8 Rules of Selling to Schools

In today’s tougher economy, states are cutting back on educational budgets, forcing school districts and their boards to reduce, and even eliminate, educational programs and infrastructure improvement plans. Yet the disturbing trend of violence on school grounds is keeping the need for security front and center. The challenge is working through all the barriers to get security solutions into schools’ budgets and then funded.

This is where you, the security integrator, come in. Those wanting to be successful selling into the K-12 schools market need to think longer term when working with their school prospects and customers. By helping schools address their security challenges today your company will be in their budget planning for years to come. 

Rule No. 1: Get Involved

If you or your employees have children in the targeted school or school district, get involved — very involved. Not only will you be fulfilling your role as a parent, you will be provided the highly useful byproduct of meeting the right people in the district. You will have increased opportunities to offer your firm’s product and service solutions.

If nobody in the firm has children in your targeted schools, volunteer anyway. Principals and administrators are grateful to have people such as you serve as role models and volunteers. You will learn more about the school, how it operates and who influences decisions. This will help you figure out how your company can offer the right products and services to meet customers’ needs.

But don’t stop at volunteering — go beyond your typical services and help your school prospects in nontraditional ways. For instance, consider helping to sponsor a field trip, provide a safety seminar for the PTA, offer mentors or part-time jobs, purchase books and so on. By knowing what gets your school people excited, you can figure out which opportunities will pay the richest rewards in loyalty.

In this market, it has been found that successful integrators will spend at least 80 percent of their time researching and building relationships. Those that don’t are typically limited to the one-time deal. That’s a hard way to make and sustain profits.

Rule No. 2: Join Up

Join state and local partners in education groups and foundations. Most states and cities have organizations that assist in helping businesses partner with educational institutions. A great example is the Texas Association of Partners in Education (TAPE). It has a traveling forum that brings community leaders together to discuss how they can work as a team. This lets your local schools and school districts know you care.  By doing this, you are starting to take a lead position in their minds on whom to call first on security questions.

Rule No. 3: Time Sale

Consider the timing of your sale. Schools typically make their purchases in late spring and like to take delivery and set up during the summer when regular classes are not in session. They start looking at proposals as early as January and may have a pretty good idea of the integrator they plan to work with by the end of February. If you don’t start relationship building by at least Jan. 1, your firm could already be out of the ballgame.

Be aware that school districts are full of silos. There are many departments (e.g. superintendent, transportation, curriculum, school board, services, maintenance) that have access to different budgets that could come your way. Silos can also exist at the school level. At the individual school, you’ll find the principal, secretary, curriculum specialists, teachers, local maintenance and the various parent/teacher groups.

So, if you strike out in developing a relationship with one department, find another.

Rule No. 4: Shape Perception

Understand the school’s perception of security. Ask most K-12 organizations to define security, and they’ll probably describe CCTV. You need to educate them regarding the importance of other  types of electronic security systems, such as access control. In many cases, mentioning just two locales — Columbine and Virginia Tech — will get a response as educators understand how important it is to be able to lock down interior classrooms.

As school lockdowns are being reported by news organizations more and more, interest in access control is becoming the driver for increased school security. The previous mindset of not allowing students to secure a classroom door, to letting anyone do so when threatened, is changing. During the past couple years, K-12 customers, aided by consultants, are becoming more knowledgeable consumers in access control. Integrators need to look at this trend as an opportunity, becoming more of a business consultant than sales organization. Promote business solutions, using return-on-investment (ROI) comparisons to show cost comparisons and savings from your solutions vs. others. 

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