Aligning Your Sales Calendar with the K-12 Buying Cycle

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Are you organizing your K-12 sales calendar correctly? As I noted in my first post on the buying cycle earlier this month, K-12 decision makers generally step through the process in strongly identifiable phases. Today, I’ll discuss in greater depth what each phase means for your sales and marketing teams.

Revisiting the Buying Cycle Basics

In Part I, I introduced the five standard phases of the K-12 buying cycle from the K-12 administrators’ point of view (refer to Part I):


Source: District Administration Magazine via CBlohm & Associates

K-12 venture capitalist and industry veteran Kevin Custer of Arc Capital Development provides an alternative, graphical representation of the same annual cycle:


Source: Arc Capital Development

The cycle’s peaks and valleys overlap, but your big sales push will likely occur in a window between January and May, when districts and schools make purchase decisions for the following school year (green line).

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  In order to be successful, the work your sales and marketing teams do must start much earlier. So let’s step through each stage in the cycle.

The following advice applies to almost any product or service being sold to K-12 administrators. If you have a direct-to-teacher model, you won’t be as constrained by the cycle’s five phases, but it’s still useful for you to understand the cycle.  At the end of this post, I’ll include a short note on the important times to reach out to teachers.

Aligning Your Efforts with the Five Phases

Phase 1: Introduce Your Product (May through October)

Each spring, K-12 administrators begin assessing their school or district needs. While they might eye small, supplemental materials for the upcoming academic year, the process to purchase more substantial products is long—during Phase 1, decision makers are already thinking about the school year that will begin in the following calendar year (e.g., in spring 2014, many administrators began to think about the 2015-2016 school year).

By the time summer arrives, decision makers often know what is needed, but they’ll be further influenced by end-of-year performance results, which will become available as school resumes in the fall. This is the decision maker’s discovery period—the time for you to introduce your product. (NOTE: you should begin to lay the groundwork for Phase 1 during Phase 4 of the previous cycle. See below for more on this).

Your marketing campaigns during this phase should focus on a wide audience of schools and districts that meet your team’s prospect criteria. Make the collateral accessible and introductory. Use tools such as online video testimonials from satisfied K-12 customers (an endorsement from a prospect’s peer is worth its weight in gold).

Monitor and refine your website’s SEO so administrators can quickly find your product demos. Use A/B tests to continuously improve your outbound email campaigns and site collateral. This is the time to build introductory credibility and focus your messaging.

Phase 2: Emphasize Your Value Proposition to High-Potential Prospects (September through December)

During the fall, K-12 administrators plan and build their budgets. By now they solidly understand their needs and likely have a general sense of possible solutions. So they begin to focus on how they’ll fund those solutions.

With funding front and center on the decision makers’ minds, your team should find multiple ways to emphasize your product’s value proposition. Your messaging should become more specific and more personal. You can hold regular webinars, set up 1:1 meetings with leads, and seek out opportunities to build relationships with the decision makers.

During Phase 2, you should find that your broad outreach from Phase 1 has narrowed considerably to focus on high-potential prospects.

Phases 3 and 4: Nurture Relationships and Prepare for the Next Cycle (October through April)

The autumn months are extremely busy for K-12 decision makers. In addition to initiating the funding approval and bidding process (Phases 3 and 4 in the buying cycle), administrators are occupied with organizing schools and classrooms, first semester goals, and then the holidays.

By late autumn, you’re past the point of introducing your product to new prospects. At this point, some businesses will slow down their marketing efforts until January so it’s a great time to differentiate yourself through high-quality outreach efforts.

Thanks to your team’s efforts during Phase 2, you should have an established sales funnel filled with leads. Deliver hyper-targeted messaging to your leads based both on their respective probability of sales closure and specific needs.

During Phases 3 and 4, K-12 decision makers will be evaluating your product against your competitors while also assessing their limited remaining budget and picking their priorities. I recommend using two sales kits at this critical juncture: one for competitive discussions (with fleshed-out competitive matrices) and another to help emphasize the “big picture

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