The School Purchasing Cycle Webinar: Your Questions Answered

Recently, we held a webinar on Decoding the School Purchasing Cycle. During this webinar we shared ideas about how to tailor your message for where your educator audience is during the in the buying cycle, and what channels work best during different times of the school year. Our presenters and experts received many questions from the audience (thank you!), and we wanted to share the most popular ones with answers.

We’ve categorized these school buying cycle Q&A’s into three main areas:

Marketing Tactics and Channels

Q. Where do webinars fit in, and what type of webinars are right for each phase of the purchasing cycle?

A. Webinars can be used as a marketing tactic throughout the purchasing cycle; we just recommend using different messaging depending on where your audience is in the cycle. For example, during the goal-setting phase, a webinar should be more high-level and discuss industry trends or challenges your audience might be facing and trying to solve.

In the information-gathering and research phase, a webinar could go into more detail about specific solutions that you can offer and how you can help your audience achieve their goals. In the purchasing decision phase, a webinar could be a product demo or a free training video on how to use your product or service.

Q. What about education conferences—should the content presented be tailored to the time of year?

A. It’s always a good idea to tailor your content to time of year. The audiences at conferences vary widely as do goals for attending a conference. Some are scheduled based on availability of attendees and that is an important consideration. You would expect interaction at a conference to match a phase in the cycle but also a position in the funnel.

Buyers in the goal-setting phase (e.g. school leaders at ISTE) may well be focused on solutions that fill a gap or support an aspiration. There should also be an expectation that conference attendees may be further down the funnel and be seeking deeper information or a free trial. Be ready for both. Get more tips on how to crush your next education marketing conference here.

Q. Do you have any metrics about the effectiveness of different social media channels for reaching educators? Are there any metrics on other channels such as direct mail versus email?

A. Yes, the most comprehensive information we have on this topic can be found in our free Digital Marketing Trends Report. This report is based on data from the millions of campaigns that MDR deploys on behalf of our customers each year, and includes findings on educator engagement with email, social media, and web advertising campaigns.

We also recently surveyed educators on their social media use and found that the most popular social channels are Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Read the rest of the survey results here.

Q. What is the best way to use analytics to target the accounts who are most likely to buy?

A. We suggest using an analytics tool or service to look for patterns among your current customer file to identify characteristics of your best customers and then use these patterns to pinpoint future customer and prospect opportunities.

MDR’s eCPR Profile can help you learn more about your current customers and create more accurate list selections and better segmentation. The eCPR compares your matched customer data with MDR’s database by both institution type—districts, public schools, private schools, libraries, colleges, and day care centers—and by nearly all of MDR’s institution data selections.

Going through a customer matching exercise can sometimes lead to unexpected results. Recently, in a conversation with a customer, we discovered they were thriving with teachers who had been in the profession for longer than 10 years but had little engagement with new educators. This insight can allow them to begin tailoring some of their messaging to a new teacher audience without losing focus on their core customers.

Q. How do you suggest balancing email marketing of product information and promotions versus thought leadership content such as blogs or news articles? And does this change throughout the purchasing cycle?

A. Both are equally important at different times during the buying cycle. Thought leadership content is key to attract people to your brand and spread awareness as educators are conducting needs assessment and researching solutions. Email marketing should be used as a key channel to reach your prospects throughout the buying cycle; you just need to adjust your messaging depending on the phase they are in.

Additionally, thought leadership or content marketing is a great way to keep your opt-in customer email list engaged with your content and upcoming offerings. When prospecting a new email list, it should be used in conjunction with the more product- or promotion-focused messaging where you can demonstrate why a prospect should become a customer. For more content marketing tips, download our Content Marketing Best Practices Checklist.

Q. What platforms or systems do you recommend for email marketing and CRM?

A. We are partial to MDR’s ECM system for many reasons. However, your choice of an email platform should include robust opt-out management and flexibility, as well as high deliverability and access to the knowledge of the team that runs the platform. Many platforms have limitations on “prospecting” email lists. This is due in large part to the use of poor data that may damage the email service provider’s reputation. MDR’s data and email platform has a deliverability rate above 95%.

Q. How do you measure “engagement” with a campaign?

A. We measure engagement through different metrics for each channel. Open rate is typically used for email campaigns, while likes, shares, comments, or clicks are used for social media. For social and digital advertising campaigns, we track the click through rate to measure engagement. Whatever metrics you choose to track and report on, we suggest defining and documenting them in advance to ensure you know what success means for your specific campaign.

Q. Do you have any guidance on how to spend media dollars? Is it worth it to spend on Ed media/news channels like Education Week, Education Dive, eSchool News, and EdSurge?

