Every year at this time, prognosticators issue their list of trends for what will make a mark on our lives and businesses in the New Year. Marketers are no different. We analyze the success of campaigns and programs year round and the beginning of 2015 finds us looking for ways to distinguish ourselves from our competitors. If you are already using these strategies, then this is an opportunity to fine-tune them. If not, then consider adding them to your marketing playbook.
Also, larger purchases are usually tied to a district’s fiscal year, which typically runs July through June. Education marketing and sales can last anywhere from 30 days to 18 months – depending on the product and the sales channel. Generally speaking, the higher the price, the more people are involved in making the purchase recommendation. And the more information they require to make that decision.
Much of the money available to school districts can be used only for specific purposes, such as federal Title I funding. State funds, district funds, even grants have guidelines as to how the money can be spent. Districts usually choose products that are particularly compelling or that have superior ratings from third-party research or are referred by other districts. As a result, the planning for the purchase can precede the actual purchase by many months.
The challenge that educational marketers face is how to break through the noise of hundreds of products vying for the attention of the same district buyers. Districts have a bit of the same problem as they sort through the abundant product or service options to find the one that most closely suits their needs and holds the greatest promise of success.
So, when is the best time to begin marketing?
July through September is the retail back-to-school window. This is the busiest sales period of the year for products that teachers buy at retail either through catalogs or school supply stores or other outlets. The marketing window for this channel is January through April.
If teachers, schools, or districts have unspent dollars in the spring, they will usually try to spend them during the last quarter of their fiscal year so they don’t lose them. Schools and districts spend leftover dollars either on retail products or directly with vendors.
The back-to-school season can also be a time when districts issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) to one or more selected vendors. Often, the RFP is preceded by six to eight months of research, presentations, and committee meetings. It is not uncommon for a company to provide a school or district information a year in advance of the RFP.
Companies need to market constantly. To maximize impact, a proven strategy is to identify where prospects and buyers are on their timeline toward purchase. Then, segment prospects and put them into a lead nurturing program.
An integrated marketing plan for the K-12 buying cycle should include:
- Lead-nurturing best practices (as written about here and here).
- Meaningful marketing materials for each segment and channel.
- An optimized web site that captures new leads.
- Helpful content shared through social media that helps prospects move to the next stage in the buying cycle.
- Targeted email that builds and sustains relationships.
Every aspect of marketing has a role in each sales channel. Make it easy for prospects to find you while you engage in outreach to find them through direct mail, organic search, inside sales, or field sales. Every district is a unique entity. Understanding where prospects are in their decision-making process from discovery to purchase will help determine their information needs and the timing of your customized marketing plan.