Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Trouble with Conferences... Confessions of an EdTech Salesman

As an introvert I was nodding and smiling at observations on almost every page of Susan Caine book "Quiet, the Power of Introverts." A section that I found myself laughing out loud at was her experience when she attended a Tony Robbins seminar. It was so funny!

What is not so funny is when this introvert has had to pretend to be an exhibitionist at events like this. The Conference season is on us with BETT just finished and LT2014 currently taking place, and lots of events coming up in the US.

Check the conference hashtag and you will see exhibitors sending out pre and post conference promotional material in the hope that they will get the most out of the huge sum that they will have spent on the event.

As I am *STILL* iterating my way to product-market fit I am fortunate that I do not have any "corporate line" to tow, so thought I would take this opportunity to detail the problems I have with exhibiting at conferences. I have a feeling that my experiences may not be uncommon, and a few sales people may find themselves nodding and smiling as they read this... If this is the case, I hope the post helps in some way.

If not, could I suggest that you re-skill and go learn about "Inbound Marketing" techniques, do you know that there is even a "Community Manager Appreciation Day" which was this week... ever heard of "Salesperson Appreciation Day?" 

The Boss and his Blessed KPIs

Sales people at SME's have you ever notice how your MD or Sales Director gets especially stressed and grumpy in the run up to the conference season?

Delegates, ever seen sales people at their exhibition stand with a look of desperation on their face? A look that can only be transformed into a sunny disposition when you make eye contact with them and/or head in their direction?

I wonder if delegates have ever stopped to think how much it costs to exhibit at these events? Our intrepid sales people will be all too aware of the costs of exhibiting... as it's quite possible that  their employer will remind them regularly;

"Do you know how much this conference you wanted to go to is costing me?" 

For the benefit of educators and delegates consider this;

Service                                  Approx Cost
Exhibition space                     £4,000-30,000
Stand                                     £2,000-10,000
Printing Promo Material         £1,000
Freebies (Pens, food etc)      £5,000
Celebs/Guest Speaker          £500-2,000
Staff wages                            £500-1,000
Travel                                    £200-500

Total                                     £13,200-49,500

For Tweets Sake!
And the delegates thought the cost for them attending was expensive! You can perhaps get a sense of why the staff at the stand adopt a "professionally persistent" style that exhibitors are renowned for; or appreciate why the conference Twitter stream is flooded with messages that are effectively saying

"Look at us, don't forget we're here... come see us at stand XYZ" 

In some cases these types of messages equate to 20-30% of Tweets on the events hashtag.

It is not just the cost of the conference that we need to consider, we also need to factor in the fact the company will be looking to make a return on investment from the event. A company may be looking at a x4-5 return on investment from any marketing activity and conferences - £52,800-198,000 Ouch! That's a lot of sales required! That'll be why you get all those post conference follow up calls, especially helpful for those with short term memory loss;

"Remember you went to the conference? Remember we spoke? Remember our widget? Remember I said I'd follow up with you in a couple of weeks time? Well here I am!" Lol 

But what happens if, for whatever reason, things are not going so well and the stand isn't getting much traffic? 

The sales person has a choice;

1) Face an irate boss, or

2) Irritate the delegates

One has the power to fire the sales person; the other the power to shoot your brand down - talk about being stuck between your customers and your boss!

Happy Meal Syndrome - Can I get the Freebie to go?

So what do we do? How do we compensate for this conflict to find a balance between our customers and employer?
  • Do we put a great case study to categorically demonstrate value to educators? Sometimes. 
  • Invite existing customers & educators to our stand to rave about the service? Not often. 
  • Find some other compelling way to demonstrate our value proposition? 
Why bother with that when you can entice delegate to visit your stand with some freebies?

Food, prize draws, pens, stress balls and lots of other goodies. What a winning strategy! It's a real win-win situation when you have delegates come to your stand and say 

"Save the spiel, I'm only here for you to stamp my passport for the prize draw"

Exhibitors a Necessary Evil... Or Unrequited Love
Outwith an analogy of a David Attenborugh documentry when a lion stalks its prey while licking its lips, perhaps the best way to describe exhibitor-delegate relations is unrequited love.

The exhibitor with his "come to my stall" eyes; the delegate with her "I'm here to see my colleague... Not you" rebuff.

