Saturday, 21 March 2015

Nikki D Robertson: Bringing Tech Stories to Life!

NB While attempting (And failing) to edit this post down a little, I had a discussion with Troy Mooney (@TroyMooney; EdChat: #Txed), which reminded me of what I'd like my blog to be like (The Class I'd like to Teach ...I know! Not that you'd tell, right? Oh, the irony!) So here's the content of this post in a nut shell. Here's the synopsis of today's Tech Story

The act of Nikki D Robertson (@NikkiDRobertson; EdChat: #TLChat) taking 5 minutes out of her busy schedule to give a start up a chance has, and will continue to, have an impact on educator and supplier relations, in particular around 1) Cold calls 2) The role and value that sales people have in EdTech, and 3) The way educators and suppliers engage at conferences. Intrigued? Skeptical? Want to know more? Here's the full story:

Nikki D Robertson: Bringing Tech Stories to Life!
In this post I hope to tell a compelling story about the impact that Nikki Robertson looks set to have within education, specifically with improving (and possibly fundamentally changing) the way educators and suppliers engage with one another.

The knock on effect that the simple act of trialing and then evangelizing on behalf of a startup has been astounding. I will demonstrate this by reviewing four ideas from previous blog posts which, as recently as last week, might have sounded pretty far fetched and could have remained an obscure work of EdTech fiction without her involvement. I truly don't think this is the case today.

This post is also a very personal, a very public and an EXTREMELY huge big THANK YOU! for helping to breath life into some of the tall tales I have told in the past and, potentially, turning them into some very real (and potentially game changing) successful tech stories!

A Memorable & Appealing Character
Pixar's John Lasseter highlighted in an interview that all good movies need to have a couple of key attributes; 

Nikki D Robertson“You have to tell a compelling story that keeps people on the edge of their seat... [and to do that] you populate that story with really memorable and appealing characters.” 

Today I want to tell you a story about a really memorable character... And a story that, if I am able to do it the justice it deserves with the narration, it sure is compelling! It's a doozy!

It is my belief that Nikki Robertson may be set to change the the way that educators and suppliers interact in a number of very important ways.

Where Good Idea Come From?
In order to draw out the significance of Nikki's story, I am going to have refer to some of those 

"Good Ideas where the timing wasn't quite right" 

That I mentioned in my previous post. But dear reader, I 100% assure you that my involvement here is nothing more than having penned a few random, all but forgotten blog posts, which is what they could have remained... if it was not for Nikki. Her actions have facilitated everything below.

I always find it difficult to second guess what people may be thinking when they read my posts. Regarding Nikki's involvement here compared with my own, I wonder if people feel this is some sort of false modesty or faux humility ("Never trust a sales person, right? Those Foxes of EdTech with their wily, cunning ways!). I can not only assure you that this is not the case, I can prove to you just how genuine this sentiment is!

Good Ideas in a "Bad Market?"

I spent 2-3 years trying to make these very same ideas work in the UK Further Education sector and, like the Twitter founders did with their podcasting idea, I had to admit I was flogging a dead horse.

I had fallen victim what Dave Feinleb suggests can happen to startups in his fantastic book "Why Start Ups Fail";

"Some sectors (i.e. small businesses, and I'll add UK Further Education to the list) can be a challenging target market for start-ups as there are two painful truths about them; 

1) They are very hard to reach, and 
2) They have no money. 

The product may be compelling and users need the solution, but the supplier is not able to reach their customers effectively!" 

I only realised this last August after 2-3 years of putting hours into these ideas, trying to engage people and to get traction with concepts that I was confident would work. (If you are interested in finding out more about either the lengths that I went to in trying to engage this sector, or sense the level of frustrations please see: Leaving FE and How Helping a Competitor has Been Beneficial)

NB The issues with any suggestion that FE is a "Bad Market" is 100% not a criticism of the hardworking educators themselves, but totally with the policy makers. It is my opinion the focus of their current strategy is wrong, any attempts to raise the alarm here have been ignored or met with defensiveness and hostility. I hope to return when the timing is right and the conditions improve.

A New Hope
So I had put in 2-3 years of work and had nothing to show for it! I had found that educators in the US seemed more interested in what I had to say, ideas were welcome and seemed to be valued in the EdChats I attended. 
I also made a contribution with Alicia Leonard's SaveEdShelf campaign...and then Nikki came along!

Now I have never spoken to Nikki, I've never joined her EdChat (Sorry! I promise I will), we are connected on LinkedIn and she is in my EdChat Moderator group, so I have emailed her in the past. However, any emails were general updates (hopefully not too spammy), that all moderators were sent.

One update did include a copy of the Nurph EdChat Resource Plan, but I have no idea if she found out about and/or tried Nurph as a result of these updates... or from a recommendation from Steve Isaacs or anywhere else. 
Please don't take this the wrong way but, I also don't actually care how she found out about it either. 

