Insight Series: How Technology Companies Get Our Attention

This is the final installment in my series that shines some light on the thinking, preferences, and tendencies of your education market customers. I know them well. I was one of them. I’ve been an educational technology director for 25 years, with a significant track record in large educational technology purchases for schools. I managed budgets with millions of dollars over my twenty-six year career. I want to help you, for just a brief moment, to get inside my head. Maybe it will help you with your next strategy, opportunity, or prized tender in the education market.

In the first article, Insight Series: Why Education Market Customers Can’t Be Fooled Anymore, I talked about the new breed of educational customers [leaders] now emerging. For the second installment, Insight Series: What Sparks the Big Buy in Education, I took a close look at ten of the largest dollar amount purchases we made for our schools and what it took for vendors to ignite the action leading to each large purchase. In my third article, Insight Series: What Educators See, I strove to help vendors improve their exhibit hall presence, focusing on what the educational customer really ‘sees’ in the grand exhibit halls at ed-tech conferences—the positive and negative messages that can come across. In this last and final installment, I am highlighting something very simple, yet oh-so-important—how technology companies get our attention.

How, then, do technology companies capture the attention of educational leaders? Large marketing campaigns? Color advertising slicks? Word of mouth? Exhibit hall booths? In an attempt to answer this all-important question, I reflected on those practices that technology companies employed that made the most difference in reaching me and my peers over the decades. Here are the top ten ways to get our attention:

  1. Great products. There’s nothing that garners attention as well as a great product. Lots of advertising collateral is wasted on making average products look better. It’s better to take your time developing a great product, not rushing out a solution before it’s ready.
  2. Products that solve a problem for us. Any solution that heals a pain point within our organization is going to get our attention. It can be better. It can sometimes be faster. But if you really want our attention, know our pain points, and bring solutions that simply and concretely make our organizations better or easier.
  3. Direct mail. Yes, the truth is that 98% of direct mail goes right into the recycle bin. But 2% gets our attention and we act on it. Is that an acceptable return/result rate? I guess it matters how well targeted your direct mail is. Also, see number 1 and 2 above.
  4. Press releases. These are short little blurbs we read in the literature. Typically provided for free to manufacturers by many journals, these press releases really do reach us. It’s because they are short, easy to read, to the point.
  5. Conferences. Yes, educational technology purchasers go to conferences. Conferences matter. But we attend far more regional conferences than national conferences. Is your marketing dollar reaching to smaller venue and geo-specific conferences? And to us, the ed-tech conference exhibit hall is a rich garden for finding new and worthy technologies
  6. Winning awards. It’s fair to say that award-winning products do tend to turn our heads. Best of Show. Products of the Year. Awards of Excellence. And here’s an inside perspective: I have been a national judge for the T&L Awards of Excellence for three consecutive years, and I am shocked that some of the worst products ever enter these contests each year, while some of the best products I have seen never bother to apply. Can you explain that to me?
  7. Prominent display. As I wrote in a previous installment: “Although most vendors do exhibit halls poorly, the ones that do things right always catch our attention.” Great displays do not hide great products. Instead, these displays are enthralling Greek sirens, beckoning us in with the right colors, messaging, and positioning. (If you want to know what doesn’t work, think poor colors, both vague or excessive messaging, and hiding your diamonds in the back rooms.)
  8. Translators. Is your product hard to explain? Does the normal elevator speech allow insufficient time to get your idea across? Tough nuts. We are too busy to listen. You had better hire translators that can say what you do simply, quickly, and effectively. (Translators are thoughtful marketers, PR folks, or hired educators that can speak the language of your customer, make your value proposition known in understandable metaphors, or otherwise translate your message well.
  9. External evangelists. Product references by trusted and knomawn educators are impactful in getting our attention. Hiring celebrities does not get our attention, and does not put our attention on the right things.
  10. Relationship sales. Some companies think relationship sales are out of fashion—old school. I think not. Relationships matter. We will always make time for a trusted vendor, an old friend.

Are you surprised by any of the items on this list? Are you confirmed in your thinking? Have things really changed much? Let me know. —Len Scrogan