Thursday, 1 May 2014

Sales Matters in EdTech: PD Vs Intuitive Tech

Last night the topic of discussion at EdTechBridge was Professional Development (PD). As I mentioned in my first Sales Matters in EdTech post, that I wasn't sure if I would be able to contribute to this discussion.

Sure enough, last night I was a little quiet as I didn't have enough knowledge on the issue, so I "lurked and learned." What I learned from listening to the discussion leads me to ask;

Is it really the role of education to provide teachers professional development with EdTech?

EdTech Developers Role with PD
Of course every employer should care about the development of their staff... But what about the technology supplier? 

With regard to PD and EdTech can I do a quick straw poll with any educators reading this. Do you feel that more or less PD is needed with;

1) Technology that you are expected to use but find "clunky" and complicated, or
2) Your faviourite tech tools that you use in class?

My guess is that educators feel they need more PD with the technology they don't understand so well... DOH! Talk about stating the obvious! Bear with me a moment... At least while I ask a follow up question;

Isn't it the responsibility of the technology supplier to make sure their customers have the best user experience possible?

Even if you disagree that a Tech supplier has no role to play in PD, surely they are responsible for ensuring that their users are comfortable with the tech, and are benefiting from all the features and functionality... If for no other reason that it's in the companies best interest from a sales perspective!

Have you ever visited an Apple retail store? Did you see any of the workshops that were going on? Did it look more like a store or a classroom? Check out Assistant Superintendent, Thomas Troisi observations when he visited an Apple store "Our Children need the schools of tomorrow today
Or what about Amazon Kindle's "Mayday" response service? 

These are brands that know how to develop technology! They develop products that are intuitive, easy to use AND their support looks an awful lot like the kind of personalised professional development that educators were asking for during the EdTechBridge chat

As someone on the EdTech side of the bridge, Scott Freschet from Actively Learn highlighted that he wasn't sure if he could articulate what PD was. However, if this term was translated to "Delivering the Whole Product" he most certainly would, but then educators might not...

"Edu/Tech translator to the Education isle please... Customer waiting." couldn't resist. 

So here's a lesson on the "The Whole Product," how it should work, why it doesn't always pan out the way it should... and the implications for PD. 

Differentiation: Selling the Vision Vs Developing the Whole Product
OK, so a company has managed to get an educators attention and hopefully in a welcome way: from a referral or some inbound marketing... but maybe it was a particularly compelling unsolicited email or an engaging cold call.

You like what you hear and you arrange to meet up to discuss further. It's a compelling presentation from a young, ambitious and energetic start up. You're impressed with what you hear and decide to subscribe to the service.

But when the service is installed there's a gap between the service that you got and the solution that was presented by the EdTech rep. Is this a case of "Duped again by another unethical salesperson?"

Maybe, but are there really that many salespeople who go completely "off script" and deliver a presentation that has not been approved by their senior managers and/or guardians of the EdTech startups brand? Perhaps not...

The sales person will be selling what the company sees as their "vision" of how the service will develop... not what the Tech is like at the moment. 

"Theodore Levitt and Bill Davidow highlight that with new/emerging technology there can be gaps between the sales and marketing promise made to the customer and the actual product that gets shipped that would fulfil this promise. This is partly due to the sales team selling based on the “Whole Product” but this does not always get developed or delivered. Suppliers should be looking to deliver “The Whole Product” Geoffery Moore, Crossing the Chasm 

If we consider the product development during the early days of the PC, the actual product Vs the whole product might include:

1) Generic Product: A hard drive is shipped

 2) Expected Product:  Early PC users expected to get a monitor with their purchase – how else were they able to use the computer? But in fact, in most cases, it was not part of the generic product.

3) Augmented Product: A variety of products - software, games, printers– are developed. Customer hotlines, advanced training and local service centers crop up.

4) Potential Product: In edtech today topical issues are MOOCs and, since the TED Prize – Sugata Mirta’s S.O.L.E & A School in the Cloud

The ability to deliver the Whole Product solution goes through stages. When collaborating with clients on early pilot projects these development partners will assist with “the whole product”. Once the product is established third party suppliers will help to flesh out the whole product. The most crucial point is when companies are “crossing the chasm,” which is making the transition from having a handful of tech enthusiasts and early adopters to a more risk averse and conservative group of customers.  