What matters is she tried the platform, it worked for her and she liked it. I would rather be involved with a product that works and not speaking to every single user Vs having a fantastic relationship with every single user because you've got to know them through the sheer number of sales calls "Hi, Thought any more about our tech yet?" (Or worse, having to turn on the sales charm following yet another exasperated support call "It's broken again!") 

Is it plugged in? Have you tried turning it off and on again
Game Changing Chain Reactions!
Nikki taking the time to try a start ups product has started a chain of events that, if I am not mistaken, just might have a HUGE IMPACT! Indeed I would argue that, whatever happens going forward, Nikki has already made a big impact!

1) Suppliers Helping Educators Get to ISTE
This was an idea that, when it was suggested a year ago, there were too many people voicing concerns that it couldn't really be properly discussed, the resistance to the idea was too great.

Through her work with Nurph, Nikki has removed all these objections to allow the idea to be re-presented and discussed in a totally different context.

Every educator and supplier who has come back to me regarding the suggestion of EdTech suppliers supporting EdChat moderators (And others who give up their time like Podcasters on EdReach) with their expenses for ISTE2015 has been really positive about the idea. 

2) Roll Out with No Sales Calls

If I were to say "I think that products or services could be adopted without a single sales call being made" people might have thought this was unrealistic.

However, in reality this is not uncommon amongst the big technology companies Google, Apple, Microsoft. They know about the sales process and "The Technology Adoption Cycle" and do this all the time.

Another group of education suppliers who are able to achieve this are startups who have a great network of educators, investors and advisers to rely on because they are lucky enough to be in an EdTech incubator.

Equally suppliers who are in cities where investors are easy to find (Silicon Valley) or where there is a large EdTech community (New York) could potentially achieve this... but what about startups outside of these hubs?

One of the goals that I set out to achieve 3-4 years ago when I studied Google and Microsoft's practices (See Tech in Edu: Developing Relationships and Delivering Value) was to see if it was possible for the small startups without the infrastructure to roll out without making any sales calls... Crazy? Right?

"InBound Marketing" experts supported this line of thought by warning that "Cold Calling will the dead within 3-5 years" My colleagues in sales scoffed at the idea. So while they were making comments like "There will always be a need for people to make cold calls," I was wondering "What can I do to both re-skill to inbound practices and to actually make this happen in education, to free up more of educators already limited time"

So I don't come up with any of these ideas myself, I just listen to the experts in various fields and try to think of if and how I might be able to apply them.

But I was unable to find anywhere to test these ideas, but Nikki and Steve ran with it. Through the work they have done with Nurph, we maybe we'll see other EdTech suppliers re-evaluate what they feel may or may not be possible... But they will also need to review current business practices in order to achieve this.

Educators like Nikki and forums like EdTechBridge can help organisations review and refine things, if you get in touch with them. They are standing by waiting for you to reach out. Sent them a Tweet and see what happens. As FELTAG's Nick Lambert might say "What have you got to lose?"
3) Appreciating and Valuing Sales People
This is by no means to say that sales people are not needed, they very much are! Really! Honestly! Fine! Don't believe me then! In fact... you know what, I'll see if I can "sell you" on the idea!

Oh! Hang on a minute! I already tried that! I wrote my "Sales People in Edu: The Fox of EdTech" post to try to change people's perceptions of sales people by making what I felt was a pretty big gesture, but didn't have much of an impact. Man! I suck so badly at sales compared with Ms Robertson!

Sales people could and should be valued, but before this can happen some significant changes are needed... Including changing educators perceptions of sales people. I also wrote a 8 "Sales Matters in EdTech" posts to explore this too.

Once again Nikki has succeeded where I failed, she has got the ball rolling and may have started something that could see more appreciation for, and more collaboration with, sales people. I am more than happy to help with this and keep the momentum going. In my ISTE post I said that

"My days of pointless cold calls are done" But this isn't entirely accurate.
What I perhaps should have said is "My days of pointless cold calls to educators are done"

If educators are looking for support to get to ISTE I would be delighted to put my best and most aggressive cold calling head on and face all the rejection required until the job is done! I will do everything I can to find the support that anyone asks for. (Although I would hope my fledgling Cmgr skills would prove more effective than any cold calling)

What else could sales people do to deliver value? Startups may need a convincing pitch to sell the fact that their product is worth the time to collaborate and co-create on (Something I failed to sell FE on). There are thousands of products all looking to achieve "Product Market Fit." Educators time is limited, why should they invest in your vistion versus another companies?

Selling new ideas and new ways of working to other suppliers is also a tough sell. For example, EdTech sales teams could sell and present their products AND other companies where there is synergy with what each one does...This would mean that a single call or email would be sent with the benefits of 2-3 companies, where there would have previously been multiple calls & emails (This has a proper name, co-selling or something).

