Does your product appeal to students or schools and you seek ways to promote it? If YES, here are 20 tips on how to market your business to schools successfully.
Do you want a long-term business relation with a client who buys in bulk? Then a school might just be the right institution for you. Supplying academic institutions with products, technology, or services can prove to be a lucrative move. Even though a lot of districts are complaining about budget cuts in public schools in the United States of America, this has not stopped them from spending an average of $12,250 per student every year.
So would you like to have a share of the many billions of dollars that schools spend every year in the United States of America? Then you should take your products or services to them.
Even though each and every school out there is different, but they more or less follow the same pattern when it comes to choosing a supplier and spending budget. Knowing what these patterns are will not only answer the question – ‘Will they buy my product?’, but will significantly improve your conversion rates and your returns on investment.
Here are 20 tips on how to market your business to schools.
20 Tips on How to Market your Business to Schools Successfully
1. Target the right person in the school: The first and most important rule of marketing to schools is knowing who you want to approach to buy your products or services. For instance, if you sell sports equipment such as footballs, tennis rackets and gym mats, it will do you little or no good to direct your marketing efforts to the PE teacher of a primary school because he may have no budget responsibility.
In the same vein, it is no good emailing the Deputy Head of a large Secondary School where budgets are filtered down to a greater degree. Every school is given budgets per pupil at the beginning of a financial year and each department within the school will usually have its own budget responsibility. Choosing the right target is key.
Be clear on the people you need to target as this will be different according to your particular business. Do you need to target the overall financial decision makers such as head teachers or school business managers or are you targeting the influencers such as heads of department?
You may need to identify the phase you are concentrating on such as key stage, early years or higher education or perhaps a subject area such as science, technology or the arts. Once you have identified your target more specifically, you can be more focused with your marketing.
Create school-centered catalogs and marketing materials. Whether schools are a primary or supplementary sales target, you’ll want to create custom catalogs, brochures, website landing pages, and other marketing collateral that feature academic products and your bulk-rate prices.
Look at other online school-supply catalogs as models. Aim to have your materials ready to send out by January or February so that school officials can make decisions and order products in time for the next fall session.
2. Focus on relationship-building: if your child attends a local school that you intend to market your business to, it will do you a lot of good to become as involved as possible. You can do this by joining the parent’s teachers association (PTA) and by also volunteering to help out during certain events. A good word from your child’s teacher can go a long way to getting you meetings and referrals.
If your children are not of school age, don’t worry, there are still other ways you can build a relationship with the school by focusing on forming social relationships with school officials through other means, such as offering to assist with fundraising efforts. Supplying to schools tend to be a long-term relationship, so it may take some time to establish the trust that you need to generate sales.
3. Keep an eye on RFPs: a lot of schools will send out requests for proposals (RFPs) when they’re looking for a new supplier of a particular product or service. With this, you will have to compete with other suppliers by submitting a bid for the project with details about what you can provide. You can sign up for a service like The RFPDB, which sends notifications of RFPs that match what you offer.
4. Increase your online presence: having a good online presence can go a long way to sealing a deal with a school. In a study that tried to find out the preferred medium for sourcing suppliers, about 78 per cent of schools said they prefer to search the internet.
A website that looks professional is very important for your business. Also you will have to make sure that the design of your website is mobile responsive because many school heads and school business managers will be searching suppliers on the go on phones and tablets both in and out of school.
You should also make use of various social media platforms in your marketing campaign. Using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ is an effective way to engage with schools and education groups. You should always bear in mind that these networks provide an opportunity to open up the conversation with schools and build relationships.
5. Decide whether ‘old school’ selling is best value for money for your business: just 5 per cent of schools welcome direct sales calls suggesting that suppliers should consider its value as a means of selling to schools. However, about 30 per cent may consider other forms of direct marketing over the next 12 months such as brochures, printed directories and letters, but it is certainly worth comparing the cost of this type of marketing with digital marketing in relation to its return on investment.
6. Get to grips with Google Adwords: just like it was mentioned previously, being online can be very crucial to your success. However being online is not enough. These days, a lot of schools do a general internet search for some of their suppliers so it is easy to see how important your position in search engine results are in getting business from schools.
