EdTech Sales: The ultimate guide to selling to schools during COVID-19
In four days, between March 12th and March 16th, almost 40 million students in the US were forced to leave their schools behind. The Covid-19 pandemic will lead to 300B missed school days across the world by the end of 2020, according to a new study by Insights for Education.
Suddenly, the entire field of learning has changed. Living rooms and kitchen tables replaced orderly classrooms. Computer screens and video calls replaced show-and-tell day and presentations.
Through the panic and chaos, technology has emerged as a shining solution to a very unexpected problem, and many of our customers in EdTech managed to quickly adapt to these new realities and sell educational products.
And while the pandemic may not last forever, the resulting shift in learning strategies certain will. Even school reopenings won't bring back the pre-pandemic normal, and come with their own sets of challenges.
In fact, funding to EdTech startups so far in 2020 has already reached record highs are more than $8.9B.
If you’re an EdTech company, you may be wondering:
- How can I continue to sell through a global pandemic?
- What’s changed about the sales process for EdTech in these times?
- How can I continue to support my existing customers?
We wanted to uncover the biggest challenges EdTech companies are facing in this crisis, and how they're mastering them. That's why we spoke with 5 EdTech companies who are using Close CRM to successfully sell educational products and services through this crisis.
Keep reading to get a first-hand view of the current situation of EdTech sales, as well as expert strategies to help you succeed in spite of the crisis.
Why COVID-19 presents challenges and opportunities for EdTech sales
With much of the world in lockdown and the rest embracing social distancing, there are serious challenges to EdTech sales. That said, the fact that educators must teach remotely has opened the door for many EdTech companies to offer valuable solutions to current problems.
Here are some of the challenges and opportunities that EdTech companies are facing when selling to school districts:
The unexpected opportunities for EdTech sales:
Millions of children are suddenly homeschooling around the world
While more than 40 million students are learning from home in the US, there are millions more in other parts of the world who likely won’t see their physical schools until the new school year.
This means that online educational software has changed its face: what was once a nice-to-have has become an essential part of the everyday classroom.
Not only that, but the typical higher-education framework is being disrupted by EdTech companies across all categories, such as:
Tech and engineering:
School leaders are searching for ways to continue education while maintaining social distancing
Online learning platform Eduflow experienced the effects of this shift starting in early March. “Due to sudden school lockdowns around the world,” explains CEO David Kofoed Wind, “we started seeing a huge spike in new sign-ups suddenly.”
Starting in early March, the number of new users signing up for Eduflow grew more than 600%.
“Now we’re back to more normal numbers,” says David, “but we’re still seeing a 200% increase compared to before COVID-19.”
Obviously, this sudden increase in demand has been seen by many EdTech companies, proving to be an incredible opportunity for an industry that’s in a prime position to give real help to both teachers and students in need.
The challenges of selling to schools during a pandemic:
Everyone is sensitive to sales pitches in this environment
When doing cold outreach, EdTech companies need to be extremely careful.
Right now, anything that sounds like a sales pitch or has an underlying hint of self-service will be immediately rejected. If prospects feel that you’re exploiting the current situation to make a profit, that will leave a bad taste in their mouth and may end up giving your brand a bad reputation.
Top-tier sales teams should always be focused on the value they provide, and the COVID-19 crisis has only amplified the need to be helpful to your prospects.
That’s why the goal for EdTech companies should be to provide genuine help, not just to make sales.
Demos are harder to give
In the past, demos may have been given in-person to a group of people, including school leadership, teachers, and other stakeholders. Of course, in a post-COVID world, meeting in person has become much more difficult (if not impossible).
So, a shift has to be made. Demos now require more coordination to plan and schedule.
Not only that, but the workers in EdTech companies may have issues as they themselves are unexpectedly working from home. “In the last demo I did myself with a huge tech company,” relates David from EduFlow, “I had my 8-month-old son on my shoulder while standing in the kitchen. Luckily, people are very understanding since we are all in the same boat.”
Teachers are resistant to changing their processes
While many EdTech companies offer solutions for distance and asynchronous online learning, many teachers may be resistant to this model.
