Edtech Startups, the Secret to B2B Sales is Authenticity

It’s no secret that one of the most challenging aspects of the K12 EdTech industry is its B2B sales cycle, especially for companies with traditional licensing models.

It’s tough because even if your timing and pricing are right, you still need buy-in from end-users, influencers, and decision-makers. This is because, in education, a purchase is a very careful act. The right purchase can do a tremendous amount of good for students, teachers, administrators, and parents. But the wrong purchase can have the exact opposite effect – upset educators, or worse, go totally unnoticed.

B2B sales edtech

In an attempt to shortcut the sales cycle, some salespeople try to go around stakeholders and directly to the decision-maker, applying pressure or incentives to curtail the procurement process. With limited input and buy-in from stakeholders, these deals jeopardize post-sale activities (including the retention). This short-term thinking doesn’t just destroy accounts and personal reputations, it also hurts the team and the brand. It's also not a repeatable sales strategy or a best-practice among school and district leaders.

Ultimately, the more stakeholders you have onboard, the better the sale will go, the better the implementation will go, the more likely users are to truly adopt the product, and the more likely the customer is to collaborate with you on your shared journey toward impact.

We hope we’ve made a strong enough case for working toward stakeholder buy-in. We doubt we had to work that hard to convince you. The real question is how can EdTech startups get that buy-in.

Customer intelligence is the key to buy-in.

It’s not enough to think stakeholders all share the same end goal – “what is best for student learning”. While this may be true, how each stakeholder (or buyer) evaluates your product differs based on their specific mandate, needs, concerns, and interests:

  • END-USERS (teachers and students) care more about ease-of-use, engagement, and curriculum fit.

  • EVALUATORS, teachers and curriculum directors, evaluate a product on the basis of its pedagogical rigor and curriculum alignment.

  • IT DIRECTORS care about the technical implementation plan, interoperability, and data privacy.

  • ADMINISTRATORS, care about all of the above and analytics. They rely on their colleagues to make sound evaluations and recommendations. Administrators also evaluate on the basis of pricing, referrals from other administrators (59%), and of course, on the basis of pilots (62%), and rigorous research (49%).

When you create your sales assets: scripts, sales decks, FAQ sheets, rebuttals, competition tables, impact data, case studies, etc. keep your buyers in mind. When the time comes to actually pitch, be sure to have the right information on hand for the particular context. Hold their attention by giving them the information that is of value to them and then, stop talking and start listening. Ask questions and take notes.

Here are a few more tips that will come in handy as you embark on your B2B sales journey.   

Build authentic relationships.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: make friends with your customers. If you’re in EdTech because you want to help students, teachers, and administrators then you have something in common with your customers. Use your genuine interest and care to explore needs and solve problems together.

Your product is not the solution to every problem in education. So, be knowledgeable of what’s out there and recommend other solutions if they are what the customer needs. Essentially, develop a trusted relationship on the basis of your interest, knowledge, and desire to help in any way you can.

Spend a lot of time with your product. Get to know it well.

Do as the kids do with their video games – watch others play them.

The best way to do a good job selling your product is if you know it inside and out. If you can easily show others how to use it for their purposes, you’ll never waste a demo opportunity. If you really understand your product’s use cases and the end-users – their objectives, motivations, and the contexts they work in, then you will be able to offer them more valuable and relevant information.

Favor showing over telling your customer stories.

School and district leaders want to hear about the experiences others have had with your product and your team. If you’ve visited customers, observed trainings, and read feedback reports, then you’ll be able to speak from an authentic place when you share stories of student and teacher impact.

It’s also important to share authentic shortcomings as well as non-ideal use cases.

Be sure to document your team and your product's shortcomings as you uncover them. Instead of trying to spin a less than stellar case study, conduct one after you've improved your product in light of the findings. Nothing could be more endearing to a customer than transparently showcasing your rigorous iteration process.

Which brings us to our next piece of advice.

When a customer asks you the dreaded question…

When a customer asks you that question, the one you don’t have the answer to, at least not the answer they want, this is your moment to shine. This is a pivotal sales moment. How you answer this question will tell them what kind of salesperson you are and can set the tone for the relationship that you build with this person.

Most salespeople dread this moment, but the truth is the sooner you get to it, the sooner you’ll really qualify this lead.

Here are 3 different situations where is an opportunity to build trust

1) You haven’t developed the product feature or collected the evidence they want yet. This is a great opportunity to show them that you listen. So, acknowledge their need. Let them know where it lies in your roadmap. They may even want to be a part of the process. You could not ask for a better opportunity to learn and to iterate based on valuable input.

2) You have no intention of developing the feature or gathering the evidence they require. In this case, you should simply say so. But the conversation doesn’t have to end there. Never let a “no” stand alone. Provide an explanation. Are you focusing on a more limited offering? Have you not built a business case for their need yet? Or do you tend to integrate or partner with other products and companies that provide this? Whatever the reason, let them know. An honest explanation softens the disappointment and will allow you to build trust.

3) They want your product to be something it isn’t. In this case, you’re just barking up the wrong tree. But before you give up, make sure you and your lead are not suffering from a terminology mix-up. Take a solutions selling approach and interrogate their context and their problems. I say this because today the edtech terminology can be difficult to keep up with. Terms like LMS, SIS, content, apps, etc. are not strictly defined and there are many products that surpass the bounds (ie. the feature set) of the traditional meanings of these terms. Don’t let language get in the way of being able to solve someone’s problem. Always, talk it through.

All in all, telling a lead something they don’t want hear in a really open and honest way is a great way to build trust, trust that will come in handy today, tomorrow, or later on down the road.

Your impact data tells the strongest story.

Finally, the one and only thing that can make a salesperson’s job easy: evidence of the effectiveness of your product. If you have any pull as to how money is spent, I implore you, skip the expensive marketing videos and spend your money on research.

Conduct pilots, correlative studies, comparative studies, and control trials. Develop partnership with universities, take on graduate interns and allow them to use your product as the subject of their work. These are incredibly worthwhile endeavours. Not only for sales efforts but for the development of a product worth selling.

Then, once you’ve got all that evidence, figure out how to tell the most compelling story about it. The reason this is so important is that once the primitve age of edtech is over, and all companies are actually required to collect and share evidence of the impact of their products in order to sell, we’ll find that many products offer statistically similar impacts. We’ve yet to hear of many earth-shattering, groundbreaking technologies that merit the often made promise of “transforming learning”.

Don’t be just a salesperson. Be a knowledgeable, caring advocate for your product inside and outside of the company. Inside, push for evidence and meaningful partnerships that will equip you with compelling stories to tell potential customers (and the world!). Outside, build authentic relationships based on trust and care. If you can do this successfully, I promise you’ll have a willing audience.  

Roxanne Desforges