However, being online will be of little use if you are hidden away in the fourth page or even further below of the search engine result. Other than investment in search engine optimization, a quick way to ensure you are found when schools are searching is to run a pay per click campaign – and let’s remember that 78 per cent of survey respondents prefer to search the internet for suppliers.
7. Show off your accreditations: a vast majority of schools these days tend to compare service costs and quality of suppliers as an in-house exercise. A lot more information can be easily sourced from the internet about potential suppliers and approved supplier lists such as ISBL Approved Partners helping schools increase their confidence in school procurement decisions.
Suppliers are really missing out if they fail to promote their industry accreditations and other compelling information about their business to schools. The National Register of Education Suppliers has a specific section to display accreditations, a feature schools are finding very useful and helpful when making a final choice as to which supplier to go with.
8. Share your testimonials: word of mouth has always been a good marketing tool, in fact, over the past 12 months over 70 per cent of schools have used word of mouth as a key way of sourcing suppliers. Believe it or not, what other people have to say about your business is a lot more important than what you say.
This is because people are more likely to believe an unbiased customer who has done business with you, as opposed to the business owner who will most likely be biased. Suppliers are urged to collect testimonials from previous customers and share them in a dedicated section on the National Register of Education Suppliers.
9. Become an approved supplier: A wide range of associations and local authorities have their own approved supplier lists which tend to be the go to for schools which intend to source for suppliers. Despite the increase in academies and the autonomy this brings in terms of spending, 70 per cent of schools will still consider using approved local authority lists to source some of their suppliers over the coming year.
10. Attend trade shows: The buyers of school supplies often attend trade shows to see what’s new in the industry. Find the biggest conferences in your area and purchase booth space. You can make use of the internet to find relevant trade shows that are near you.
There are an increasing number of education trade shows and exhibitions throughout the year and in different parts of the country. The key ones to look out for are The Education Show, The Academies Show, The Nursery and Primary Show and The Higher and Further Education Show. Trade shows are an effective way of developing face to face relationships with schools bearing in mind 37 per cent of schools said they would consider trade shows as one way of sourcing suppliers this year.
11. Consider your message: you should carefully consider your message for the academic year. Your message needs to take into account any changes to the education system this year or any developments in your industry. Consider whether your message is compelling for schools. Make sure that your message conveys how you can bring value to a school giving a school reason to buy from your business over your competitors.
12. Guard your reputation: The reputation of your brand should be your most prized asset so be good at what you do. Encourage reviews on your website – It’s what schools look at before spending. 99 per cent of schools are willing to recommend, rate and review suppliers for their work with their school in order to help other schools in their procurement decisions. Make the most of every opportunity to build your reputation within the education sector and in your locality.
13. Know your competitors but don’t be obsessed about them: if you intend to market your business to schools, it is good that you should know the kind of competition that you are up against. You can make use of the internet to find out who else sells your products or services to schools.
Follow your competitors on social media and view their websites. Use search engines to find similar companies. All this should help you establish how you compare and give you ideas on how to raise your game. However, as much as there is need to know your competitors, you should also learn to ignore them.
Only consider the competition when compiling your own marketing strategy. Don’t become obsessed by them and always follow what they are doing, because what they are doing isn’t necessarily right for you. Concentrate on your own business and have confidence in yourself.
14. Manage the project and the account: Schools are, unless you’re working with independents – public sector organizations and as such are process-driven and have themes of accountability and structure. They’ll expect clear timescales, expectations and specifications and they’ll expect regular updates, possibly in a standardized form.
Don’t take this requirement for information, meetings and action points as anything other than necessary. The decision maker you will be working with will have expectations from their management and they’ll be accountable for the project.
Feeding them relevant, succinct information will greatly help their job and in turn improve your relationship with them. Public sector clients can feel demanding when compared to their private sector colleagues, but once you have a system of providing them information and know what to provide each time, life will become much easier.
15. Don’t forget the user: you should always bear in mind that schools don’t buy your products and services, but people in schools do. Whatever you’re doing, remember the user. Education organizations have a number of different audiences and users, each with varied demographics, expectations and wants.
Understanding these and how they’re segmented is key to delivering a great end-user experience. It’s essential to see past a school as just an organization but instead focus on building relationships with individuals who are making the financial decisions within each school.
