey’s Emotional Bank Account.
4) Be A Problem-Solver
Tips 1 and 2 are the foundations that will get you to this stage. Once you understand your audience’s needs and concerns and have helped them overcome them – through sharing content and making introductions – you will be top of mind when the person is in the market for solving the problem that you help with.
So now, you will have the schools coming to you. This is no longer about you trying to get past the gatekeeper. You are a person that the school knows and trusts. You’ve already added value, so you’re not threatening to them. They know you’re not going to hit them with a ‘hard sell’.
So when you get to the Problem-Solving stage, this will involve showcasing how your product or service can address common challenges faced by educators or learners. You’ve got the sales meeting you want. Now you just have to explain how your product or service is the best solution, but that’s your bread-and-butter, right?
5) Invest In Your Personal Growth
Personal growth involves the process of developing and improving your own skills, knowledge, and character to reach your fullest potential. It is an ongoing journey that requires dedication and commitment to become the best version of yourself.
To achieve personal growth, it is necessary to be introspective and evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses. This allows for self-reflection and the development of a plan to focus on areas that need improvement, such as communication, leadership, problem-solving, or decision-making.
In the EdTech industry, personal growth is essential in order to stay ahead of the competition. It involves learning new skills, researching industry trends and technology advancements, networking with peers and colleagues, attending relevant events, and applying what you learn to become a better version of yourself.
By getting this far down this blog, something tells me that personal growth is something you take seriously. Now, I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this. But read, learn, read and learn. There’s so much out there that will help you master your skills and improve your sales, customer success and marketing activities.
My top book recommendation is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits OF Highly Effective People. Habit 5 is my main influence for this particular blog post. I hope it’s been useful for you.
Social Selling Certification
The only ISP Endorsed Certified Social Selling Programme
Our DLA Ignite Social Selling and Influence course stands apart as the only training and coaching programme endorsed by the prestigious Institute of Sales Professionals.