Building Strong Relationships During the Edtech Purchasing Process - Digital Promise

Building Strong Relationships During the Edtech Purchasing Process

September 10, 2019 | By

This blog post is the second of a two-part series discussing relationship building in the edtech purchasing process. In our first blog post, we addressed how educators can build and maintain good working relationships with edtech developers. This second part discusses how edtech vendors can return the favor to develop great working relationships with educators.

As an edtech vendor, you know creating a strong working relationship between your company and any prospective client is key. Building a good relationship helps create sales, of course, but it also makes it more likely that your customers will continue to want to do business with you and recommend your services to other educators.

However, building a great relationship between your company and educators can be difficult; before anything, you have to show how your product can meet the needs of diverse learners and teachers to improve learning outcomes. How can you make sure, with wary educators who rightly question products’ credentials and long purchasing processes, that you’re taking the right steps?

We talked to both educators and developers to get tips for creating and maintaining good relationships before, during, and after the edtech purchasing process.

10 tips for developers to build strong relationships with educators, schools, and districts during the edtech purchasing process

To help demystify the relationship-building factor of the edtech purchasing process, we identified 10 strategies to help you establish a transparent, honest partnership between your company and the educators you want to work with.

1. Come to the conversation with plenty of background knowledge and data

In our advice to educators, we encouraged them to develop a firm, evidence-based understanding of their needs. As an edtech vendor, you should do the same.

Ben Grimley, CEO and co-founder of Speak Agent, says that before his sales team approaches a district, “We do our homework. Public schools by their nature share data publicly. This includes student demographics, programs, curricula, academic performance, and community engagement.”

Before you make your pitch, keep in mind that districts are different from other customers you might have interacted with in another sales life. You might think this is obvious—schools aren’t companies, after all. But as Mary Beth Hertz, an art and technology teacher and technology coordinator in the School District of Philadelphia, notes, “Some product [vendors] don’t understand schools and how they function differently from corporate businesses.”

Hertz points out that while schools are customers, they’re not traditional customers. As such, she says, “It’s important for edtech companies to be informed about how schools function. That means knowing how budgets and the purchasing process work, and even understanding that you have to ship things during school hours on weekdays is important.”

Takeaway: Get your hands on any data you think could help you better understand the challenges a school or district you want to work with is facing. Then, connect that information to ways your product can specifically help schools confront those challenges.

2. Ask questions to better understand a district’s needs

When you can’t find answers on your own, ask specific questions when you meet with a district. This will help you learn more about them as a customer and show that you’re trying to anticipate needs and issues.

Your questions shouldn’t just center around missing data points, either. If you have the opportunity, you should really try to dig into a district’s specific needs. Vancouver Public Schools’ Director of Instructional Technology Zach Desjarlais says, “You have to be able to ask ‘Why?’ as a vendor to really work towards a core understanding of the district’s needs.” Desjarlais points out that asking “why” will help edtech vendors see the reasoning behind the need for a certain feature or how a school or district’s processes will impact the way a product is used.

Takeaway: Ask questions to fill gaps in your knowledge that will help you better understand how a school or district functions. If you need help thinking of some deeper questions, Grimley shared that his company’s questions typically center around these subjects:

  • Current teaching practices relevant to the product’s specialty or focus
  • How the school or district is currently trying to fill their needs
  • Whether a school or district is looking to “replace, reengineer, or just incrementally change existing practices”
  • A school or district’s goals
  • A school or district’s number one challenge to achieving those goals

Grimley points out that focusing on this last topic, a school or district’s top challenge, “often helps to clarify the need and creates a narrative that helps us understand it in more depth.”

3. Be upfront about where you can and can’t meet a district’s needs

Desjarlais summarizes this tip nicely: “I don’t want to work with ‘yes men or yes women.’” He adds, “A vendor’s abilities to say no, ask why, and be clear and upfront about what they offer—and don’t offer—are key.”

Takeaway: If you find, after doing your research and asking your questions, that your product isn’t a good fit for a district or really can’t meet their needs, say so. Educators will appreciate your openness and the fact that you haven’t wasted hours—or maybe even months—of their time with a product that just won’t work for them.

4. Be prepared to suggest fixes for problems not directly related to your product

Technology use and access can vary widely from district to district. To ensure the most effective use of your product in different learning environments, be prepared to solve problems that might only be tangentially related to it.

Dr. Johnetta MacCalla, CEO of Zyrobotics, says that her company assesses “how we can provide solutions to fill the void where the school, district, and community may have a deficit.” As an example, she adds, “If the school has qualified educators but a lack of computing resources for young students, we will step in and discuss how we could solve that issue. If the school has a large population of children with special needs, but minimal accessible technology, we will step in and discuss.”

Takeaway: Especially when it comes to issues surrounding infrastructure, implementation, and professional development, be prepared to help districts figure out how they can overcome any obstacles. Offering information, advice, and assistance to implement your product successfully in a district will help demonstrate that you’re genuinely concerned about improving learning outcomes, not just making a profit.

