K-12 Sales and Marketing: A Linchpin of the ConnectED Movement

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At a time when everyone in the U.S. seems to be connected, an alarming number of K-12 schools still lack the infrastructure to reliably offer digital learning experiences. Even as districts begin to upgrade their technology, many fall short in training teachers to fully integrate new opportunities into lesson plans.

The ConnectED initiative—and its recently announced ConnectEDucators program—signals that the federal government is getting serious about preparing K-12 students for the 21st century. The initiative focuses on modernizing classrooms and training teachers and administrators.

But what educators ultimately accomplish with ConnectED will also depend on you, the drivers of sales and marketing at your respective companies. As the ambassadors of K-12 sellers, you and your colleagues have an exciting opportunity (and responsibility) to help your customers navigate this transitional period with a range of products and services. As the digital K-12 marketplace quickly expands, your ability to remain relevant will depend on whether you have developed a sound strategy for engaging the new prospects.

Modernizing School Modernization

A typical K-12 public school currently has the same internet bandwidth as a typical home (but 100x the number of users).

Since 1996, the FCC’s E-Rate program has made great strides in subsidizing the cost of introducing Internet access to K-12 schools. But today’s connectivity requirements dwarf the typical needs from 10 or 15 years ago. While almost all public schools now have Internet access to some extent, less than 30% have enough bandwidth to support digital learning across all of their classrooms. According to EducationSuperHighway, a typical public school has the same internet access as a typical home (but 100x the number of users).

ConnectED tasks the FCC and Department of Education with modernizing the E-Rate efforts. The Obama Administration announced in June 2013 that it wanted 99% of K-12 public school students to have access to high-speed internet (with a minimum download speed of 100 Mbps) within five years. Major technology companies like Apple and Microsoft are getting involved to help schools upgrade their computers, devices, and software. President Obama included $200 million for technology-related teacher-training grants in his FY2015 budget proposal.

Selling for Today, Marketing for Tomorrow

As the K-12 technology landscape shifts, many of your offerings are likely getting updated to better take advantage of new capabilities in the classroom. Make sure during this transitional time that you consider both the short- and longer-term needs of your customers and prospects.

The bold ConnectED goal of 99% digital preparedness is still years from total fruition, and public K-12 districts across the U.S. are on different timelines to upgrade their infrastructure. If you are willing to listen carefully, your marketing and sales teams can guide conversations on current and future options. Discuss how one or more of your products can fit into the prospect’s classrooms today while painting a vivid picture of what their more modern classrooms will enable students to do in the future.

A district without the infrastructure today could become an ideal prospect for you in a year or two.

If your organization has already largely updated your product lineup with an eye towards future bandwidth in schools, consider how scaled-down or legacy versions might be an option in less modern classrooms. Prospects in different stages of infrastructure upgrades should be able to find information relevant to their needs.

Technology in the K-12 marketplace is in a very fluid state right now so make sure that your collateral and talking points do not seem too static. Is your website today welcoming to prospects with varying technological capabilities? When designing a conference booth, what is the message that you try to convey to the wide range of educators in attendance? You will encounter true digital natives and others who feel increasingly intimidated by the technology they’re being told to embrace.

One of the biggest obstacles facing K-12 technology integration today is the inability of untrained teachers and principals to take advantage of the new possibilities. As more districts successfully acquire sufficient means to emphasize digital learning, you should also be prepared to offer differing levels of support to prospects and customers.

A rural district with no media or technology director will likely need more hand-holding than what you would offer to a large suburban district. An urban district that only recently gained sufficient internet access across all of its classrooms will have less knowledge about what is now possible. Help these decision makers understand how your offerings will enhance (rather than dominate) their students’ learning experiences.

I am not suggesting that you should consider every public K-12 district as a potential prospect. But it is short-sighted to cast aside prospects based largely on a criterion that so many industry stakeholders are currently focused on improving. Remember, a district with insufficient infrastructure today could very well be an ideal prospect for your full product lineup in a year or two. If you remain flexible and build the relationship over time, they will be more likely to consider your more advanced offerings in the future.

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