16. Develop a diverse marketing mix: it is best to always start out every year by clearly delineating and prioritizing your marketing mix as follows; Exhibiting to schools; Online advertising; Content production; Direct marketing.
Start with a plan of how you will exhibit to schools – an online profile on the National Register of Education Suppliers is the most cost effective way to exhibit to schools 24/7 ensuring that you are found when schools are searching.
Next, you should consider if your budget allows for attendance at education trade shows and if so decide which to attend. Follow this with a clear strategy for online advertising via social media and Google adwords – set the budget and plan your campaigns carefully.
Next, you should allocate an investment of time and money on the creation of compelling content, employing a copywriter or PR consultant is well worth investigating if you do not already have one in-house. Finally, if budget allows, identify whether direct marketing will work for your business – test the return on investment from a range of options. Companies with larger budgets may wish to consider print advertising in some of the key national education publications for head teachers and school business managers.
17. Tender intelligently: The tender process can be a real stumbling block for many companies, but there’s no need for it to be a difficult stage. This part of the process is a necessary stage in working with a new supplier and it requires everything you’d expect when forming a new relationship.
Essentially schools are looking for security, professionalism and reassurance here. You need to be capable for the task at hand, but it’s important to convey your experience, references and testimonials, your processes and how you manage critical things such as risk, quality and project management.
Include relevant documentation (including insurance certificates) to ensure all bases are covered – most tender documents will ask for these. Answer the questions and don’t over-complicate. Decision makers will want to know you’re trusted, recommended and capable.
18. Get your pricing right and offer a guarantee if possible: before you offer to supply goods or services to any school, you should do your own research to find out what your competitors are charging for their products and services. You should not walk up to them and ask, rather you should pretend to be a customer to cover your tracks. Once you’ve got a good idea of what the market is priced at, get your own pricing right.
In addition, If you think your products and services are worthy of a 100% guarantee or ‘your money back’, then guarantee them. Offer to refund people if they’re not fully satisfied with you. You certainly run the risk of some people abusing this offer, but this may outweigh the benefits of attracting more customers.
19. Choose the right method of communication: When it comes to selling to schools, there are really 3 main approaches to consider. Postal Mail, Email, and Telephone contact. Most times, you would think that a combination of the three is clearly going to yield the greatest Return on your Investment.
But, if this is impractical from a time and cost point of view, then it really doesn’t matter, as all 3 methods on their own bear significant results. The quickest, simplest and most effective method of approaching teachers and management staff in schools is via email.
20. Test your results and don’t be afraid to modify them according to the reality on ground: Now you have chosen your target, designed your campaign and transmitted your email message, now you will be probably asking “will schools buy my products?” Of course we probably aren’t going to know the answer to this 5 minutes after your email has been broadcast, so how can we make sure you become the ‘Selling to Schools Pro’ you set out to be?
You will now need to consider the good and bad points of your email. How many of your emails were opened? How many of your Target Contacts clicked through from your email to your website?
To become the Selling to Schools Pro you want to be – Look at your Email Report in detail and consider how to improve engagement rates. Consider your landing pages from the email links and see how they can be improved. Look at what you are offering your prospective clients and ask yourself, can I give them something for free on the landing page?
(This could be a guide to download, or a free Infographic or report, it really doesn’t matter what. Remember, by asking for their name and email address to access this content, you are already building a sales pipeline from your very first email sent.)
In conclusion, in many cases your field of expertise is not going to be the expertise of your target audience. Schools will be looking to you as their supplier to provide them with reliable knowledge of your industry. Setting yourself up as an expert in your area is crucial to building the trust a school is looking for.
Content marketing is essential here and in the current climate widely considered as one of the most effective ways of marketing not only in the education sector. Provide good quality content by sharing your expertise in your field and provide information which will encourage schools to find out more.
In addition, you should have the future in mind. Trying to market a product or service to a school is not something that happens overnight. It could take months or even years of sending out catalogs, wooing school officials, attending trade shows, and responding to RFPs before you get your first customer. However, when and if you do, you’ll have an opportunity to sell a large amount of product on an ongoing basis, which could result in millions of dollars in sales over time.