EdTech Sales & Efficacy — Lessons from SXSWedu 2017

Lesson 1: Being trustworthy is essential in selling to schools

This is a “duh!” to most people in EdTech, but I learned some pretty surprising things about what “trust” actually means at SXSW.

Most districts & vendors avoid RFPs as much as possible. But there is no established alternative for purchasing, so educators rely on many channels to discover new tools:

  • District leaders are going to marketplaces & consortiums to discover good products
  • 90% of EdTech purchasing happens by word of mouth

Success in 1 school doesn’t mean success in any school.

What makes for success in a large school may not work in a small school, and vice versa. So references need to be from comparably-sized places:

  • Referrals need to come from colleagues from comparable districts/schools/classrooms (e.g. a superintendent recommending to a superintendent 0f a similar district is much stronger than a superintendent of a large district recommending to a superintendent of a small district)
  • Use case studies & data to support your case, especially from similar schools/districts

Understand budget cycles, but don’t use it as unfair leverage.

  • Budget cycles are different for software than, say, budget cycles for construction. Know which category you fall into.
  • “It’s predatory to call a district in May to see what money is left.”

Lesson 2: Empathy is *negatively* correlated with sales success

I was shocked, but this is what they found in a study of over 500 salespeople in 44 companies. Top salespeople…

  • Care about money the most. Not education. Not the mission.
  • Are all ambitious (make the quota), detailed-oriented (due diligence), and persistent (always gets the real reason behind a lost sale)
  • Good at using experts — top-peforming sales people do not have an education background, but are good at learning from educators.
  • Quit quickly if they’re not getting supported — 30% of top salespeople leave the company within 1 year. Their stance is “if I’m bringing in all the money, and you’re not giving me top-notch support, then you’re dragging down my performance.” Support can be anything from providing training to having the best-in-class product.

Sales is a very different beast than the rest of your organization.

A sales rep’s job is to make sure you get paid for the value you (supposedly) provide. If they sell your product, and your product doesn’t help the customer, that’s not the salesperson’s fault, that’s the product team’s fault.

Similarly, in most of the company you want to support the underdogs to help them perform better. But in your sales organization, the bottom 10% will never out-perform your top 10%, and giving support to 10x-ers means you get 10x the value for your investment. So you should give all your support to the top 10% of sales reps and fire the bottom 10% of sales reps.

That doesn’t mean you should hire a$$holes.

Good sales reps see future sales opportunities and offer “free” help to customers who are well-qualified for a purchase in the future. They still help people, but they do it as an investment for their future, not for altruism.

Lesson 3: Teachers need a little help using EdTech, but not the kind of help they’e been offered.

A lot of traditional purchases from school districts become shelfware — tools that sound good in theory but are abandoned by teacher due to practical problems. One teacher said:

“We’re making assupmtions that every person is data-literate in schools & districts. But that’s not the teacher’s job. Our job is to teach.”

But just because teachers aren’t neccessarily data-literate doesn’t mean they’re not computer-literate:

“I don’t need training on how to use a tool, I can just google it. But I do need help telling the story of how this tool is going to change my practice and build success for my students.”

What teachers need are tools that are low-risk to try. Teachers will pick up a product and try it quickly. But if the product requires the teacher to teach her students how to use it, she is much less likely to pick it up.

And pilots don’t need to take forever:

“If your product is good, I only need 6 weeks of piloting to decide.”

SXSWedu was a very informative blend of educators and techies. But what we got most out of SXSWedu is actually from our individual meetings with teachers & administrators in Austin. Now that we have a good handle on the day-to-day realities educators experience in both California and Texas, we’re ready to transform Literator so it supports an even larger set teaching styles.

We also discovered that teachers love to share what they’ve created with others. When we (timidly) ask teachers if we can post their posters/classroom setup/advise online, everyone gave us an enthusiastic yes!

If you’re interested in seeing what strategies teachers use in their classes, follow us on Pinterest!