David of Eduflow explains: “Right now, a lot of people are coming online to teach for the first time. For people that are new to online learning, they are generally keen on taking their existing non-digital practices with them.”
The solution? “It’s important to be accommodating to the new online teachers that are not ready to switch everything around in such a hectic situation,” adds David.
So, what does an EdTech sales process look like, and how has it changed during the pandemic? What follows is a quick primer on how to sell to school districts.
The EdTech sales process
Like sales in any business, there is a defined sales process for getting customers from awareness to adoption.
But every industry has its own unique way of selling.
This is especially true with EdTech sales. Considering the impact of school district budgets, the opinions of parents, and the needs of teachers and students, selling to schools is a whole different ball game.
That said, it still follows the same general principles of the sales process:
- Prospecting: Finding educators and schools that would benefit from your solution
- Qualifying: Understanding the budget constraints of the school district, the influence of parents on the buying decision, and the needs of the students
- Demo: Showing those involved (teachers, school leaders, and parents) how your product will bring real value to the classroom
- Negotiation: Getting approval from the right authorities, bringing the solution at the right price for each individual school
- Close and onboarding: Helping especially the end-users (the teachers) to implement the tool in their classrooms
In general, the EdTech sales process is long and involves getting the approval of many different stakeholders.
Of course, the current world situation has a bearing on how schools purchase products. And this, in turn, affects the EdTech sales process.
“Our sales process is the reflection of the buying process of our customers,” notes Evgeny Milyutin, CEO of Happy Numbers. “The situation with the virus is affecting the buying processes of the schools and districts. On our side, we will adapt our processes to make the buying process as comfortable as possible for our customers.”
So, how can you simplify the buying process for your customers?
17 expert strategies to guide you through the EdTech sales process
While each business will need to adapt its sales strategy to its particular audience, here are the steps that other EdTech companies are taking to continue selling through the COVID-19 crisis and beyond:
1. Identify your ultimate buyer, stakeholders, and end-users
In EdTech sales, the people who end up using your product aren’t typically the ones that make purchase decisions. That’s why prospecting in EdTech is more complex than in other industries.
To prospect correctly in EdTech sales, you need to put a face to the different roles that will help you win this sale: that includes your product champions, the end-users, the main decision-maker, and other stakeholders.
Use the principles of account mapping to chart a course to the sale. Even experienced sales teams sometimes fail to identify the stakeholders involved, and it can become a costly mistake over time.
2. Understand the dynamics and unique circumstances of each school and district
If you’re selling to schools, there are unique circumstances and situations you’ll need to consider for each individual school. Don’t expect all school districts to work the same.
To formulate a pitch that will hit home, you need to know the situation of that particular school and district. Do some research online. Talk to current customers in the same district. This will help you answer questions such as:
- How are budgets allocated?
- What state funding is available?
- What other technology is being used?
- How do union priorities impact purchase decisions?
- How are purchase decisions prioritized?
- When in the school year is new technology normally implemented?
Answering these questions will help you present your product to the right people at the right time with the right message.
3. Dig into the needs of teachers, parents, and students in specific areas
Once you’ve done high-level research into the school district, it’s time to dig down into the more individual needs.
What struggles are teachers facing right now? How has the coronavirus pandemic changed the way they teach? How are they handling these changes, both professionally and emotionally?
What about the current needs of students? How are they learning from home? Do they have access to a computer and WiFi? How are lower-income school districts dealing with the challenges presented by coronavirus?
To get this information, talk with teachers in the school you want to sell to, or source information from social media.
4. Find the right contacts on social media through school associations
Looking for the right people to help you do research and learn more about the schools you’re selling to? Here’s an expert hack to find them fast:
On Twitter, search for school associations in the area you want to sell to:
Then, check through their feed and their followers. In this list, you’ll find the profiles of schools, principles, directors, and educators you want to sell to.
In these profiles, you’ll be able to dig into the current situation of the school, the frustrations or challenges teachers are facing, and learn more about the students they’re trying to help.
5. Lean on your existing network for referrals
According to one survey, 92% of decision-makers said they got information about EdTech products from their peers at other schools.
