The education sector and its suppliers have struggled to get new products and services into schools over the past few years. School closures, budget cuts and staff pressures have all contributed to a changing educational landscape. Stuart Abrahams shares his predictions for education in 2022.
Schools are still under time and budget constraints
Even before Covid-19 hit, schools suffered serious budgetary constraints. It was not unusual to hear “I don’t care what you’re selling, we have no time and no budget” and that is even more the case now.
We often find schools are closed to new ideas. This isn’t deliberate, schools are there to educate our children and not necessarily to use the latest technologies, however well intended.
They also aren’t particularly good at embracing change, and you might often hear that they’ve “…always done it this way”. This is frustrating as you may well have a product or service that you absolutely know will save time, reduce costs, be easy to implement and make everyone’s lives easier.
Schools receive hundreds of emails and loads of marketing materials every day, in addition to all the cold calls. Very little cuts through enough to get past the ‘gate-keepers’.
Over the years, I’ve led a lot of sales teams and often suggested that before they start contacting schools, they should go and sit in a school reception for 30 minutes (obviously with their approval) and watch how busy the admin staff are. That way they’d gain some understanding when trying to get that all important meeting.
Sales trainers often remind us we have one mouth and two ears, and that we should use them in that order. A common problem is that salespeople are so keen to get their message across, they tend not to listen. In some cases, it doesn’t matter what issues or problems schools have, their focus tends always to be – “Buy my stuff!”
Existing products and subscriptions are unlikely to change during the pandemic
It is widely understood within the industry that those schools with existing product subscriptions are unlikely to consider changing whilst suffering the effects of the pandemic, meaning that your current installed base is fairly secure, and you should see your retention rates increase.
However, this position makes it much harder to introduce new products and services to schools, as they don’t have the time or appetite to investigate replacing existing services. Research released by BESA* in December suggests 2021 sales are likely to have declined by 7% over 2020.
If this wasn’t enough, for the past 4 years, the DofE has been trying to create a procurement process that would recommend schools only purchase from suppliers on a preferred supplier list.
The Curriculum fund was one programme that was thwarted by Covid-19, but in its place the Government funded the OAK National Academy** to the tune of £4.3m.
They’ve developed 40,000 resources with the support of 550 teachers and delivered over 130 million lessons in their online classroom.
In reaction to the pandemic, teachers were forced to adopt technologies in ways that were, in some cases, completely unfamiliar. Those who hadn’t grown up with technology found this exceptionally challenging, even teachers used to working with learning platforms and online learning tools struggled.
Teachers and staff are at breaking point
Throughout the pandemic, teachers and school staff have had a truly challenging time. Many have relied on a return to ‘normality’ to get them through the educational year. With yet another period of uncertainty on the horizon due to the Omicron variant, we need to empathise with our audience’s needs more than ever.
We have a responsibility to ensure we provide quality products, and services that help, and clearly show immediate benefits. They need to reduce teacher workload, increase efficiencies, and ultimately result in better outcomes for staff and students.
If your product is a curriculum learning tool and the above are not amongst your key benefits – we can tell you that your product will struggle to make it through the door.
Even during a time of ‘normality’, teachers are stretched for time and resources. Adding in the stresses of the pandemic, the capacity to contemplate the adoption of a new product or service that would result in yet more change, is little to none.
School staff don’t want to be told to ‘persevere’ with something new and additional to their current exhausting workload with no guarantee that they will reap the benefits at the end.
Four factors to consider in 2022
Training and support is essential to make any new product adoption successful, but within schools there are a number of critical success factors to consider:
- Include the financial costs of training
The cost of training needs to be clear from the start and not hidden as an ‘add on’. If you want your product to be a success, you want it to be adopted and not end up as another technology that people ‘haven’t had the time’ to pick up. Training is absolutely essential and should be included as part of the core cost
- Be respectful of teachers’ workloads
Do you need a full day’s training to adopt your product? Consider this in the world of schools where time is of the essence. Discuss with the team what’s manageable. Are other options realistic – for example, could you provide short burst training videos?
- Quick response for technical support is important
If the use of new technology is throwing up errors and not being responded to quickly, it’s unlikely to be used in schools. Teachers will want to limit disruption to their class as much as possible, and need reassurance this will be the case.
- Change management requires a focus on people, culture and behaviours
The solutions need to be of value to both teachers and students. It’s got to make a difference, and you need to ensure your products or services are used effectively.
Successful change management requires a significant focus on people, culture and behaviours needed to:
- prepare the organisation,
- demonstrate the change,
- encourage buy-in,
- embed new behavioural norms and expectations around the altered conditions.
Organisational change management begins and ends with the individuals involved, requiring an understanding of resistance, organisational defence routines, pervading cultures and the engagement processes required to bring people along.
Word of mouth is still your most powerful tool
For any product to be successfully adopted you need buy-in. Schools aren’t businesses; teachers and school staff don’t have time to conduct full evaluations and compare systems within the market. What they will do is ask their networks and look for examples of good and bad practice.
Give practical examples of how a product or service has had a positive impact on a teacher’s or administrator’s job – giving them space to develop in areas that they’re passionate about, or a chance to catch their breath.
How have the students benefited? Has there been an increase in class participation or even an impact in results?
Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool within the education sector. Use it to your advantage!
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* BESA = The British Education Suppliers Association www.besa.org.uk
** Oak National Academy is part of the Reach Foundation, registered charity 1129683.