Your Guide to Building Genuine Relationships with MATs

by | 18 Sep 23

It’s really fascinating to look back and see how much the UK education landscape has morphed over the past decade. Do you recall when Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) first made their debut? Wow, there’s been so many changes even since then.

The 2010 Academies Act and the establishment of Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) in 2014 were game-changers, making MATs the go-to model for school governance by around 2017. But even before that, many MATs were taking shape and expanding beyond just 4 or 5 academies. As they grew, they started to operate more like businesses, certainly when looking into the market to purchase a solution to a problem.

Here’s a fun fact from Gartner that supports this: in a typical firm with 100-500 employees, an average of 7 people are involved in most buying decisions.


In this blog, I’m going to explore if we can apply this research to MATs. Are MATs just like other ‘companies’? Is their purchasing behaviour like larger corporations? I’ll also include my tips for how to build relationships with MATs that lead to more sales opportunities and higher retention rates.

Table of Contents

Use these links to jump straight to the part of the article that interests you most.

> MATs Aren’t ‘Typical’
> How Organisations Buy in 2023
> Expanding Your Presence and Breaking Into the MAT Sector
> P.S. A Word of Warning

MATs Aren’t ‘Typical’

Now, I can almost hear you thinking. “Hang on a minute! MATs are anything but ‘typical’. They’re not your run-of-the-mill businesses. Surely, they don’t have between 100-500 employees.”

Well, brace yourself for a surprise. If you take a peek at the governance structure of a MAT, you’ll see they’re not too different from other organisations. They’ve got a board, they’ve got various Executives with those fancy CxO titles (CEO, COO, etc), and they have a ‘central team’ that reports to the board and these CxOs – pretty much like the ‘Director’ and ‘Head-of’ levels in any typical company.

Let’s do some quick maths here. On average, a MAT has about 7 academies. Each academy typically has around 12 teaching staff. That adds up to a staff count of 84. Throw in the senior leaders in each school and the MAT central team and voila! You’ve crossed that 100 employees mark that defines a “typical firm”.

So, yes, this data is absolutely relevant to MATs. And if you’re part of the UK Education sector – whether you’re selling services, products, or technology – it’s crucial that you’re tuned into all this fantastic data out there. These insights can help you understand how organisations discover brands, shortlist vendors, and purchase products and services.

If you’re not keeping up with this, trust me, you’re going to get left behind.

How Organisations Buy in 2023

This is a huge topic. This could be a blog in its own right. No, in fact, it could be a book in its own right! But I’m going to go over this in as few words as I possibly can. I will, however, need to break it down into two parts. So here goes:

How buyers find and search for new solutions

You know how they say numbers don’t lie? Well, let’s chat about a certain ’74’. Not the year, but a percentage that might just make you sit up and take notice.

According to the Global Digital Report’s quarterly research by DataReportal, 74% is the number of internet users between the ages of 16 and 64 who are turning to social media platforms to research brands and find products. Yeah, you read that right! Almost three-quarters of internet users are now scrolling through social media feeds to discover new products.

Now, doesn’t that scream ‘opportunity’ to you? In light of this, it’s pretty clear that your team needs to be active, engaging, and visible on social media. It’s not just an option anymore, it’s a necessity!

This brings us to a crucial crossroad: Do we continue to invest in email marketing, cold calling, and Google ads? Or do we shift gears and empower our staff to create and share valuable content that resonates with our target market?

And remember, the decision-makers and purchasing influencers from MATs are very much part of this “internet users” group. In July 2023 Kepios reported a whopping 5.19 billion internet users globally – that’s 76% of the developed world! So, it’s safe to say that roughly 76% of your target audience in MATs are online, and 74% of these people are using social media to learn more about you and your competitors.

Who is involved in the buying decision?

We now know that MATs are pretty much like other ‘typical’ organisations. I’m talking about structure, employee numbers, and even their behaviour when it comes to researching brands, products, services, and solutions.

Now, with this newfound understanding, it’s crucial for you to know who calls the shots when MATs are on the hunt to solve a problem – a problem that you might just have the perfect solution for.