But what happens if someone has mercy and visits your stand? Your all smooth and chatty... Until you have a queue forming - then its wham, bang "I'll call you... here take my business card" Talk about knowing how to make a delegate feel special!

Well those are my reasons for getting as sweaty as a teenager on his first date at the thought of manning a stand at a conference... And that's before we even get onto my introverted temperament! However... 

I have had one "dream date" of a conference experience.

Fairy Tale Ending... The Inbound Effect 
When I was just starting to explore inbound marketing, I attended a conference after writing on of my early reports and there was a queue at the stand all day long. What changed? Did I have some kind of new product - EdTech snake oil that promised radical Ed Reform? Nope.

People were eager to see me to say hello as a result of Tweeting one another, or had questions about the report.

Conferences - Tech Stories Style
So what are my take aways from conferences? The next time I feel the need to be an exhibitionist, my plan is to;

Get attention - Produce content that is relevant to the audience prior to the conference

Prize Draw - The only prizes on offer will be my attempts to win "the most uninspiring stand" award. We'll have a table, sign and whatever we need for a demo

Freebies - Will be in the form of a case study with a compelling "Reason to buy" 

Guest Speakers - The biggest celeb I can think of... an educator who is also a customer 

If that isn't sufficient to draw in enough of a crowd so that we are not fussing about KPIs/ROI etc then I will have learned one of 2 lessons...

1) We have not yet found product-market fit, and/or 

2) We are not ready to roll out and need to go back to the drawing board to work on our NPS.

Will either of these factors be a reason to ridicule any sales people who I might be fortunate enough who want to work with me about their ability? Or to threaten to fire them for poor performance?  

The way I view it, I reckon I'd owe them an apology for bringing them on board when we were not quite ready... But then again I'm an ex-salesman who knows that there is no such thing as "Salesperson Appreciation Day." 

Devils Advocate?
My intuition tells me that this may be a bit of a risque post, as it may "Ruffle some feathers." If this is the case, it was not the intention, and please allow me point out that;

1) All I have done is to detail my experiences - I would be surprised if it was not typical of a lot of SME suppliers.

2) If any conference organisers are upset is it because this has hit a nerve? Inbound Marketing is disrupting the industry - Baby Got Leads

3) If suppliers are upset is it because your product has not achieved "product-market fit" and you need gimmicks to sell your product? A ridiculous and/or insulting comment? I am consulting with some critical friends at the moment and they have indicated that they would only recommend 20-30% of the EdTech that they buy to their colleagues.

I've worked on projects like this myself and, for the sake of customers and staff, hope not to repeat this mistake.Too many sales teams get a hard time for not being able to sell, when the issue is with the product, or organisational culture, not their ability.

And if you remain upset after reading this post? Apologies you feel this way, it was not my intention to be controversial... I have merely been highlighting my experiences within startups and SME's.

As it is conference season, last year I downloaded a lot of data from Twitter with the intention of analysing it, but have not done so yet. What I have done is put a list of people who have contributed to various EdChats and Edu Conferences, please find this list here - EdChat and Conference Participants.

I hope this helps you to hook up with some new people and adds to your PLN.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Collaboration in Edu: How can we Help Achieve your Goals?

I have been getting feedback on a couple of ideas regarding collaboration recently and have had some mixed feedback. 

I have had a lot of positive feedback about these ideas but want to highlight some of the less positive and quite surprising aspects... This is not because I am "a glass half empty kind of guy" (except perhaps if the glass contained a less than appealing beverage... then I'd be delighted that there was not as much to drink).

Social Media Connections 
As a result of my continued experimentation with "Inbound Marketing" and endeavouring to produce good (or at least "reasonable") content via my reports and blog, I have seen the number of new contacts on social media increase considerably over the last 12 months.

I was keen to better connect with people I didn't know too well, so 
I drafted an email which I dithered about sending as I felt it was a little unconventional. However, I felt this was a true reflection of my year on LinkedIn, so I sent it. A copy of the email can be found here - LinkedIn Email

After sending this I found that;

1) Not too many of my connections replied, and
2) Some the connections who did come back to me had questions like;

  "Did you send this because you are trying to promote your product or service?"

I found both scenarios quite surprising and, when added to the people who were LinkedIn connections but who "unsubscribed" from any emails or updates, I wondered;

"Is this typical? ...Have I got LinkedIn wrong? Do I need to delete some of my social media accounts and/or unfollow everyone and start again?"