During this awkward phase of product development there is no hope of any external support. If a supplier neglects the whole product and simply leaves the customer with the service, they are leaving their customer’s success to chance, and so, are giving up control over their product’s success. But if suppliers can think through their customer’s problems—and solutions—they can work to ensure that customers get “the whole product”.

So companies who sold tech that lost out in the race for the mass market - 8 track cassettes, laser discs, palm pilots - would have sold "The Whole Product" and what they expected would happen but didn't because 3rd party suppliers rallied round CD's, DVDs and Mobile phones.

Mind the Gap... In PD
I'm not an educator so I don't know if there is any correlation between the need for PD with products that were sold as being able to do XYZ, but it either doesn't have the expected functionality or, if it does it is far from intuitive.

If this is the case then it may have less to do with PD and more to do with the EdTech supplier doing as Moore highlights;

"They are leaving their customer’s success to chance, and so, are giving up control over their product’s success" 

The issues is not a Technical... It's the Culture
As usual this is not a development issue but a cultural one... one where suppliers take the time to think through their customer’s problems... visiting the classroom and seeing students and staff use the product and see where they are having challenges and functions that are laborious. It is a culture of collaboration and a commitment to educators that will ensure that EdTech's customers will get “the whole product.”

But even if the tech product does deliver the "Whole Product" no tech tool, or Professional Development course, will be effective if the culture is not right. 

What's the point of having tech that provides a great way to offer staff feedback... if there is a fundamental breakdown in communications? 

What's the point of going on a PD course about being a change agent or embracing technology... if admins are risk averse technophobes?   

I don't know about you but I find these variables way too complex... I find it's so much easier just to blame it on the sales guy ;)

If you agree with this post then get in touch with Steve Isaacs (@Mr_Isaacs) to discuss his ideas for Educators and EdTech collaborating on Professional Development.


  1. William,
    I really like the example of the Apple Store. The apple store is obviously in the business of sales, but people gravitate to the story for many reasons, Many come in to play with the technology, others to ask questions of the 'genius' staff, others to take courses, others to make purchases (whether conscious or unconscious!). Whatever the case, there is something about the Apple Store that draws us in. I have found myself walking toward the story by some magnetic pull and having to pull myself back to stay on my original mission whatever that may be.

    What does this have to do with PD and #EdTechBridge? Well, it makes me wonder how we can recreate this idea. Should developers provide demos with some incentive for the educators? Maybe educators that are willing / interested in finding out more and learning about the product could receive a free license based on taking their time to learn about the software. Granted, this is different from the model of purchasing it and then hoping to receive training or 'the whole package' but from an edtechbridge standpoint this builds relationships and if the product is found valuable by the educator that participated in this learning opportunity additional benefits emerge for both the educator and the developer.

    Sales obviously matters although we often see sales as a bad word when speaking of these relationships. We would be remiss to acknowledge that at the end of the day relationships that developers for with educators should be mutually beneficial. If you have ever met someone that uses brainpop you will see how this bottom up model can work. Teachers LOVE brainpop's product and will often lobby for their district to purchase it. This model is far better than the salesperson pitching to the top and then having a district pay and pray as they purchase a product before knowing if their educators will use it.

    Just a little food for thought as we work together to figure out how to best develop mutually beneficial relationships and provide opportunities to best utilize the EdTech.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post, William!

  2. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your your comments regarding the Apple model... How uncanny! It will be the subject of the post that I will be publishing on Wednesday. One of the reasons that Apple has a draw is because of a concept called "Social Proof," which I believe can be factored into the adoption of technology in Education.

    I hope that these "Sales Matters" posts helps to highlight that any poor sales practices are as much about the attitudes and culture across the entire organisation as opposed to any lone, mavericks going "off script" and saying whatever they need to in order to "Close that deal."

    Regardless of the reasons this happens, I'm delighted that you have established the EdTechBridge community which is playing a role in challenging these perceptions and encourages greater collaboration.