Article featured in EdNET Insight
By: Robert Baker, Co-Founder, Mac to School
May 22, 2015
With industry reports indicating that investment in ed tech companies hit $1.87 billion in 2014, it’s no surprise that many entrepreneurs and companies in the consumer sector are considering entering the education market or have already begun making inroads. What many of these business leaders quickly discern is that education is a unique industry and that it’s critical to understand the differences between these markets to be successful.
While the disparities between the consumer and education markets may seem glaringly obvious to those of us who’ve worked with schools and districts for some time, the subtleties run deep. It’s like diving into a lake. You can dip your toe into the water to test the temperature, and you can see with some clarity a few feet down to determine that it appears good for swimming. However, it isn’t until you look beneath the surface that you discover its complex ecology.
When we launched Mac to School as an offshoot of our successful Mac repair consumer business, we relied on experts in the education industry to help us better understand the landscape and its ecosystem.
To put your company on the path to success in education, you’ll need to know the differences between the consumer and education markets that extend beyond pricing and packaging.
Provide solutions; don’t just sell products. In the education market, you must have a more thorough understanding of your audience and their pain points than you do in the consumer sector. To best serve educators, you have to know the various ways educators could use your product, their end goals, the life cycle of your product in schools, the symbiosis of decision-makers and users, how each may be impacted, and similar issues.
This insight will enable you to modify or re-engineer your offering to suit the needs of educators and schools. This often means going a step further than just selling a tailored product. Successful companies in education offer a solution, such as adding complementary services, professional development and training, and more, to ensure the efficacy of your product and the greatest customer satisfaction.
When we discovered that schools were our best customers for refurbished Apple equipment, we began offering services to reconfigure large quantities of machines for schools at no extra charge. This saves them countless hours of installing their operating system of choice on each device and saves them the fees they’d otherwise be charged if they purchased the refurbished machines from other providers. Because we’re dealing in greater volume, we’re able to offer this free service to schools that we’re not able to offer in our consumer business.
Move product and purpose under one roof. Oftentimes, you’ll see companies try to sell a consumer product to educators by simply showcasing the different ways it can be used for educational purposes, without offering the support and modifications to the product that schools need to ensure it fits their unique situation. Typically, a few salespeople, who sometimes lack the proper knowledge and background in the industry, are assigned to handle the education business. This model usually ends in lackluster sales because the mission, product, and structure of the company do not align with the education market. Education becomes a secondary focus.
Three years ago, we created a new company, separate from our consumer business, entirely dedicated to the educationally driven mission to ensure we were delivering on our promise to schools. We were able to leverage the insight we’d gleaned from working with schools in the past to customize our product line and services to the education market, offering the high-quality technology educators want at a price they can afford.
Relationships are paramount. The marketing and sales process is more nuanced in education. It thrives on relationship building, from the first introduction to after-the-sale communications, whereas the consumer market depends mainly on a sole transactional experience. You have to be entrenched in the education industry to best understand the complexities of the funding models, the political and regulatory environment, and the influencers and decision-makers involved in the process.
In the consumer business, you can advertise where your customers are, but in education, you can’t advertise in classrooms. You have to know where to reach your target audiences and how best to do so in ways that foster engagement, trust, and a lasting partnership. Additionally, the benefits that resonate the most with educators vary and may not be what you’d assume based on experience in the consumer business. Initially, we thought cost would be a significant factor in the decision-making process for budget-crunched schools. However, it was the time-savings of our solutions that ultimately won over our school customers.
Philanthropy matters. While corporate social responsibility is trendy in the consumer market, it’s not a significant difference maker in selling products. In education, helping improve kids’ lives must be at the core of your business. Educators are passionate about what they do, and you must reflect that if you want to be successful. Embrace the heart that’s in this industry and give back. We’ve enjoyed the shift from consumer to education and consider it a blessing that we can help schools while doing this job.
In the consumer market, it’s often cutthroat—competition is based on price, and your value is based on sales. Here we get to be the good guys and stand tall, even amongst the biggest players in the industry, as we all are striving toward the same goal: helping schools and helping kids.