One of these days I'll get a hang of this social media stuff? 
In the mean time please allow me to restate and amplify the message from this email... I would like to extend this offer to FE/educators, as well as to EdTech companies

Can I help with any of your current projects? If so, please don't hesitate to get in touch!

Another idea I have been getting feedback on is the concept of some kind of #startupeduchat, which could be a forum  for education suppliers to discuss the various aspects of working with educators. The rationale for this idea comes from 2 main sources;

1) The kind of great ideas and support that comes from educators who join the 150+ Twitter EdChats each week.

2) How successful a lot of the EdTech Incubator companies are... Forbes Magazine has published a list of the top "30 under 30" in education. 1/3rd of the people in this list either has experience of working with educators and teaching in the classroom through Teach for America and/or are members of EdTech incubator alumni startups.

Startup Incubators - A Hot Bed of Collaboration?

Which educator or supplier would not like to see more great products like the ones these top 30 young influencers are working on? 

Surely a key to their success is the infrastructure of educators, mentors, entrepreneurs, investors etc that they have established. Why can't we try to establish a similar infrastructure online? Seemed like a good idea to me, but not to others. 

I was a little surprised at some of the comments with people telling me why this was either a bad idea, or that is was a good idea but doomed to failure as suppliers will not be willing to collaborate for a variety of reasons.

Seek first to understand... Then to be understood
I am genuinely grateful for people's views on these issues, and they may well be right. I also hope that I am not coming across as critical of anyone's ideas or opinions, especially as the feedback was useful and very valid. 

However I believe that these ideas are worth trying and would like to highlight why I think working towards a model of greater collaboration makes sense, and is worth pursuing... even if it does seem slightly counter-intuitive.

First let's stay with the "30 under 30," as well as having classroom experience or working in collaborative incubator environment, check out some of the projects these influencers are working on.

  • Edmodo - Teachers, students and administrators can compare and share lesson plans, homework and tests. It is also a showcase for app developers, and Edmodo currently offers over 600 apps
  • Udemy - Instructors are able upload their own courses, set their own prices (or not), and use the platform to attract students of all ages. 
  • Schools 4.0 - Education incubator that brings educators, entrepreneurs, and technologists together. 
  • Students for Education Reform - Mobilizes college students to advocate for K-12 education reform 
  • Clever - Offers a universal API that connects schools with independent developers who can build apps to manage that information. 
  • Scratch - Enables kids to program their own games, animated stories, and art and share them with millions of other children around the world. 
  • Panorama Education - Help schools find data-driven solutions by collecting and analyzing feedback from teachers, parents, students and staff.
  • Givology - Connects donors to grassroots education projects and student scholarships around the world.
  • InstaEdu - Online tutoring service that matches students 13 and up with experts
  • Wishbone - Links at-risk high school students with the online donor community to fund their educational dreams
  • Start Up Weekend Education - Helps educators, parents, students, entrepreneurs, developers, and designers who want to create viable companies in the emerging education and learning markets. 
All these companies involve a high level of collaboration & sharing resources and ideas or connecting like minded people... And Edmondo and Clever's business is all about making it easier for edu and EdTech suppliers to connect and integrate.

Regardless of how good, bad or how "idealistic" the idea of #startupeduchat is there is no getting away from the fact that we have shared clients in education... and if suppliers don't lead on this, perhaps educators will organise this themselves.

Tribal Leadership...It's a Matter of Give and Take
I have not had as much time for reading as I'd like these days but I sure have been lucky in picking out some fantastic books, which have heavily shaped my thinking. I'll try to do these justice here as I try to summerise them;

1) Thomas Friedman's wrote an excellent article which argued that a key to Scilicon Valley's success was collaboration "Collaborate Vs Collaborate"

"Despite the heated competition, lots of collaboration still happens for one main reason: to serve the customer the best product or service...When you obsess about the customer, you end up defeating your competition as a byproduct, but when you are just obsessed about the competition, you end up killing yourself because you are not focused on the customer.”

There were 688 exhibitors at the BETT conference all of whom are looking to engage the same client base. Stop and think for a moment if a school/college IT or procurement manager had a 10 min conversation with each supplier, it would take up 14 days of the school/colleges' time... From an industry that promises to deliver time savings to their customers?

