Most people would agree that schools, teachers, and students all stand to benefit from having better EdTech at their disposal. Yet, despite this collective buy-in, adoption has been slow.
So what’s going on here?
I’ve been in EdTech since 2011 selling hardware, software, and running my own company along the way. As an EdTech seller, I get how hard it is to sell to schools.
Then in 2019, I joined a Multi-Academy Trust, taking on the COO role. Overnight I went from an EdTech seller to an EdTech buyer. Being on the receiving end of many a sales & marketing machine gave me an invaluable insight into what is going wrong for many EdTechs. More importantly, it showed me what can be done to fix it.
Within a month of being in post, I’d unplugged my external phone line and tasked the IT department with beefing up our email filtering. Every day I would receive 100+ sales emails, every one of them cold and generic.
It’s all too tempting to download a Freedom of Information school contact list and begin blasting out emails non-stop (I did this in my early career), however, being on the receiving end showed me just how ineffective this tactic is.
In my time at the MAT, I never read a single cold email and once the IT department was on the case, the worst offenders went straight into spam folders, never to appear in an inbox again. This policy was implemented across all 6 sites, on all of our public email addresses. A number of companies, due to their excessive emailing, lost the opportunity to ever market to the Trust again.
Here are a few tips on email marketing:
The school market is often said to be a ‘word of mouth’ market but this is an outdated perception. A 2019 national research project from BESA found that only 4 out of 10 schools now rely on word of mouth recommendations as their primary source for finding new EdTech. Twice as many rely on an Internet search and the pandemic is likely to have accelerated this shift further.
There are two key reasons for this shift. The first is a demographic shift that has taken place in UK education. The last few years have seen a raft of headteacher retirements and this has brought the average age of a UK teacher down to 39, the lowest of any of the OECD nations. At 39, these individuals are old enough to be in a decision-making position and young enough to be heavy internet users. It’s only natural that they turn to the internet for EdTech procurement.
The second is a structural change brought about by The Academies Programme. Academies have fewer opportunities to interact with LA schools as they sit outside of the funding pool, missing out on LA-funded training, events, and support. If the Academy goes on to join a MAT (with around 50% now belonging to one), the Academy joins their Trust’s working groups and may find themselves working with schools in different LAs.
The result is that geographical ties to local schools weaken over time until long-standing networks break down. I experienced this during my time at the MAT. We had two LA schools within 100m of the office but we didn’t know the names of the headteachers, let alone what EdTech they might be using. When it came time to procure a number of systems for the MAT (which included; CPD, leadership and management, careers guidance, MIS, finance, and risk management software) I started with an Internet search every time, researching three suitable suppliers, before inviting them to meet.
Here are a few tips to manage your online presence:
In June I ran a fireside chat with James Browning, the Chief Digital Officer at Academies Enterprise Trust, and amongst other topics we talked about how suppliers can improve their pitch to MATs. To paraphrase James, his feedback was that “Suppliers who can’t evidence their claims damage their chances of being invited to meet and risk being excluded from future opportunities.”
EdTech is a bit of a wild-west when it comes to some of the claims being presented with customer testimonials frequently presented as fact or research. Sometimes the benefits that suppliers claim seem to be plucked from thin air. I experienced this first-hand when I procured a new MIS system for the Trust. One of the bidding suppliers stated their solution would save my school administrators 8 hours per week, and happily gave me the sales brochure with the same statement. When I asked them to provide the evidence to verify this claim they couldn’t. Worse, they couldn’t even provide me with a set of assumptions for how it might be possible to save 8 hours per week. This supplier didn’t win the contract.
You don’t need to undertake scientific studies to demonstrate the efficacy of your solution but you do need to be able to defend any claims that you make. One good testimonial isn’t validation, and don’t misrepresent testimonials as facts. If a school gives you a great quote, always use it in your marketing but make sure you cite the school / individual that provided it to you.
Here are a few tips for evidencing your claims:
Updated on: 22 April 2022