Funding Facts & Figures | Feature

Rebuilding Trust

Recently we watched in disbelief as the dysfunctional powers-that-be in Washington played out their conflict in the form of the government shutdown. Ninety percent of the US Department of Education was furloughed. Doors were closed, and communication was silenced at a time when districts, schools, regional agencies, and states were waiting for large blocks of awards and allotments.

This was a trying time for education sales. Purchases came to a standstill as procurement managers held tight, wondering how long the stalemate would last. Sales stalled, quotas were threatened, and commissions dwindled. But the deadlock was finally broken, and workers returned to their posts. So can we now move ahead as if nothing happened? The answer is no. We need to make some adjustments in our thinking.

Let's start with the federal scene. The Department of Education is back in business, and communications have resumed. Web sites are being updated, and terse messages stating "This site is closed during the shutdown" are gone. Secretary Duncan has resumed his visits to key sites, Blue Ribbon School Awards have been announced, and the department has begun to disperse financial awards again, albeit slowly.

But how are the states, regional agencies, districts, and schools reacting? The answer is "very cautiously." Rebuilding trust is the major issue. No one expected the shutdown to really happen. Everyone thought negotiations would succeed even up to the last minute. And although Washington is back at work, the threat of a repeat performance in January is being viewed with much trepidation. The first shutdown lasted 14 days. How long will the next one last? Should educators hold back money to cover operations just in case? Do they trust the politicians to resolve their differences?

So education sales people need to go back to the drawing board and adjust their sales and marketing strategies. Even though the economy is improving, if the federal government stops providing its 10 percent of funds to schools, decision-makers will want to spend on "must-haves," not "nice-to-haves." So you need to reexamine how your product or service is perceived.

Step back and take a look at how you market and position your product. Is the message compelling enough to convince decision-makers that they need to buy it even in a time of uncertainty? Can you explain the ROI so they can see it will pay for itself? Does it stand above the competition so they'll want to make the purchase despite the budget difficulties?

As for sales, this is not a time for schmoozing. It's a time for consultative selling, helping decision-makers to understand your product's value. If you are selling an instructional product, you need to show how it helps improve student achievement. What data does it provide to inform further instruction? Does it align to the Common Core Standards? Can you provide research that shows its effectiveness? Remember, trust wins the sale, especially in today's climate.

Professional development is always essential but especially so when times are uncertain. Everyone wants great teachers and great leaders when times are tough. If you provide a professional development solution, show how it will significantly improve the current situation. And remember, it's not just teachers who need training. Administrators are also key to systemic change. Don't offer a "drive-by" strategy whereby principals are given a note that PD is taking place. Involve them, and show how they can support change effectively and monitor progress.

The economy is improving. There is money out there, and there are sales to be made. But you need to tell a compelling story and add value. Most importantly, you need to build trust.

comments powered by Disqus

Education Channel Partner's free monthly e-newsletter offers news, trends, analysis, and sales and marketing strategies to education business professionals.