Remember when I mentioned at the start of this blog that Gartner reported an average of 7 people involved in a buying decision in an organisation that fits the typical profile of a MAT? Well, here’s your homework: jot down who these 7 personas could be (keep in mind, the number could vary slightly for your product, but it’s safe to say it’ll hover around the 7 mark!). Make sure your Salespeople and Customer Success Managers (CSM) can identify these personas in their sleep! And when there’s a potential deal, they need to know who these people are.

And here’s something you must do – get these personas integrated into your sales process. So when you’re reviewing a sales lead or opportunity, ensure that your Salesperson or CSM has either established or is in the process of building a relationship with these 7 personas.

Let me drive this point home. This data doesn’t imply that all 7 personas hold the keys to the decision-making kingdom. But they sure do have a significant influence over the process. Even a hint of concern, doubt, or a strong opinion from any one of them can put a stop to a deal.

Now that we’ve got that sorted, it’s the perfect segue into the next section of this blog.

Expanding Your Presence and/or Breaking Into the MAT Sector

So, you might be sitting there thinking: “Okay, I’ve got my list of 7-ish people. They’re all on social media. Time to connect and pitch.” But hold your horses! That’s a big no-no. It’s pretty much the same as cold calling, and we all know how that usually goes down, don’t we?

When we talk about connecting with those 7 people, we’re not just talking about them in isolation. You’ve got to connect to their wider network. Why, you ask? Well, each of these 7 people have colleagues and peers who they work with and respect. So, it’s crucial we don’t overlook them.

Let me paint you a picture. Let’s say you’re selling an Assessment application to a MAT. Of course, I won’t list all the key people here – we’d be here all day! – but it’s safe to say one of the key figures is the Education Director. Now, this Education Director works closely with all the headteachers in the academies. So, it’s a smart move to connect with these headteachers and share valuable content that would appeal to them.

If you’re familiar with our Social Selling strategy, you’ll know the psychology behind what content to share and when to pop the question for that all-important meeting. By applying this strategy and sharing content, you’ll be well on your way to influencing the Education Director. And when you ask, you’ll be in a great place to get an introduction!

Here’s what you need to do: Get to know the key people around the decision-makers. Understand their current situation, their challenges, and their aspirations. Build relationships with them. Identify if the MAT is grappling with a problem that your solution can address.

Understand their current feelings, their present situation, and their vision for the future. The more you understand, the better you can serve them. And in the end, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Making a real difference in education.

When you’re chatting with them think of these things:

  • How would a desired future state look?
  • How would that make them feel?
  • What impact would it have on their MAT?
  • What impact would have on their staff?
  • What impact would it have on the pupils?

At this point you’re starting to see the bigger picture, seeing where you can swoop in and help them transition from their current situation to their dream scenario.

Rushing in to connect with the key decision-maker isn’t your top priority. I know, it might seem like the logical first step, but trust me, it’s not where we’re heading – not just yet.

What we’re really aiming for here is to bring everyone on board. We’re talking about all the people surrounding those key decision-makers. You want to understand their current state, their challenges and aspirations.

Remember, this isn’t just about reaching the top, it’s about bringing everyone along for the journey.

P.S. A Word of Warning

Alright, let’s finish this off on a serious note. And I can’t stress this enough: Don’t use this advice as some kind of magic trick to convince a MAT (or any buyer, for that matter) to buy a solution that doesn’t tick their boxes.

I know we haven’t dived deep into this in this blog, but it’s so important. Part of your journey should be figuring out what the prospect wants to fix and – here’s the main point – if you’re the right one to fix it.
If you’re not the perfect fit, be upfront about it. Tell them you might not be the answer to this particular problem. But, don’t forget to mention what you do best and the problems you can solve.

When they face an issue that you can solve, they’ll remember you. And guess who they’ll contact first?

And if you are the right match for the MAT, well, following this advice will set you up nicely for a long and fruitful partnership. Remember, it’s all about making a real difference in education.

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