2) If you'd prefer to hear this message directly from educators, here is Director of Tech Integration Roshini Mirchandani telling us what she wants to see "Rivals No More"

3) If suppliers don't collaborate more with educators and other suppliers... we may well find that educators will create their own solutions;

"Districts might do well to let teachers design their own blended classrooms before sending in those technology purchases orders" in See The Magic Ingredient: Teacher Led Design

4) I have just read Dave Logan's "Tribal Leadership" who details 5 stages of teams in their research, with "Stage 5 teams" being the real game changers.

Stages 1-4 is defined by competition either with colleagues or other companies, but the first stage 5 company the researchers came across, Amgen, did not see the competition as another company.

When asked who their competitor was, the then CEO, Gordon Binder answered "We're in competition with Cancer"

What would happen if education suppliers followed suit and did not view others in the sector as "the competition?" What if edtech main rival was inequality, ignorance and improving young peoples' outcomes... and were committed to working with educators and all their partners to achieve these goals.

I know there are very few stage 5 teams and believe that education, like many other sectors, could do with more... speaking of which, anyone with a great product, collaborative stage 5 team and overall a great culture please do get in touch.

5) My last example is from someone with the title of "The Most Connected Networker," and who wouldn't take advice from someone with that kind of experience? By the way if you want to know who this person is you'll need to buy Adam Grant's book "Give and Take" to find out. You'll thank me for not revealing this because its not a book - it's an investment.
Anyway this master networker's vision is that he would like to see more people helping other people that's advice I'm not going to ignore, but will add it to Dave Kerpen excellent advice to "Always Show your Friendship First" and Thomas Friedman's rationale regarding the merits of collaborating.

So if you're reading this, and if you think I might be able to help in any way, please get in touch. Or if you like this post feel free to show your support by using the #startupeduchat hashtag on Twitter. 

Some Resources...
And if you still don't see the merits of this? I do, so will continue to work on various resources that I hope suppliers and educators will find useful. I have already;

1) put some Twitter lists together that I hope will make it easier for you to find and connect fellow educators and suppliers 
2) I have pulled together data from the BETT Show Twitter stream please find Tweets from day 1 & 2 and a list of people contributing to the #BETT2014 hashtag;
More like this to follow. In the mean time please also join myself, @DrKeevil 
@MrsSarahSimons and the other regulars for #ukfechat this evening at 9pm where the subject will be; 

Collaboration in FE: What are your FE Goals in 2014... and how can the #ukfechat community help you achieve them?

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

New Year Resolution - 100% College Roll Out

I don't normally go in for New Year Resolutions but I have had a goal in mind for a few years now which I'd like to share;

I would love to work on a project that gets 100% roll out across FE Colleges

Sounds like quite a feat doesn't it? Indeed, given that I have not been able to find any products that every college uses (and this includes some great services that are free of charge) some might see this as an impossible task... just the kind of challenge I like.

But something that I think is as important as this challenge are my reasons for such a goal.

Money? Nope.
Am I a megalomaniac who wants to be liked by everyone in FE? Might be nice, but nope. Because am an "alpha male" and feel the need to conquer all and/or win at all costs?
As I've worked in the corrosive culture this personality type can create... Most definitely NOT!

Core Values... And a Noble Cause
My motivation comes from something that is way too undervalued in UK business - my core values. I discuss core values in my culture report through highlighting companies like Zappos and their Core Values;

While working on my EdTech report "Developing Relationships & Delivering Value" I contemplated on what the core values of any organisation that I might want to work with, or establish (watch this space!), might include. I came to the conclusion that my core values are;

1) Quality products - Organisations that delight their customers so much that they become evangelists & fans (e.g. Apple, Google et al), or companies that educators universally praise on social media and who grow more through word of mouth rather than using aggressive or unwelcome sales tactics. 

2) Making a Difference - My favourite success stories in education include Sugata Mitra and KIPP. Mitra uses technology to make a real difference with young people; KIPP has had some amazing results with underprivileged kids through the positive culture they establish. 

3) Ethical - That products should add value to the customer/user. My favorite observation on this comes from Henry Ford;

“A manufacturer is not through with his customer when a sale is completed. He has then only started with his customer... the sale is an introduction. If the machine does not give service, then it is better for the manufacturer if he never had the Introduction, for he will have the worst of all advertisements – a dissatisfied customer…”  

Dave Logan's book, Tribal Leadership, researches common attributes of great teams, which includes having "a shared set of core values and then aligning those values to a noble cause," any product that gets 100% uptake will surely add value to the college and, hopefully, improve the outcomes of our young people... that's a noble enough cause for me! 

