You know what your audience wants
If you are on the marketing team for your company or nonprofit, you have to ask important some questions. Who is your product or service for? What are their characteristics? What problem are you trying to help them solve?
With some research on current trends, surveys, and customer interviews you'll have a better idea of what educators' needs are. Then you’re ready to find the buyers. Not just the customers who want your product, but the people controlling the checkbook.
Who will buy your product or service?
I come from the world of K-12 education. I remember what it was like to be a teacher, a principal, and a director. It was exciting to find a new product or service that would make learning more engaging for kids! But finding the money to pay for it was hard. And the purchasing decision wasn't always up to me.
You need to figure out who the decision-makers are in a school district. Can an individual make the call, or does it require approval from a committee, school board, or district administrator? Not all school districts are alike. It’s a good idea for marketers to study org charts and websites to find out how the district is set up. Try to find the right person according to their department and job responsibilities.
Then consider what information they need to decide whether or not to buy. Be ready to provide it.
Marketers might assume that district leaders are the target audience – but depending on the product, that is not always the case. Do you sell instructional materials or web-based solutions that will help students learn skills or subject matter? Or are you providing products that will help the central office staff do their jobs more efficiently?
It’s important to know who the end users are. Students? Teachers? Coordinators? Specialists? Instructional Coaches? District office staff? Which department? When you find that out, you’ll have a better idea of who to start with. If they like your materials, they're likely to share their enthusisam and recommend a purchase.
What happens next?
Once you've identified the end users it's not always clear who will authorize the purchase. Most districts have limited budgets for supplies and materials – sometimes as little as $5 per student for the school year. Yes. True.
When the funds come out of the school budget, the principal or assistant principal might make the final purchasing decision. Sometimes a large expense needs to go to someone at the district level for approval, and you’ll need to include a director or assistant superintendent in the conversation.
All large expenditures, over $10,000 in some districts but sometimes anything more than $3000, has to go through a bidding process. If you or the buyer can prove that you are the only provider of an item or service, then you might get around that rule.
Your product can sell itself if you introduce a sample to the end users first. Once they have fallen in love with it, schedule a meeting with the actual decision-makers.
How long will it take?
Selling to schools is not like selling retail merchandise directly to consumers. You can’t just put your items on a shelf next to the check-out and hope educators will buy them on impulse. It starts with building relationships, whether you use your website, social media, email or meet in person – and it takes time.
If your product or service is expensive, you may expect to spend a year or two building relationships, offering free demos and free trial periods. If the district is considering a buying decison, remember that school budgets are created well in advance of each school year. If a school or district wants to invest in your product, they need to include the expense while the budget is being created.
Selling to schools can be a long-term process. It could take months or even years before the sale actually happens. Be patient and don’t give up.
Results drive success!
Is your product unique, useful, and helpful for teachers or district staff? Will they use it to do a better job teaching students? Have you built a positive relationship with your customers?
Yes? Then you are already a step ahead of your competitors. Schools will look to you for current trends and new ideas that will help them do their jobs. As long as you are available to solve their problems, they'll keep coming back.
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Ready for a change?
You're an expert in your field, and you know everything about the products and services you provide. But competition is fierce, and new clients are elusive. You want to be the go-to business or organization for schools and districts looking for companies who understand their needs and can provide the right products and services. But that’s not happening.
Then it might be time to rethink the way you’ve been planning your marketing strategies. Instead of doing things the way your company always has in the past, gearing your marketing strictly towards sales, are you ready to take the plunge into content marketing? It’s all about the audience. What can you do for them that no one else can?
It takes guts to remake yourself using content marketing strategies. I recently worked with a company that realized, after much reflection on declining sales and a shrinking customer base, that they needed a significant change to turn their business around.
The company decided to it was time to re-invent themselves. Instead of selling merchandise, the entire staff became educators about the products they knew most about. In doing so, employees of the company gradually evolved into the go-to experts in their field. Together they built a loyal following of customers who came to them in search of information and ultimately became clients.
How will prospects know you are the #1 destination for K-12 Education Products and Services?
Because you have a website loaded with useful content that is easy to find. Prospective clients looking for resources will find your content when they search the web for information.
What will they find there?
By sharing information with your audience, you demonstrate your expertise in your field. You create the impression that you can provide something unique and valuable. And you're giving it away.
You might have products and services they could find elsewhere, but because you've proven that you are exceptional, they trust you. Since you are a reliable and authentic resource on topics that matter to customers, they’ll keep coming back. And that’s how relationships start.