It’s clear: word-of-mouth has a huge impact on EdTech sales.
During this time especially, your current customers are seeing real results by using your technology. So, they’d likely be happy to recommend your product to their peers in other schools facing the same challenges.
“Our customers are telling us that our program is a lifesaver for teachers right now,” says Evgeny of Happy Numbers. “Some school districts we work with have been recording webinars on how they use our product, and sharing these with those who are getting started with it.”
While this is a fantastic result, you can’t always wait for your happy customers to spread the word. To leverage referral sales effectively, you need to bake this into your sales process.
Here’s how you can leverage referral sales effectively:
First, set a specific point in your sales process when reps ask for a referral. One of the best moments is right after the deal is closed.
Next, find creative ways to incentivize their reps to pursue referrals. For example, why not track referral revenue in a leaderboard, or create a referral reward system in the rep commission plan?
The point is to be proactive and deliberate in your referral sales process moving forward.
By leveraging referrals from your current customers, you’ll not only expand your reach: You’ll be able to provide genuine help to schools and teachers in need.
Discovery and qualification
6. Always lead your first contact with empathy
So, you’re about to reach out to a new EdTech prospect: how should you approach them?
In all cases, it’s important to start with empathy. However, this is even more important when trying to sell during a global pandemic.
Evgeny of Happy Numbers explains what his team has done during this time:
“Our team has been in touch with our users and customers and we knew the size of the challenge the schools are experiencing. Our goal is to help.”
This means different things for different companies. In the case of Happy Numbers, they’ve decided to make their program free for the rest of the school year.
While this might not be a possibility for all startups, the important thing to remember is that being in touch with your users and customers will give you insight into how you can provide for their current needs. It's one of the reasons why we at Close conduct customer meetups in non-pandemic days.
By focusing on the goal of helping teachers and students, you’ll be ready to lead with empathy.
7. Work to develop relationships with your product champions
Who are your main product champions?
For most EdTech companies, this will include two groups of people:
Since educators are often the end-users of your product, they need to be on board with the idea of new technology before you’ll get purchase approval.
That’s why it’s essential to start building relationships with these people now and develop an army of internal product champions.
“By planting well-supported seeds of kindness now, we're growing our educator champions of tomorrow,” says Alex Gillis, Head of Educator Success at Simbi. “They’ll not only believe in Simbi but know that we're by their side to continue supporting their learners, no matter how big the storm.”
Winning over parents is also a key part of succeeding at EdTech sales. While the children in schools may also be end-users of your product, their parents are their advocates. In many cases, local taxpayers (read: parents) are the ones who are ultimately providing the necessary funds for school budgets, meaning they are also significant stakeholders in the purchase decision.
By getting both educators and parents to fall in love with your product, you’ll have a much better chance of getting the sale down the road.
8. Remember: you’re not the first or only EdTech company to reach out to them
Especially during this global pandemic, many in the education sphere are being inundated with tone-deaf pitches for EdTech products and unsolicited advice. While your tool may be a valuable resource for teachers and schools, it’s important to remember that, when you pick up the phone or send an email, you’re not the first to do so.
So, treat your prospects with kindness and respect. Ask yourself what you can do for them, instead of the other way around.
Are you worried about reaching out during this time? Try to talk with current customers and get a feel for the challenges and situations they’re facing. They may be able to help you adapt your pitch to be better received during this time, or give you ideas on how to approach new prospects without offending them.
9. Avoid presenting yourself as an expert if you don’t have substantial educational experience
Imagine a chef calls you up out of the blue and starts telling you how to do your job in sales. Would you be more likely to listen to his advice or tell him to get lost?
As a salesperson at an EdTech company, you’ve probably learned a lot about the education field. But remember: if you don’t have real-life experience in an education role, you can’t relate 100% to these people.
Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. When talking to prospects or pitching your product, don’t pull from personal experience if you don’t have any. Instead, quote your current customers, talk about trends you’ve read about from influencers in the space, or mention connections you have in their school district.
On the other hand, if you do have a background in education, leverage that. Real classroom experience will earn you serious brownie points with teachers, and help you develop stronger bonds with them through shared experiences.
