Insight Series: What Sparks the Big Buy in Education?

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Insights in Education

This is the second installment in my new series that shines some light on the thinking, preferences, and tendencies of your education market customers. I know them well. I am 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. Wouldn’t you like, 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. Here goes.

In my last 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 this installment, I sat down the other day and took a close look at 10 of the largest dollar amount purchases we made for our schools. These technology purchases involved everything from software to hardware. So…what was the instance – the spark – the kindling – that ignited the action leading to each large purchase? You might be justified or surprised with the answers. Take a look inside my head:


Invited to a meeting. Yes, a vendor invited us to a low-key informational meeting at their HQ. The result, in time, was the sale.

Seen in another district. We were doing a site visit in another district and ran into this highly effective solution. There’s nothing like seeing things in action and the recommendation of peers.

A friendly, yet persistent, salesman. Persistent, but caring. Relentless, while not quite becoming a pest. Let’s call it soft importunity.

The free trial. Whether we were considering large or small contracts, the proof was always in the pudding – but prepared in our own kitchen, of course.

The battle of the bands. For a large bid, we paper screened 30+ projector vendors, then brought in the most promising 9 companies to battle it out. Side by side, face-to-face. Spoils went to the victor.

Peer references. Yes, school ed-tech leaders all pay attention to price, performance, warranties and support. But the best way to test these comparisons is by talking to past customers of the targeted technology. Anything sounds good in print, so it’s good to trust, yet verify. And besides – peers speak our language.

Newspaper article. A good press stream is a good thing, because we often purchase products that catch our attention in the media.

Reviews in journals. Ed-tech journals often do comparison pieces or product reviews in their publications. We school tech leaders read them. We study, investigate, query, observe, and…in time…pounce.

An ed-tech conference. The ed-tech conference exhibit hall is a rich garden for finding new and worthy technologies. Although most vendors do exhibit halls poorly, the ones that do things right always catch our attention. I remember walking the floor, aisle by aisle, and then sharing notes with the CIO of one of the largest school districts in the country, in search of the next big thing. We talk, we share, we connect, we zero in on what might make a difference for our students.

Direct mail. Okay, 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.

Word of mouth. There’s something to be said for ‘buzz’ and colleague talk in reaching the educational customer. I think inexperienced leaders move too fast on this, while experienced ones use this as an excuse to take a closer look. Still tried and true, though.

Research. Sometimes we study a product, its competitors and its potential for many months. We dig in to learn more. Then, when we feel we have enough information from case studies, reference sites and an understanding of the market, we make an initial purchase, try a pilot run, or solicit a free trial. The results can often be fruitful, if we take our time.

Analyst Comments

Are you surprised by any of the items on this list? Are you confirmed in your thinking? Have things really changed much? Is patience a virtue in reaching educational customers? Let me know what works for you. – Len Scrogan