(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons James Watkins)
By P.H. Mullen, Jr.
Not long ago, I wrote about how businesses selling to K-12 can take advantage of the slower summer months to build momentum into your peak selling period.
Today we take a more holistic look at the entire K-12 buying cycle. By understanding your K-12 customer needs, schedule, and timing constraints, you can deliver to them a more compelling business solution.
The Ongoing Cycle of K-12 Purchase Decisions
The K-12 buying cycle moves in strongly identifiable waves. To maximize your success, you should be organizing your sales and marketing strategy around these stages.
While everyone thinks first about the school year’s on/off nature, multiple factors influence the buying cycle.
These include the annual release of state and federal grant money, limited windows for administrators to make purchase decisions, and “spend down” periods in which administrators are taking advantage of use-it-or-lose-it funds.
Let’s examine the phases that district administrators usually pass through on their way to making large (greater than $5,000) school- or district-level purchases.
How Districts Buy: Five Phases
This graphical representation of the K-12 district buying cycle is the best I’ve seen:
(Source: District Administration via C. Blohm & Associates)
This isn’t an exact science. The phases overlap. Some districts follow them strictly while others set their own schedules. But once your team understands the overall framework, you can adjust your message, approach, and emphasis based on where your targeted decision maker stands in the process.
Phase 1: Assessing Needs (May through October)
Phase 1 begins as the school year draws to a close in May and continues through summer into mid-autumn. Administrators focus on determining what their schools will need for the upcoming year(s). They are usually not yet making purchase decisions.
The most important industry event for many district administrators during Phase 1 is hosted by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). For those of you selling edtech products, this annual summer conference (which draws more than 20,000 vendors and educators) offers your teams the best opportunity to showcase new products before a large audience of potential prospects.
Phase 2: Building Budgets (September through December)
Once the school year starts, administrators begin to develop more concrete procurement plans and strategies by connecting their schools’ needs to their budgets. This is the time when they often establish priorities. As a seller, it’s the key time for you to help them assess their best options.
Phase 3: Winning Approval (October through March)
District decision makers enter their long funding approval process in late autumn and continue into the following spring. In this phase, administrators submit funding requests to their schools’ or districts’ board of education. In some cases, they’ll already know what solution they want, having thoroughly researched their options during the previous phase. If their requests are approved, they’ll move on to the next phase in the cycle.
Phase 4 Going to Bid Stage (January through April)
Once a budget request is approved, a bidding process gets underway, often through RFPs. This can be a complicated process, but it’s also procedural and has a relatively short window. Phase 4 often involves direct engagement with decision makers as you work to respond to the RFP. You’ll need to position your solution against competitors’ offerings.
Phase 5: Securing the Right Vendor/Product (March through October)
During this long phase, decision makers evaluate your offering against others and make a final selection. Most purchases occur around June because state funds, the biggest source of money for most schools, are use-it-or-lose-it: administrators must spend their budget (and receive the product) by the end of their respective state’s fiscal year. For all but four states (New York, Texas, Alabama and Michigan), the fiscal year ends on June 30.
Learn & Respect K-12 Buying Cycles
Everyone seeks to navigate the K-12 purchase cycle with as few road bumps as possible: educators want a straightforward process and so do you and your teams.
You can help make that possible by respecting the timing of your customers’ needs, and understanding factors such as their spend ability and willingness to engage at certain times. This won’t guarantee that decision makers will choose your solution (or that that they’ll even take your call!). But your chances to sell will improve when you can build relationships with your leads that foster mutual respect.
In Part 2 of this Arc Great Ideas: Resource report, I’ll focus on how to tailor your sales and marketing message for each phase.