10. Focus on the actual value as your core offer
The core offer of your EdTech product isn’t about it’s reporting abilities, its versatility, or its high-tech implementation.
To establish your core offer, answer one of these questions:
- How does it help teachers in the classroom?
- What does it accomplish for students?
The answers to these questions will differ depending on the circumstances. For example, right now the answer might be that your product helps students stay engaged while learning from home. In other circumstances, your product might help teachers keep children stimulated in the classroom without as much hands-on teaching, giving them time to spend with students who need more one-on-one instruction.
By focusing on the benefits for teachers and students, you’ll have a better direction for your pitch.
Meeting or demo
11. Find ways to cover the needs of different stakeholders
No matter who your meeting or demo is with, you need to understand beforehand who your main stakeholders are and how you can solve their problems and respond to their concerns. That's why we at Close stress the importance of qualifying prospects in the initial stage of any sales conversation.
For example, if you’re meeting with a school director, remember that he’ll be thinking about the teachers in his school, the needs of the students, and the demands of the parents. He’s also thinking about the budget from his district and any laws that may apply in the State.
Before you go into any meeting to show your EdTech product, you need to be aware of all these stakeholders and have clear answers to the questions and concerns they’ll bring up, whether or not these people are in the meeting.
12. Show them what you can help them accomplish for the students
When you’re in a meeting or demo, your product is not the star of the show. Neither is the school director, teachers, or whoever else is in that meeting.
Every single person in this room (or Zoom meeting) is here for the children. So, you should be too.
You’ve already done the research on this school district, and you should be aware of the needs of the students at this point. Keep that information on hand before and during the meeting to make sure you’re focused on the particular benefits for the kids at this school. If you’re using Zoom and Close together, you’ll be able to run your meeting with a clear view of your lead page, giving you the right context throughout the meeting.
Make sure your meeting revolves around the students. Go back to that core offer we discussed above, and list different ways that your product benefits the children.
Then, you’ll be guaranteed to have the attention of everyone in the room.
13. Build on past success by presenting glowing testimonials
The best way to prove the value of any product is through testimonials. But education is a world that is both highly resistant to change and largely influenced by peer recommendations, meaning social proof is an even more essential part of the EdTech sales process.
How do your end-users feel about this product? What are teachers and students saying about it? How has your product helped schools improve their average grades, attendance, or engagement? Why are school leaders in love with your product?
By presenting real testimonials that focus on tangible value, you’ll provide necessary social proof and push your meeting over the top.
Negotiation and close
14. Offer training for teachers and staff
So, a deal is finally on the table. Now, you need to go the extra mile to push that to a close.
As we’ve mentioned, education is a section that is notoriously resistant to change. Teachers are generally hard-working and have already developed processes that work for them in the classroom. If you want them to adopt new technology, you need to be on the frontline of teaching them how to use it.
By offering training for teachers and other staff using your product, you’ll gain leverage in negotiations and offset any concerns about using new EdTech.
And remember that getting prospects to switch tools is almost always a challenge—even more so in education. So getting them to switch often requires patience.
15. Ease their workload with easy implementation
Especially during this time, implementation is a source of worry. How can you implement new tech when schools are shut down? How can you deliver this tech to the homes of students who aren’t allowed in school? What about districts that are low-income: how will you provide the right tools for children who don’t have access to the internet or their own computer?
Whether or not you’re selling to schools during a global pandemic, you should never leave implementation on their shoulders. Don’t expect schools to answer all these questions for you.
You need to either:
- Have the answers to implementation prepared in advance
- Be willing to work with schools to find solutions for easy implementation
Support existing customers
16. Give as much as you can during this difficult time
Once you land a sale, your relationship with this customer isn’t over. By continuing to provide for existing customers, EdTech companies are leading the way to develop deeper relationships and build a community of support for educators and schools.
“I'd say that now is the time to be supporting our educators,” says Alex of Simbi, “by offering them free access and premium support to help them best support their learners during school closures and the transition to distance learning.”
David of EduFlow explains how they reacted to the crisis: “When the lockdowns started, we decided to reach out to our users and inform them that we would make the product freely available for 4 months (March to June).”
