What Successful Vendor to School Districts Need to Know
Becoming a successful supplier to a school district takes more than having cutting-edge products. Competition is fierce, so you need to know your competitive edge and organize around a strength-based principle. In other words, you need to be able to answer what you have that makes you stand out over the other companies and what your strength as a supplier is that puts you in the lead.
Knowing the school district’s purchasing cycle will help you know when to knock at the door; however, once you have your foot in the door, you will need to know how to be the one the district selects. The following tips will help set you apart from the rest of the vendors.
Education is a people business and in order to run efficiently, the people involved must build relationships of trust. Can district administrators be trusted to do what is right for schools? Will teachers build the relationships necessary to teach children and make them feel safe and cared for?
Parental involvement is at an all-time high, so it is important to remember parents as invested members of the school community. Parents also have power when they band together. In the state of Wisconsin in the early 2000’s, a group of parents from a suburb north of Milwaukee, organized and were able to have the government abandoned a statewide graduation test that had about 40 million already invested. Ask to introduce yourself at a PTO meeting. Inquire about fundraisers and offer to be a resource.
School Officials are also politicians, mostly because government mandates have become the law of the land in order to raise student achievement. Outsiders have created a system of competition, and it continues among districts, states and nations. No Child Left Behind, state and national testing, core standards, all are attempts at fixing the system. All have taken money from education while showing little results. You want to stand out as the person who offers timeless tools, not tools that are fads. Understanding your clients is key to any successful salesperson.
School Districts are known for their long relationships. In large urban districts, where many staff do not know each other or the central office administrators, vendors are chosen, a relationship is built, and even if a better deal can be brokered, the relationship remains and the money is spent.
Make friends with the administrative assistants
To sell to school districts, you have to get access to those who make decisions. To do that you have to get by the guards who manage the schedules for the administrators. Because so many sales reps contact school district administrators every day, someone has to weed out the less attractive offers, so time is saved and the opportunities are manageable. No one can talk to everyone, so you need to know your competitive edge and lead with your strengths.
Before you make a call, do your homework. Know the district, its needs and its problems so you can offer solutions without having to ask what is going on. Each district is unique unto itself , so do not go in with a generic sales pitch.
It is not about you
Focus, focus, focus. Keep your focus on the district’s needs and not on what you did for another district. If you email or leave a voicemail make the subject about how you can solve a district issue. Make the message clear and concise, and ask the administrator for more information, so you can assure what you offer meets the specific needs.
Research the district and be current with its needs and issues. Give credit to the administrator’s assistant since he or she is the filter through which you must go to get to the decision maker. Create credibility and trust by offering to be a resource, which starts building the relationship you need to be a long-term client of the school district.
How you can help
Offer resources or be a resource. After researching you find the issues you need to address. While wanting a sale, offering help from people you know in the field, is a big plus. It gives you credibility as well as helps initiate a relationship, which is key to marketing your products.
Know your competitive edge and follow a strength based organization plan. Know the buying cycle and follow it, so you are the vendor who helps and not the vendor who interrupts the beginning of the school year with a new product that the school would not even look at for another month or two. Make all you do about the district and its needs. Be prepared, do your homework and be focused. Each district is unique; therefore, one size will never fit all. Be a resource, get to know the parents as well as the school community. Building that relationship and nurturing it so it will become a long, fruitful one, is the foundation for your success as a school vendor.