Nobody ever said being #1 was easy
You already know there is a difference between marketing your products and services using traditional sales methods and a content marketing approach. Rather than telling potential customers how excellent your products or services are, you are giving away knowledge and information that can help solve their problems.
Whoa! Seems like a lot of work. It is. Is it worth the effort for your business?
Absolutely! Do you want your business to be easy to find online? Of course! Start by answering questions customers are likely to ask. By becoming an educator, you are helping them find the answers. At the same time, they are learning about what you do.
Get started – one step at a time
Just a simple list of FAQ’s on your website can evolve into a series of blog posts. Writing blogs about topics you know a lot about is an easy way to get started.
After posting blogs for a period of time, take the next step and add another form of content. Again, you are an expert in your field so focus on projects that are in your comfort zone.
According to a recent report by the Content Marketing Institute, How Content Influences the Purchasing Process, in person events, case studies and webinars influence purchasing decisions significantly. So pick one and get another project started.
Teachers are notorious for “stealing” ideas – they improve their craft by imitating others who have created successful instructional strategies and materials. Growing businesses are no different. Look at the most successful providers of products and services for the K-12 market for ideas. Frontline Education is a company that has mastered content marketing and may serve as a model for other education organizations. Frontline Education -2017 Content Marketing Award for Best Content Marketing Program.
Your long-term goal will be to build a reputation as an expert in your field. Getting there requires short term quarterly objectives. If you have a marketing team, divide up the tasks, and start with step one. If you don't, pick someone and assign the marketing plan to them.
With today’s tight budgets, not all companies have their own writers. Many are turning to freelancers to help meet their content marketing goals.
If you are like many businesses or non-profits that don’t have the time or the staffing to create a constant flow of content marketing projects, hiring freelance copywriters is a low-cost way to get started. Look for one with experience in your target market and start a conversation.
For a more detailed article on common questions about content marketing take a look at a recent article from the Content Marketing Institute.
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High-quality copywriting for educational marketing.
Whether you are already successful or just getting started, you have set your goals for the new year. You know that publishing great content will help you grow. But it can be challenging to produce a variety of content on a regular basis.
Using a content marketing approach, you don’t need to toot your own horn. What if your satisfied customers could share their stories about how your company created an original product that delivered an effective solution for a difficult problem? Let your customers do the talking and tell a compelling story for you!
Customer Success Stories and Case Studies
Customer Success Stories and Case Studies are among the most valuable types of content you can use to increase your traffic and attract the right kind of clients. They go beyond the simple testimonial by digging deeper into the customer’s problem, their search for solutions, and the favorable results you provided. Remember that content marketing is all about telling your story. Inform and educate your audience by describing the challenges and obstacles your client had faced before you got involved.
The terms case studies and customer stories are often used interchangeably. The main difference is that a case study includes more industry specific data. A case study will focus more on the “how” while the customer success story tends to emphasize the results.
Check out some great examples here.
Produce Compelling Content Unique to Your Company
Your goal in content marketing is to build relationships. Using a real story will make connections with prospects facing similar issues. Give them the details so they can relate to the frustration and irritation your client suffered through. Describe the specific way your solution solved the problem. The description of what happened will set you apart from your competition just by virtue of being a real story about your customers! A word of caution – avoid making your client look foolish because they couldn’t solve the problem on their own. Never try to look smarter or better than the customer – it may put a negative slant on the story.
All Happy Customers are Not Created Equal
The best way to go about finding the truly satisfied customers is to ask the people in your company or organization who work most closely with the customers. Your sales team, customer service reps, and others who are on the front lines. Get into classrooms and offices where your solutions are used and start asking questions.
It takes time to interview the customers who are willing to share their stories and select those that are most likely to resonate with prospects. Ask for specific examples that show how your product or service made a difference in their lives. Include quotes from the customer and use data to back up the story to give it more weight. If you plan to share more than one customer story, use a similar format for each to maintain consistency.
Don't Stop There
Build credibility by making case studies just one component of your marketing plan. Produce consistent messaging on your website, emails, newsletters and other publications. Expand the ideas in the case studies by showing how your solution can solve problems for people in different situations.
What Will Your Call to Action Be?
Along with a Contact Us button, consider providing a link to a survey that allows prospects to describe the problems they are experiencing. Helping to solve an individual’s problem is a great way to build a solid connection by letting them know you are interested in them and want to help.
Need help writing your customer success stories? Let's talk.