Happy Numbers also decided to offer their product for free. “We've decided that is what our users needed during this crazy time,” explains Evgeny. “Our goal is to help and this is the way we are doing it.”
Other companies aren’t able to give their product away completely for free. Tales2Go, a literacy app for children to improve listening comprehension, still needs to pay licenses for the content they use. That said, they’re offering heavy discounts and focusing on getting the schools up and going quickly so students at home have access to the literacy tools they need.
Here’s the point: figure out what you can reasonably offer to your customers without damaging your business, and give it to them. (We do so ourselves at Close.)
17. Listen to your customers and find ways to fill their needs with information or resources
We’re going through a time where the world is changing before our eyes. But even in normal circumstances, the challenges that educators and school leaders face are subject to change.
That’s why it’s essential to always listen to your customers. Don’t forget about them after you win the sale: focus on what you can do to continue supporting them, especially now.
In many cases, this might just mean offering a listening ear. Also, by keeping abreast of current studies and content in the field, you’ll be able to provide educators and school leaders with the right resources to help them through difficult times.
Be there for your customers, and they’ll remember that.
Use the right tools to keep selling to schools
During and after the COVID-19 crisis, selling to schools is only possible when you rely on the right tools.
One of those essential tools is an agile CRM.
“With lots of new leads coming in right now, we need to keep track of them,” explains William Weil, CEO of Tales2Go. “We use Close CRM as a repository to keep track of codes and IDs for users. When you’re working at scale with dozens of things happening at the same time, the ability to share that information is invaluable.”
At Happy Numbers, the team is using Close to communicate with their leads, allowing that communication to be shared with everyone at once.
“Sometimes districts have many people, so we need to view all of those contacts in one place,” explains Evgeny. “We use segmentation and Smart Views in Close to group schools or school districts depending on their size. Close helps our sales reps be more efficient, and it has all the functionality our sales team needs to communicate the value of our product.”
For Simbi, the templates feature in Close has helped them keep in contact with their prospects. “We send targeted email templates to answer common questions,” says Alex. “We also use Close to assign opportunities to different reps. Maybe there’s a school we contacted a few months ago and haven’t heard back from, but now we’re able to push them through.”
“We’re focused on planting seeds,” Alex adds. “We’re getting them ready for when the budget comes back in September.”
An added bonus of using Close CRM is that it’s easy to adapt to your process, or even test new processes. Instead of hiring an expensive consultant to reconfigure your CRM, you can do it yourself quickly and painlessly. As David Greenburg of Foursquare said: “No other tool we’ve worked with allows for this kind of relentless experimentation.”
Other tools that EdTech sales teams are using now include:
- Calendly for scheduling meetings.
- Zoom for in-team communication and meetings with prospects.
- Intercom for onboarding and communication.
- Autopilot for marketing emails.
Pro tip: Integrate your favorite sales tools to get even more use out of them. For example, did you know that Close has a native Zoom integration?
The future of EdTech sales: Where is it heading?
We asked our friends in EdTech this question. The consensus: things are changing.
But many, like Lane Lowe from Matterlab, see the potential changes as an opportunity for EdTech. “It’s an interesting moment for every business to really focus on their core purpose,” says Lane. “We’re seeing how that might play out to solve problems that didn’t even exist two weeks ago.”
“This is just the beginning of the process of changing our business model,” adds Evgeny from Happy Numbers. “So, we’ll have to wait and see. Schools and districts may change their habits when it comes to buying products for online instruction. Overall, I think the market has the potential to grow.”
“There’s an interesting spirit in the EdTech community right now,” continues Evgeny. “Companies are rallying to help the kids.”
EdTech companies that focus on the end-users and build products that solve relevant problems (especially the most unexpected problems) are the ones that will succeed. By bringing the right solutions to teachers and students at a time when they need it most, EdTech companies help promote a collaborative spirit and brighten the future of their industry.
Many of the principles that are true for selling to educational institutions mirror an enterprise sales process. We've written a book on selling to large organizations that'll help you accelerate the sales process when selling to schools, bring a variety of stakeholders on board, and close large contracts in change-resistant environments. Get your free copy today!