Wednesday, 25 June 2014

ISTE13 Reflections - Death of an EdTech Salesman

Will EdSurge wring the death knell for EdTech sales people who have not adopted a social strategy?

Ever since I started exploring inbound marketing there is a comment that has intrigued me, which has created a good deal of debate, this comment is:

Cold calling will be a thing of the past in 3-5 years

I have to say that the more I explore "Inbound Marketing" the more I tend to agree with this statement. Despite the relevance of this and the fact that sales is in a state of transition, it's perhaps not the best interview strategy in the world to make a statement like this at an interview for an EdTech sales job.

However it would be a big mistake for any Managing Directors or Sales Directors to scoff at the suggestion... I certainly don't think they will be within the next 12 months.

It's never easy to predict where the puck is going to land when you're weighing up the arguments put forward by the proponents and detractors, and the future of cold calling is no different. Something that I always find useful is to ask two questions;

1) Who's the best in the business?
2) What are they doing?

Effective Rollout
I would be surprised if most EdTech companies would turn down the opportunity to have the kind of effective roll out that major tech companies like Apple and Google enjoy. But how many replicate these companies model? One of the curious things about Apple, Goolge et al is regarding sales. Have you ever asked an educator "Have you ever had a sales call from Google or Apple?" Try it, but don't be surprised if the answer is "Erm, well no. Come to think of it I haven't"

If you follow this line of enquiry you'll discover that they found out about the tech through the positive reviews from other educators.

As with most ideas and insights I first noticed this in an EdChat, and my observations were confirmed at ISTE. Here's my post from last year The Death of a Salesman

After noticing these changes, I decided to explore... which ended up creating a lot of new ideas (and a lot of late nights reading and researching!) What I was looking for now that I appreciated the changes in educator-supplier interactions, I wanted to know how to facilitate this apparently effortless and seamless rollout? The answer is a little counter-intuitive. For example what would your answer be if I were to ask;

What's the best kind of customer service?

Did you answer something like "Great customer service?" or maybe it was "Service that exceeds expectations?" If this  is truly the case why are supermarkets and other retailers replacing tellers with self service machines? What would you say if I told you that the best service is no service?

Like a lot of people I used to think that exceptional customer service is what all great companies should endeavour to achieve. Then I read "The Best Service is No Service" which highlights how Amazon saw customer service differently from most organisations. Amazon's view was that;

"If we've got customers contacting us then there's a problem, what can we do to ensure this problem doesn't arise again"

Kind of blows your mind hearing this for the first time, doesn't it? If you're like me you've used Google for years but never interacted with anyone at the company, ever! No sales calls, no customer service enquiries. Nothing. If you needed to call Google every time I had a search query they might be struggling in the same way that Yellow Pages did.

Building Relationships and Delivering Value
Build the relationship first
In an attempt to make sense of the changes and share with educators and EdTech entrepreneurs I produced an EdTech report called "Developing Relationships and Delivering Value"

If I've convinced you of the "No service is the best service" idea, then if you deliver value then you don't need to build a relationship, do you? After all I've just highlighted that innovative companies don't need to put in sales calls.

The relationship matters a great deal... but timing is everything. If you develop a product without first building the relationship and getting input, you may find your EdTech idea in a lot of trouble further down the line. It's definitely a case of "Prior Preperation Prevents Poor Performance," without feedback you may find;
  • A bug in the product that people didn't foresee. 
  • There is a competing product already doing what the proposed solution does. 
  • Maybe the thing big issue the product was designed to fix is a minor irritation that people can live with, rather than committing their limited tech budget. 
  • Maybe there's some interest but not enough to allow the business to scale
Regardless of any problems the product has now been built, the developers and sales team have been hired so overheads need to be met. Whether the product delivers value or not, it's up to the sales guys to deliver... This is the wrong time to build the relationship. If the product has any problems even the best sales team will struggle.