5. Collaborate with districts to create personalized implementation plans based on their needs

Since every district is different, you shouldn’t plan on using a one-size-fits-all implementation plan with all of your customers.

As Grimley points out, “Each educator (and each organization) has different capacities for and experiences with using technology. They can’t all implement at the same pace or dedicate the same level of resources. They need flexibility.”

Takeaway: Build a plan collaboratively with school and district leaders and stakeholders. They’ll have a better idea of where pain points and stumbling blocks might occur along the path to full edtech adoption.

6. Focus on teacher impact and usage

Speaking of stakeholders, focus on those who will be most directly impacted by the introduction of your product into their classrooms. Although administrators and district-level leaders are often the final decision-makers when it comes to edtech purchases, if you’re only considering their input, you’re missing important voices.

Teachers will often be your forces on the ground when it comes to actually using and interacting with your product. They’ll also have a first-hand view of the impact it has in the classroom with students. Further, if you want your product to be implemented effectively instead of collecting digital dust, teacher buy-in is crucial for success. Grimley points out, “We’ve observed that when teachers see their students engaged and achieving their learning objectives, they are bought in. When they don’t, they’re not.”

Takeaway: Ensure that before a pilot or implementation, you’ve talked to the teachers who will actually use your product. Consider teachers when designing your product and implementation plans. Grimley says, “Every feature we build, we consider how might this impact teacher burden. How can we save teachers time? Can we simplify their day?”

The best way to answer those questions satisfactorily is to talk to teachers themselves about what they’re doing and seeing with your product.

7. Make it easy for teachers and students to deliver feedback

The best way to get any kind of feedback is to make it painless to deliver. Teachers are busy doing their jobs and don’t have time to sit on your customer service line for 90 minutes between the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M..

Hertz says, “Sharing feedback depends on the company and whether they have systems in place to handle that feedback.” She cites learning management systems with a help desk built into their system as “having thought through support really well” since she’s able to report any issues directly from the platform.

It should be equally as painless for students interacting with your product to deliver feedback, as their time is better spent on their own day jobs: learning.

Takeaway: Show students and teachers that you respect their time and voices by making it easy for them to tell you how your product impacts their time in the classroom.

8. Incorporate feedback into your product roadmap

If you’re taking the time to gather feedback, you should plan how to use it. Respond to your customers’ input and incorporate their suggestions when possible into your product.

Teachers, students, and other stakeholders have first-hand experience in how your product functions in various classroom settings. Especially if you’ve made delivering feedback and suggestions easy, direct user feedback should be the first place you look when you’re looking for ways to improve your product.

Takeaway: Be responsive. Kathy Bloomfield, director of operations at ReadWorks, says her company “answers every customer service question” to show users they’re listening to them.

Bloomfield also says ReadWorks takes suggested features seriously. When they see the same questions and requests popping up frequently, they add features to their product roadmap. “When teachers see those new features come up on the site, I think they feel like we’re really listening to them and trying to incorporate their needs,” she says.

9. Demonstrate how you’ll be there for districts as they continue to use your product

Once a decision has been made and contracts signed, you can’t expect your interaction with a district to be over. Often, you’ll need to provide guidance and assistance to set a district up for success with your product. This process gives you a chance to demonstrate not only the value of your product, but the value of your team as partners in an edtech purchase.

Helping to carry out a district’s personalized implementation plan is part of this process, but you should also find ways to go beyond simply showing teachers and students how your product works. As an example, Grimley describes how Speak Agent supports its customers during and after implementation: “We always offer an onsite professional development course that is separate from technology training. This is not just a how-to course. We dive into the research-based instructional strategies that underpin our platform. We’re on hand for one-on-one coaching with classroom teachers.”

Takeaway: Make sure stakeholders have all the resources they need to be successful with your product. If something like one-on-one coaching isn’t feasible for your company, creating a thorough content library with tutorials and how-to videos can go a long way.

10. Check in regularly

If you’re asking for feedback regularly, you should have a good idea of what’s going on in classrooms as far as your product is concerned. But it never hurts to establish a habit of checking in with customers to make sure everything is going smoothly.

Hertz suggests that checking in would be best accomplished by visiting schools in person: “Once a year, someone from the company should be going into classrooms at every school to see how their product is being used. That gives them a chance to learn something about their own product, so it’s a benefit for the company, too.”

Takeaway: Regardless of what your process is, stay in conversation with the schools and districts you work with. Establish a check-in schedule with each client to go over any issues they have and the progress they’ve made. And if your staff and schedule allows, take Hertz’s suggestion and make arrangements to see how your product is actually being used in the classroom.

Demonstrate your commitment to improving learning outcomes and environments

You likely created and developed your edtech product because you saw a need going unfulfilled in classrooms. Show educators that you want your product to be used in their classrooms for the right reasons: to help students learn and make teachers’ workloads easier.

Learn more about the edtech purchasing process:

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