The K-12 Education Purchasing Cycle From The Business POV
Kevin Custer, of Arc Capital Development gives a super overview of K-12 purchasing from a business point of view. You can find Kevin’s company here: https://arccd.com/ Arc Capital has been a leader in education business consulting and so much more since 2004.
Phase 1. Needs Assessment (May-Oct): The initial phase of the buying cycle is dedicated to determining needs for the upcoming school year.
Phase 2. Planning & Budgeting (Sep-Dec): Approximately four months are spent planning and establishing the budget.
Phase 3. Presentation & Approval (Oct-Feb): Presentation to and approval from the Board of Education.
Phase 4. Bidding (Jan-Apr): Selected vendors are invited to submit bids for specific products and services.
Phase 5. Final Review, Selection, and Purchase (Mar-Oct): The final portion of the cycle is devoted to reviewing bids, studying each product/service, making final selections and issuing purchase orders.
Here you go:
Phase 1: Introduce Your Product (May through October)
Many administrators began to think about the next school year. By the time summer arrives, decision makers often know what is needed, but they’ll be further influenced by endofyear performance results, which will become available as school starts back up in the fall. This is the decision maker’s discovery period, the time for you to introduce your product. (NOTE: you should begin to lay the groundwork for Phase 1 during Phase 4 of the previous cycle, see below for more on this).
Your marketing campaigns during this phase should target a wide audience of schools and districts that meet your team’s prospect criteria. Make the collateral accessible and introductory. Use tools such as online video testimonials from satisfied K12 customers (an endorsement from a prospect’s peer is worth its weight in gold).
Monitor and refine your website’s SEO so administrators can quickly find your product demos. Use A/B tests to continuously improve your outbound email campaigns and site collateral. This is the time to build introductory credibility and focus your messaging.
Each spring, K12 administrators begin assessing their school or district needs. While they might eye small, supplemental materials for the upcoming academic year, the process to purchase more substantial products is long. During Phase 1, decision makers are already thinking about the school year that will begin in the following calendar year.
Phase 2: Emphasize Your Value Proposition (September through December)
During the fall, K12 administrators plan and build their budgets. By now they solidly understand their needs and likely have a general sense of possible solutions. So they begin to focus on how they’ll fund those solutions. With funding front and center on the decision makers’ minds during this phase in the cycle, your team should find multiple ways to emphasize your product’s value proposition. Your messaging should become more specific and more personal. You can hold regular webinars, set up 1:1 meetings with leads, and seek out opportunities to build relationships with the decision makers.
During Phase 2, you should find that your broad outreach from Phase 1 has narrowed considerably to focus on high potential prospects.
Phase 3 & Phase 4: Nurture Relationships and Prepare for the Next Cycle (October through April). The autumn months are extremely busy for K12 decision makers. In addition to initiating the funding approval and bidding process (Phases 3 and 4 in the buying cycle), administrators are occupied with organizing schools and classrooms, first semester goals, and then the holidays. By late autumn, you’re past the point of introducing your product to new prospects. At this point, some businesses will slow down their marketing efforts until January so it’s a great time to differentiate yourself through high quality outreach efforts. Thanks to your team’s efforts during Phase 2, you should have an established sales funnel filled with leads. Deliver hypertargeted messaging to your leads based both on their respective probability of sales closure and specific needs.
During Phases 3 and 4, K12 decision makers will be evaluating your product against your competitors while also assessing their limited remaining budget and picking their priorities. I recommend using two sales kits at this critical juncture: one for competitive discussions (with fleshed out competitive matrices) and another to help emphasize the “big picture” value of your product.
Following the holidays your sales and marketing teams will need to focus on two sets of potential customers: While your sales team will be working on closing deals with existing leads, your marketing team should begin to launch early marketing efforts for attracting new audiences in the next buying cycle. Use your historical sales data (updated with your current wins and losses) and any new product features to update your collateral, refine your criteria for assessing prospects and leads, build new prospect lists, and plan your next round of lead generation campaigns. The new year brings education conferences like FETC, SXSWedu, and many others where you’ll be able to speak facetoface with educators from around the country. Make sure to register.
Phase 5: Stay Flexible while Closing Deals (March through October)
Most purchase decisions start in the spring so don’t lose steam as you head into Phase 5. Stay in close contact with your leads and help them make the right decision. Most districts end their fiscal years on June 30 to align with their respective states. Useorlose state funds (the largest percentage of schoolfunding money) get forfeited if they are not spent by the end of the fiscal year so in most states June can be an intense month of closing deals!
Be prepared to offer great discounts during this phase as many districts look for ways to spend their remaining funds. Funding pros like Redrock Reports: https://www.redrockreports.com/ or RFP Match https://rfpmatch.com/ can help you identify which districts still have money. When a deal falls through, learn from the process and move on because the administrators are already beginning to think about the following year. The cycle is beginning again.
Try to view the K12 buying cycle from the perspective of building longterm relationships rather than making oneoff sales. By committing to a consultative partnership approach, you’ll orient your activities toward achieving mutual success with K12 decision makers, better appreciate and adapt to the timing issues that control K12’s purchasing process, and remain flexible when you miss a target sale that gets rolled into the following year. Consider that the average tenure of principals and district superintendents are three to five years. The successful relationships you develop today can drive future sales as decision makers move on to new positions.
A Brief Note on TeacherTargeted Sales
Do you sell your product directly to teachers? Provide a “freemium” product? While the majority of sales still move through the buying cycle I discussed in this post, certain smaller classroom products can be circumvent the longer cycle. When engaging teachers directly, orient your marketing efforts to peak first in August and September as school starts, and again in January for the second semester. These are the two times when teachers introduce new products in their classrooms.
Peer recommendations are particularly important when selling to teachers. As you approach the peak buying periods, analyze which schools are successfully using your product already and recruit the most satisfied teachers to evangelize your product.
Always Keep Marketing and Always Keep Selling.
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