There is selling the idea of investing in sales staff getting training on Social Selling (See how:IBM Social Selling Pilot Increase Sales by 400%), Community Management (Join #Cmgrhangout) or just good old selling (Read Crossing the Chasm). Go on try telling your CEO "I don't think we should be calling educators" go see how much of a tough sell that is! I tried it, and failed miserably... so I left the company!

Pitch In Vs Pitching
What if, instead of calling educators to talk about their own products, the company checked the schools Pledge Cents or Donors Choose account and put their sales guys to work on this? Can you imagine the surprise if a call went like this

"I'm calling from the sales department of XYZ company (Cue Groan from Educator)... We saw your Pledge Cents campaign and I put some of my guys on it and we've raised $XYZ for you"

Would this change educators perception of sales people?

Or what about trying to "Influence the influencers" by calling educators and encourage them to get on Twitter and join EdChat to help moderators to grow their communities? (There are almost 100 abandoned chats, many appear to be stopped due to poor attendance)
4) Conferences
During a discussion about this "ISTE or Bust" idea with Louise Morgan (@mrsmorgansclass; EdChat: #2ndChat) she made the comment;

"I actually work with a lot of companies demo-ing products in return for my endorsement, blog post, review etc... But I never even considered asking them to fund a trip to ISTE"

I replied that this was because educators are "selfless givers" and, as per the point above, highlighted that us annoying sales people can actually have their uses ;).

As the conversation continued I told Louise that I wrote a post about what I would do if I was attending a conference. While this post is most definitely what I would like to do, the suggestion seemed quite outlandish when I wrote the post.

I re-read this post after chatting with Louise and I wonder if anyone who has read my "I'm and EdChat Moderator: Get me to ISTE2015" will agree with me regarding how much more tangible these ideas seem today:The  Trouble with Conferences... Confessions of an EdTech Salesman

... Oh yeah, and if any selfless givers still feel the idea is profiting in some way, I hope this post demonstrates the extent to which this is wrong. You could be helping suppliers to make savings when you see the costs involved.

Further more... If you can help save on these expensive overheads you may also find you have less sales calls because these event overheads won't need to be recouped in sales! Collaboration! Now all of you Educators, suppliers... get on the #EdTechBridge hashtag and bring down these unnecessary barriers!

5 Minute Favours
Now here's the real kicker! ...And the following comment is by absolutely no means designed to belittle the impact of Nikki's contribution, but to encourage others to follow her example and "bridge the gap" between educators and suppliers.

What did Nikki do to affect all this change? She did what the most connected person in the world does and advocates for... She did a simple "5 Minute Favour" something that only takes the person doing the favour a moment, but has a big impact on the recipient.

How can I help you achieve your goals
Nikki heard about Nurph. She checked the site out. She liked what she saw. She trialed it. She liked it... so she raved about it to others. She has had a big impact on Nurph, on me and on Edu/EdTech relations.

I hear way too often about how bad suppliers are, and how they should be doing this, that, and the next thing differently. But I rarely hear any comments about things that educators could be doing differently to help suppliers out.

I hope this post helps to demonstrate what can happen and the impact educators can have... if they take the time out of their busy schedule to do a quick 5 minute favour.
Compelling Stories
I have the word "stories" in my blog and Twitter handle, the reason for this is to remind me to try to tell compelling stories... stories that "Stick" (I said remind me to try... not that I actually achieve it!).

From where I'm sitting, whether the content has been compelling and whether or not I've told good stories with these previous posts I've used to support Nikki's impact seems immaterial today.

Because Nikki Robertson has helped to animate some posts and ideas that may otherwise have remained two dimensional... Left forgotten on the shelf, just like poor Wheezy in Toy Story 2.
I now feel some of the ideas in these forgotten posts could gain traction, maybe they'll even be headed for... Ready for it? You know what's coming right? To Infinity... And Beyond!

Educators Why Not Get Hold of a Supplier and see if you can make em Fly? 
And all because of a couple of quite ordinary things that an extra-ordinary and memorable character took the time out of her busy schedule to do. 

Nikki D Robertson
Thank you Nikki Robertson! 
It is truly impossible to put my gratitude into words, and I am sorry I am not in a position to at the very least show my appreciation by covering the costs of ISTE for you. I can however do the next best thing... I have some other ideas on how to get you there. So, as you're Twitter pic says

Stay tuned... it's the subject of my next post: A Pledge...Get Nikki To ISTE.

Suppliers I would also tune in to what Nikki has to say and follow her on Twitter, because I don't think that this Tech Story has finished yet... I think it's only just begun!

So, to quote another FELTAG "expert" Matthew Hancock: It's time to put the Rocket Boosters on and it's gonna be a scary ride, as scary riding on a firework... a long nervous wait for the fuse to burn, then BANG! Things just take off, and your flying high and buzzing all over the place. Go you trail brazers!

No comments:

Post a Comment