School Leaders Advise on Sales Approaches and PD

June 9, 2017 | Volume 48, Number 12

Getting an instructional program or product before school district decision-makers continues to be a tough nut despite the apparent ease of access offered by technology.

The key to any approach to a district, particularly with software, is showing what problem the district has that your product solves, Robert Copeland, superintendent of the Lower Merion (Ardmore, PA) school district, told school publishers in May at the Association of American Publishers’ PreK-12 Learning Group’s conference.

“The best product that you can offer is that it enhances the quality of instruction,” said Eric Eschbach, superintendent of the Northern York County school district (Dillsburg, PA), adding that bells and whistles were no substitute.

In terms of the dos and don’ts of sales, cold calls—the staple of sales—gets a demerit. Emails also are earning dunce caps.

“I really don’t want to meet you cold calling,” Eschbach said. “Emails don’t work either. We’re designing our filters to block vendors.”

Copeland suggested that vendors work through the intermediate units—or regional educational services agencies. That provides an initial screening, because if the regional director thinks a deal can be struck for the broader area, the director becomes an advocate to the local districts. About 30 states have such regional agencies.

Vetting vendors is part of her job, said Noreen O’Neill, director of innovative education at the Chester County (Downingtown, PA) Intermediate Unit. The unit serves 12 local school districts. 

As publishers often have noted, teachers love going to conferences like COSN and ISTE, O’Neill said, but they do not buy at the conferences.

Several of the superintendents said they prefer to work through private organizations like the National Center for Education Research and Technology in California and the Education Research and Development Institute in Illinois, which brings together school leaders and corporate executives. NCERT, for instance, vets the vendors, Eschbach said.

What Sells

The superintendents provided no shopping lists and said they consider both comprehensive programs and smaller piecemeal selections.

In Pennsylvania, there is a movement among intermediate units to provide some sort of state-relevant materials, O’Neill said. The movement could collapse, however, if the weight of building a bureaucracy overwhelms the ease of immediate acquisition, she said.

The Cocalico school district (Denver, PA) is a 1:1. “Teachers look for things that are handy, and without a lot of money to spend, that means OER,” said Kent Sweigart, the district’s director of technology. 

“OER can’t be ignored,” Sweigart told the publishers. “I don’t know how you’re going to work with that going forward.” 

The content age is already gone, Sweigart said. “It is collaboration and communication now,” he said.

Educators for PD

The thread running through the comments was that publishers need to invest time along with a sale, particularly in terms of professional development.

If product requires fidelity of implementation, the vendor needs to provide the PD to make that happen, Copeland said.

The absolute is that professional development is the one time that companies need educators to be the trainers, the superintendents agreed. The company representatives who check in with a district about how a program is working need to be able to understand what should be happening, Eschbach said. ■

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