Relationships matter a great deal, but it needs to be before the product is developed. If this is not THE biggest differentiating factor between the major tech companies and others, then the level of collaboration and due diligence that they go though pre-launch most certainly is!

The major tech companies do work hard on sales and roll out but the method is very different. Here's what I've learned from looking at some of the practices that Apple use: Effective Roll out

From Editorial Controlling Procurement  
So major EdTech companies build the relationships before they develop the product and iterate their way to product-market fit with their customers and this interaction and feedback with early adopters and tech enthusiasts facilitates word of mouth sales. But what about EdTech? Who's doing things really well?

As with my previous ISTE Reflection post, my current research and PD earlier this week has helped to "join up the dots" to add further insight to my experiences from ISTE13.

In "How to Win at Social Selling" John Golden suggest that if social media and producing content is part of the job, as well as adhering to the Sales and Marketing Creed & Code of Ethics, sales people should apply The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics to any content that they produce.

OK and the the idea of sales people honing their journalist skills to the rest of my observations over the last 12 months and you've got to ask yourself "Does the future of EdTech sales lie in some form of publication?

Does anyone know of a EdTech publication who has worked hard to develop relationships with educators and the EdTech community for 3 years through research, listening and sharing to build trust and a strong follower base?

What's New EdSurge?
Have you seen EdSurge's new product insight reports? Do you work in EdTech sales? What do you think will be more effective method of sales... a company calling round their contacts with cold calls and corporate literature, or the circulation of these reports to EdSurge's subscribers? That would be quite a sales challenge! I'm not sure I would want to put myself forward to test this idea.

Then there's the 18,566 Twitter followers that some of the EdSurge staff and contributors have including @betsy_, @KatrinaStevens1, @FrankCatalano, @nickpunt, @motodot, @cquattrocchi, @MJMadda, @mattwbowman

We often do we hear of excited EdTech startup founders telling educators how behind the times educators methods are... how people need to understand that technology has disrupted traditional methods of education and how and why educators need to embrace change. What happens when we put the shoe on the other foot?

Have EdTech sales departments kept up with the changes?
How many of your sales people have produced content that is as compelling as EdSurge?
Have your sales people spent 3 years researching, listening and sharing?

John Golden's company Huthwaite ran a Sales Pulse Survey in 2013 Surveyed senior sales professionals and the results found that the sales people agreed that buyers were using social media as an integral part of the buying process. In addition over half the agreed that customers no longer valued traditional sales tactics and approaches.

However...despite the admission about these changes 99.9% of sales people are not trained on the effective use of social media as a sales tool.

As I feel that EdSurge's model is the future of Sales this is why I'm doing some research on EdSurge articles, I wonder how many articles will be written by EdTech sales people. More on this research in future posts in the mean time EdTech sales teams may want to;

1. Purchase reports so that you can see what your competitors are doing. You can do this online or contact
2. Participate in an EdSurge Summit where EdSurge will have 500+ educators looking at various edtech products. Smaller companies (<$10m) can apply for a vendor table and larger companies can sponsor. For sponsorship information, contact

3. Check out some of Alice's resources on social selling. Three MUST reads are Social Media for Sales People, 15 Conference Twitter Tips for Sales People and Why Sales People Should Stop Cold Calling  

It would be great to hear what EdTech sales departments are doing with their professional development to adapt to these changes. Please feel free to leave a comment below detailing any social selling PD that you do. I find my reading list and various edu and non-edu Twitter chats really useful.

EdChats: #EdTechChat (Monday, 1am GMT/8pm ET), #EdTechBridge (Wednesday, 11pm GMT/6pm ET) #ukfechat (Thursday 9pm)

Non-Edu Chats: Social Selling Hour (#Sshour Monday 9pm GMT/4pm ET); EU Sales (#SalesEU, Wed 3pm GMT) and Community Manager Hangout (#Cmgrhangout, Friday 7pm)

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