Why Is It So Hard for Ed Tech Startups to Sell to Schools?
Innovation in technology can do a lot to improve or disrupt the education system. Only a few startup companies have made successful and innovative solutions to make a positive and huge impact. Obviously, there is a need in the market, yet many companies struggle to sell their products to schools. Here are few reasons why this happens and a possible solution.
It is not easy to reach the people who make the decisions.
Authority figures are hard to reach and are often overwhelmed with companies trying to sell them something. They receive a large number of proposals and only select a few companies to meet with. When this chance is missed, companies can't even talk with a prospect. It is not easy to just cold-call potential schools. But not all hope is lost. If a company has few initial customers who have signed up and are willing to demonstrate evidence that the solution adds value, it is easier to gain initial trust and get meeting appointments with the right people.
There is fear of change and new things.
Schools are slow when it comes to making changes. Educators follow traditional working and teaching methods and, like in some other institutions, there is fear that they might not be able to adapt or that technology will "steal" their jobs. Because most school staff is not tech-savvy, it is important that offered solutions target educators' needs and are user-friendly. There should be a balance between simplicity and functionality, and a reassurance that technology is meant to improve teachers' jobs, not replace them.
There are many stakeholders.
When selling to a school, there are several interested parties, such as principals, teachers, administrative staff, children and their parents. People who make the executive decisions are not necessary the ones who will use the technology, and vice versa. For example, if the school wants to change its current learning management system, the principal needs to approve it and wait for a decision from a higher authority figure (such as a superintendent or the school board). Teachers and students will use it, but part of the costs are will be on parents.
The market is overcrowded.
While definitely there is a need and a space for improvement of the educational system, the market is oversaturated with companies vying for the schools' attention. Because of this, even if you have a great product, if you don't market it correctly, you will not win their business. Additionally, schools need a comprehensive solution that will take into account all the people who will use the product. This is what many startups miss.
Your products lack validation.
This is a common problem for many startups in various industries. Customers want to see validation from other users, especially if the product is expensive or takes a lot of time to learn. Without enough visible customer satisfaction, schools may not even want to schedule an initial meeting, let alone invest their time and money.
So, what should startups do?
- Get some validation
In the first phase, focus on just a few schools, but address their most important needs.
- Find a business partner who is connected to schools
Knowing the right people is key. If people know and trust you, it is more likely they will recommend you for an initial meeting with the principal or school management team.
- Improve your visibility
Write about your solution, visit school events, and meet new people. Introduce them to your product and create an email list to update them about new options, presentations, and discounts for new clients, etc.
It is important not to focus only on sales, but all the things that can help you create a lasting relationship with the people who are part of the school community. They should perceive you as a solution maker, not just a person who wants to sell something to them.