April 18, 2022 | Lynn Schear
To navigate a successful K-12 district sales cycle, the importance of syncing your marketing and product development efforts to the pulse of the educator purchasing journey can’t be stressed enough.
In our previous two entries of this three-part blog series, we discussed understanding the sales cycle at large––providing the why, what, and when behind it for marketers––as well as covering key industry events, and why attending those conferences can play a large role in your overall success.
Now, in the last entry on understanding the K-12 school district sales cycle, we’re going to cover the best windows in which to develop your products versus marketing initiatives – and how they work together to create a successful buying cycle campaign.
The key window for product development
Despite everything you’ve learned about the district sales cycle thus far, timing is still at the forefront of importance. And the best timeframe to collect product feedback from influential and decision–making educators—ones that are data-informed and possess purchasing power––is February through June. If you try to receive feedback in early fall, you’re going to compete with the new school year, and with that challenge comes the added difficulty of appealing to teachers and educators who are either checked out from summer break or away on vacation.
In our interview with Daylene Long, CEO and founder of Catapult X, LLC— a market and product development company exclusively consulting with science and STEM education partners––she spoke about the importance of valuing teachers' time off.
"We should all be respectful of educators and their time. It's not just about getting their attention when it’s most available. It’s about instilling trust and professionalism because teachers need time off, especially recently with COVID-19 and the added challenges that the pandemic has created over the last two years."
– Daylene Long, CEO, Founder of Catapult X, LLC
Once you've completed your product development research and you’re ready to release your new offerings or solutions, the best time to do so is either January or July – at the beginning of a new calendar year or new fiscal year, respectively. However, if you can, try to aim for January, as the sooner a new product releases the bigger the potential is for increasd revenue. The biggest reason for this is the influx of available spending. Come January and July, updated budgets are typically available and so are a new set of superintendent priorities that decision-makers and influencers are trying to tackle with fresh funds.
It's also the perfect time to collaborate with the media as they’re looking for what trends and tech to highlight for back–to–school time––everything from new products and partnerships to acquisitions and discounts.
Consider your messaging during product development
When a product is being designed to enhance learning and instruction, as well as benefit the entire school as a whole, it’s important to consider key messaging in the development of that product. With teachers having more on their plates than ever, including juggling students with disabilities, medical conditions, and English language learners, your solution should look to not only help improve teacher’s jobs, but support the work of students as well.
During product development, try asking yourself questions like, “Is this product helping improve the lives of teachers and students? Or is it making more work for them?” If you don’t have a clear answer, then you may have to go back to the drawing board for additional feedback.
Key window for market development
Just like the product development side of things, it’s imperative to target when your marketing development will be most successful. That means being in front of customers as often as possible from January through May. During these pivotal months, it’s crucial to be laser-focused on your product positioning, messaging, and awareness – targeted emails, key conferences, digital marketing tactics, online webinars, etc. January through May is the most critical timeframe for your sales team.
It's not only important to be in front of influential, decision-making educators during this time with poignant messaging and learning opportunities, but it’s also important to market yourself from a content-development standpoint. You want to ensure that you not only appear top-of-mind but that you’re also positioning yourself as an expert to customers via strategic communications (i.e., newsletters, social media posts, webinars, etc.) as they finalize what to buy in the summer months before the start of a new school year.
July through December is also an ideal time to amplify your media relations initiatives to maximize your projected success as you explore opportunities like being a speaker at key industry conferences (see our part-two blog "Tailoring initiatives around key industry events" for an extensive list of our most influential education events, both nationally and globally), hosting hands-on workshops, establishing yourself as a thought leader in niche categories, creating awareness via PR initiatives, and sharpening your skills and experience with professional development on new products. After all, the last thing you want is for customers to simply go back to what they already use because they’re too busy to devote the time and/or effort to learning something your new product.
"July through December is a great time to focus on media relations—be it speaking at a conference, earned-media attention in industry articles, blogging, or hands-on workshops. You want to focus on lead generation and establishing trust in the second half of the year."
– Daylene Long, CEO, Founder of Catapult X, LLC
Although following these purchasing cycle timeframes can help you get the most out of your product and marketing development efforts, they’re not always set in stone. Sometimes stages will overlap, and other outside challenges (like a global pandemic) may cause road bumps along the way, which is why it’s crucial to view the K-12 sales cycle from the perspective of creating long-term relationships rather than one-off sales. Knowing the what, why, and when behind the cycle, the key events to attend, and the product and marketing development time frames will help you orient your activities and partnerships toward achieving mutual success with decision-makers, adapt to timing issues that control the purchasing process and be agile enough to react when/if you miss a target date.
It’s important to know that throughout the sales cycle timing is paramount, but so is patience. Overall, the general buying cycle can seem like a lot to handle at one time, especially the first year, and it can feel incredibly slow. So, pay attention, stay the course, keep following these guidelines and best practices, and you will see your marketing efforts payoff.
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