Five Tips for Selling IT to Schools

In business, as in life, having an angle helps. Channel firms know this, and most work hard to differentiate themselves and stand out from the competition. Specialization is one effective strategy. Having a vertical industry focus, for example, allows channel firms to unflatten their horizontal approach to IT and instead become the subject matter experts in fields like retail or health care.

The education market offers similar opportunities, according to CompTIA’s recent study, The Changing Classroom: Perspectives from Students and Educators on the Role of Technology. The study, available here to Premier Members, examines the technology habits, preferences and priorities of today’s K-12 school ecosystem. Bottom line? Information technology is critical in the classroom and across school districts throughout the country. And it will continue to increase in importance as educators realize the benefits to student performance, meeting achievement mandates and overall efficiency.

Consider the Numbers

For the channel, the education market is a good target. The National Center for Education Statistics projects the total expenditure for public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. to be $619 billion for the 2014-15 school year. This amounts to $12,281 per student — the highest among developed nations, according to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But as with any vertical industry, education has its own set of idiosyncrasies and challenges to address when it comes to selling technology into this market. Here are five tips to help drive success in this space.

1. Understand Your Market You’ve got to educate yourself to win in the education space. The process of selling to the K-12 school systems differs from what’s commonly done to woo private sector vertical industries such as manufacturing or retail. Education is very much a public sector play, akin in many ways to selling to the government space. Key things to learn? Procurement procedures and schedules, the RFP and bidding processes, certification or credential requirements and the volatility of school budgets. Speak the language of the sector to open doors.

2. Pinpoint the Primary Buyer Schools have myriad stakeholders when it comes to technology decisions. Teachers, administrators, schoolboard officials, IT staff, parents and students all fall into the mix to some degree, but most fall into the influencer category, freely citing their preferences and needs for IT, but not wielding final purchasing power. Get to know the chain of command and tailor lead-gen efforts and sales conversations to the people with the most influence and access to the purse strings.

3. Be Innovative Schools have tight budgets, but that doesn’t mean that they are not eyeing the benefits of the best technology has to offer. Get to know the latest education-specific solutions to sell, from classroom management software to learning tools such as gaming simulation. Recommend how cloud solutions may be more beneficial to some on-premises implementations. Become the expert around mobility solutions and data protection and security.

4. Don’t Try to Boil the Ocean Not all schools are alike. Size varies greatly, as do budgets and priorities. Geography and region also lead to major differences in how schools prioritize tech, purchase it and from whom. A good idea when getting into this space is to concentrate on one state or one region — or even one school district. Scale can happen later.

5. Take Advantage of Government Programs Federal and state governments offer a number of discount and other programs for technology providers selling into the K-12 space. E-rate discounts at the federal level are just one example. Get to know these so that you are not leaving money on the table.

Carolyn April is CompTIA’s senior director for industry analysis.