Person-Environment Fit - Difficult Job Search

I have tried to look for FE suppliers like this within organisations where my skills and personality would be a good "person-environment fit" (Being engaged in an occupation, role and/or setting that fits your personality) but there were not too many organisations that jumped out at me, those that do either have my CV and/or know that I'd like to collaborate with them.

I am not being critical of any suppliers here, but it is a fact that there are few products or services that are working with 80%+ of FE Colleges. Indeed what if we stop for a moment and think about how hard it is for an organisation to get everything right with a service and become a market leader, whose customers are evangelists and fans.

We all know about the success and ubiquitous use of Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, You Tube etc, but this is a relatively small number of companies who have reached this stage and successfully "Crossed the Chasm" of their initial niche target markets, before going on to achieve universal roll-out to become household names. Imagine what it takes to;
  • Get the product right 
    Apple and Microsoft's products were not quite right straight away
  • Getting the right people
    Steve Jobs lost his job at the company he created as a result of board room battles with John Sculley
  • Establishing the right culture
    Steve Jobs created a "Let's be Pirates" counter culture with his Mac team Vs John Sculley and the team working on the Lisa PC.
  • Getting the sales and marketing right
  • Rolling out at the right time... and to the right kind of customer
    One of the main reasons that companies fail is because they scale the business too soon
  • Maintaining FocusGoogle focused only on search while their bigger rivals, Yahoo and Inktomi, saw search as a small part of their business 
  • The aims, goals and strategic vision of the founders and investors to be in sync as the company matures. 
Open for Business
Not only have I read a great deal about these issues, but I have also had the painful experience of having a front row seat watching the "Five stages of decline" that Jim Collins describes in "How the Mighty Fall" at a previous company I worked for... not something I wish to repeat.

I have also been accepted onto this course on
Innovation and Entrepreneurship with Stanford University, which I am SO excited about and looking forward to.

All of which suggests that I'm ready to take on my goal of finding the kind of products and services that might achieve 100% roll out. But, as Socrates observed;

Which is definitely the case with me... I have learned;
  • From working at start ups who promised much initially... but failed to deliver
  • About tried and tested principles for effective roll out of successful companies
  • That there are A LOT of things you need to get right to develop good products
  • Why collaboration with potential customers at an early stage is so key
  • The ONLY way to have any chance of finding the right product is by getting input from FE
Which leaves me with the only 2 things that I know today is that;
  • Getting the mix right and roll out a product or service out across FE will be a challenge.
  • Such a task would be impossible without the input and support of the sector.
Help Wanted... Apply Within!
The core message from my EdTech report is that collaboration is a prerequisite for successful products/services. This is reinforced within education through the success stories from Start up Education weekends and from startups who achieve viral growth.

So what do you do if you don't have all the answers? Ask the right questions? Who better to explore the answers to these questions than with your prospective customers?

I have put together 4 surveys that have been designed to help identify areas of best practice to help confirm some of the ideas that I have. This feedback will help provide a plan of action based on my EdTech report, I would be extremely grateful if you could take a moment to complete any of the surveys that are applicable to you or your department;

Report Feedback Survey - I have produced 7 reports and it would be great to hear your thoughts on our exploration with "Inbound Marketing"

Supporting FE - Before making any marketing plans we would like your input on how people in FE feel suppliers can best support FE & their students at a national, regional & local level.

FE Tech Products: Best Practice Survey - We are keen to hear about which products/suppliers are meeting and exceeding their FE customers expectations

Critical Friend Network - The only way that any organisations can achieve product-market fit and a welcome and efficient roll out plan is through close collaboration, I am looking to develop a network of critical friends who can help me assess various products and ideas that will be new to FE.

I would also be extremely grateful if you could share this post and/or these survey links with your colleagues.

Working on projects that achieve product-market fit is only possible with input from FE.

By the way if you're an EdTech supplier reading this (ideally a startup) that shares the core values above - get in touch I'd love to have a chat about seeing if there is any scope for collaboration! Suppliers may also be interest in my #StartUpEduChat post and follow @KatrinaStevens1 & @StartUpEduChat for more info.