The School Purchasing Cycle – When to Add Your Product Into the Rotation

When is the best time to send a free demo of your product to a school? When will schools be open to running a pilot program with your business? When are the final decisions made in the school budget? The beginning or the end of the school year aren’t the times that schools spend their budgets – but rather throughout the entire year.  In this post, we’re looking at insights from our K-12 Education Landscape Report on the school purchasing cycle.

The Different School Purchasing Stages

A product or service’s path to the classroom isn’t a simple, cut and dry process. There are different stages of the school purchasing cycle within the overall district budgeting process, which sometimes overlap, each requiring distinct types of information and support. We’ll look at this somewhat complicated process as it relates to each stage of the purchasing cycle.  The stages include:

  • Goal setting and needs assessment
  • Information gathering and research
  • The ultimate purchasing decision

Initial Goal Setting and Needs Assessment—May to October

Different districts have unique needs, and as one school year ends, districts begin discussing priorities, evaluating existing programs, and conducting a needs assessment for the approaching school year.  In late fall, principals gather input to create their preliminary budgets, including projected staffing needs, and instructional initiatives to be implemented in the coming school year.

Information Gathering and Research—November to April

Districts gather more detailed information about how they will continue to support existing programs or launch new instructional initiatives. They explore and investigate products and instructional approaches that will address these identified needs. During this period, educators are:

  • Considering research
  • Seeking out sample copies or introductory materials
  • Visiting websites to examine sample lesson plans
  • Exploring professional development offerings.

They are sorting through and winding down the options to those resources that appear to be the best fit for their educational philosophy and student characteristics. Toward the end of this period, districts may ask a limited number of vendors to conduct product demonstrations, or request a free trial to determine how a product or service performs in a classroom setting.

It’s during this information-gathering phase that educational marketers need to use every channel to be sure that educators are aware of their offerings.

Purchasing Decisions Made—By April or May

Based on the awareness and information gathering phases, most districts have decided on what they want to purchase by April or May. Orders will be placed as soon as funding for the approaching school year becomes available, typically on July 1 of the new fiscal year. Most school purchasing takes place over the summer, with the intent of having everything in place for the opening of the new school year.

For teachers, June to September is marked by efforts to become more familiar with the products and resources that they will be implementing when school opens. During this time, they need examples of implementation strategies, rubrics and lesson plan exemplars, and detailed FAQs (or some other quick and straightforward way) to get answers for the most frequent questions about using a given product.

Overlaps and Variations to the Cycle

Again, school purchasing cycles can overlap as well, with orders being placed for one year in advance as planning for the next year begins. It’s important to note that while the majority of purchases for all types of services and materials takes place over the summer, smaller purchases will be made throughout the school year. Keep these larger goals of the purchasing cycle in mind when planning your communication with schools, who will undoubtedly appreciate your knowledge of this process.