A. It depends on the target audience you are trying to reach. The most important consideration is to understand where your audience goes to find information—are they on news websites, do they read magazines, are they on Twitter, do they subscribe to WeAreTeachers or School Leaders Now? The easiest way to find this out is to ask your customers directly!

Reaching District Influencers

Q. How much influence do roles other than classroom teachers, principals, or other administrators have in purchase decisions (librarians, tech/media specialists, others involved in the committees)? Do they typically have their own budgets which they control and have decision-making power or do they need to get approval from administration on resource purchases?

A. In most cases, all purchases or budgets need approval from administrators, but that doesn’t mean that admins make all the program choices. Librarians and specialists typically don’t have to get their purchases approved, but they are only granted a certain number of dollars to make the purchases they choose.

Q. What do you recommend for researching and connecting with purchasing committees?

A. The purchasing process varies a great deal in each district. Unless they put out an RFP, it’s hard to know when the purchasing committees are making their decisions. That’s why it’s important to keep your brand in front of educators year-round.

Q. What titles or departments make the majority of classroom technology purchase decisions (Smart Boards, projectors, screens, etc.)?

A. IT or tech departments usually make this decision; however, as with most schoolwide purchasing decisions, a committee is usually involved.

Q. What strategies do you recommend that will activate teachers to push decision makers to look for new solutions?

A. When you share your product or solution with teachers, emphasize the benefits to them and their students. We don’t recommend that you specifically tell teachers to go to their admins about the product. This can come off negatively.

Q. Do you have metrics on how to target the decision makers such as principals and superintendents?

A. MDR can target principals and district admin titles; however, it’s important to note that superintendents, while they may approve a purchase, are often not involved in the detailed discovery process—they follow the recommendations of their team. Principals are one of the most targeted job roles, and therefore they are a very competitive audience to reach.

We’ve seen the highest response rates for email when used in tandem with other channels like web and social advertising. Building familiarity among your audience with organic social messaging or targeted advertising can make your brand more recognizable in the inbox, generating stronger open and click rates for email promotions.

Stages of the School Buying Cycle

Q. Have you noted any differences in the cycle for Core Curriculum (higher price point, e.g. reading programs) versus supplemental resources (lower price point, e.g. a grammar resource) versus professional development purchases?

A. Supplemental resources and other lower price point materials are purchased and implemented throughout the year. Decisions are made by a variety of educator titles, both teachers and admins. Core Curriculum is usually only implemented at the beginning of the school year and the buying cycle would start the previous January to March.

Q. We have seen an uptick in buying in October due to some budget allocations, and December to prepare for the beginning-of-the-year semester. Do you see an increase in purchasing being made in these months?

A. Possibly some curriculum changes are made mid-year, but the great majority are made at the beginning of the school year.

Q. How much does the purchasing cycle change from one state to the next, especially factoring in things like the release of Perkins funds?

A. There is some variance, but the school year has a great influence over the purchasing cycle. Grants are generally one-off or considered separate from the rest of the school budget.

Q. Districts will always say they can’t use funds to purchase multi-year contracts because funds are allocated to a single year. They also don’t want to sign a contract that binds them. So, how do you secure multi-year deals with districts using government funds?

A. This would be impacted by your organization’s ability to contract in a fashion that meets the buyer’s limitations. While frequently not binding, documents like letters of intent and memos of understanding can affect buyer mindset and increase the likelihood of efficient renewals and extensions.

Q. Have you noticed any trends in recent years such as decisions being made earlier and earlier? How do you see the cycle changing in the future and why?

A. Increased parent involvement in schools has made it important to prepare the stakeholders for major curriculum changes, thus, we do see a longer cycle. A school may spend a year planning the implementation of a new curriculum before even starting.

For example, a school might acquire a new math curriculum in 2018, prepare the community and train teachers to use it in 2019, and put it to use in 2020. There are many reasons why some variation to this process might occur. These could include state or federal funding program delays as well as school- and district-specific events. We will continue to research and communicate significant changes as we become aware.

Q. Do you have any info on how purchasing cycles may vary for products that can be purchased directly by teachers using their discretionary funds versus school funds?

A. Purchases by teachers occur all year long, but the money may have to be spent by a certain date so there may be an uptick shortly before that date. The dates vary by district but often are at the end of April. We recently surveyed K-12 teachers and principals on how and when school supply lists are created, and found that most decisions for which products make it onto these lists are finalized between March and June.

Q. What do you see as the most in-demand products being purchased? Are there any emerging product categories being purchased more frequently?

A. Based on what we see at education conferences, as well as our customer campaigns, there is an increase in purchases related to social and emotional learning, robotics, coding, and whole-school intervention or behavior management products.

Want to listen in on the webinar again? Check it out here.