The Forward Thinking EDU team shares their view of the EDU community and marketplace 

Building Awareness and Your Lead Pipeline in the Education Markets

March 15, 2018
Michael Campbell, Principal Advisor

With the EDU-solution market approaching nearly 20,000 companies, building awareness among administrators and educators can be difficult. Everyone is promising to improve learning through curriculum, professional development, technology, or hardware and as more organizations make unproven claims, the challenge of building awareness is greater. With the current pressure on administrators and educators to deliver results, they just do not have the time to go through 50 or 100 emails a day that are focused on marketing, so before they try something new, they want to know what’s being offered is something they need.

One way to build your relationships and credibility is with an integrated, proactive marketing plan that drives awareness. This approach to reaching  key partners and adopters can help to lay the groundwork for success. Here are a few tips to help you formulate your strategy, along with some mistakes to avoid.

Build Awareness

You might be excited to release your first product or publish your first curriculum series, but if no one knows who are you or the value your solution might bring, you’ll end up scrambling, and the road to success will become increasingly longer. Why not do that first? We’ve found that content marketing goes far when your product is in pre-production. Start a blog for your company full of great resources for educators while also dropping promotional tidbits to build excitement. Build your credibility as an expert and supporter of education.

 Forget the Name, Emphasize Your Solutions

Many educational start-ups put way too much focus on their branding whether it's their name or the cartoon mascot. While branding is important, when it comes to marketing to educators they want to know the problem your application or product solves for them – test scores, student engagement, home/school connection or teacher effectiveness. For this reason, your customer should always take center stage as you build awareness. 

Create an Integrated Marketing Plan

If you focus on only emails or direct mail campaigns, you’re missing out on a significant segment of potential customers. The education market gets their information from a variety of different sources, and your organization should take advantage of these different promotional channels. From word of mouth to search engine ads to social media, your marketing and promotional efforts should reach as many educators as possible without putting all of your chips on one channel.

 Leverage SEO for Exposure

Educators are online constantly looking for new ways to help their students learn. To attract and capture their attention, your website and content (blogs, articles, etc.) should be SEO-optimized with keywords your target educators will be searching. Create this content with your customers in mind first and foremost, with promotion second. If the educators like your content, chances are they’ll like your brand and consider making a purchase.

 Timing is Key

If you want to effectively reach more educators, you need to determine during which season to focus on promotion, and which during which others to focus on strategizing for the next school year. Typically, the education market is looking to make decisions in the Spring, spend the Summer implementing their new purchases, and in the Fall begin looking for the next school year. Knowing how and when this market purchases enhances your opportunity to get your products in front of as many administrators, teachers, and parents as possible.

Marketing and selling to the education market does not have to be challenging if you have the right strategy and know the mistakes to avoid. Focus on the value your products or services bring to educators and put those up front and center. After that, it's all in building awareness, sales methods, and timing.

Our team at Forward Thinking EDU can advise your organization and help you succeed in this important market.


Going from Trade Show Lead to Customer

Michael Campbell, Principal Advisor, Forward Thinking EDU

You are fresh from the trade show route, ISTE, ILA, NPC, ALA, NCCC, should I go on?  But, most marketers and sales managers come back to your offices after a trade show, and benchmark your success on the number of leads you collected. However, the contact information you collected may only be valuable for your next email newsletter or some informational campaign. 

Trade shows are great to drive awareness but unless you have targeted key customers, your trade show strategy will suffer. Many organizations use a multi-touch strategy to make sure they get leads which ultimately enable the sales team to add them to the sales funnel. Successful ideas include:

  • Setting appointments with potential clients in advance of the meeting
  • Providing alternates to the traditional booth activities (e.g., presentations, games, offsite activities, etc.)
  • Training booth staff to identify decision-makers vs. influencers 

Once you are back in the office, how will you follow-up with the sales team and your leads? Marketers gain increased credibility by providing marketing qualified leads that have been vetted and can potentially lead to sales. Many times, we just dump all leads on the sales team, leading to wasted time by sales calling on potential customers who are not interested or are not able to authorize a purchase.  

Additionally, it is just as important to follow up with those leads from the show. With the number of activities and booths at each conference, providing a reminder of your products or services along with added value content.  You might consider:

  • The best of the conference (sessions, events, speakers, etc.)
  • White paper or case study
  • Funding update (grants, federal or state funding)
  • Referrals (voice of your customer) 

Consider how you deliver the follow-up. Many educators are out of their buildings during July.  Are you able to target them via personal email? Note: MCH Strategic Data may be able to append your data to add this feature to your campaign. With the number emails we all receive, test your subject line to make sure you get the most opens.  

Finally, how are you tracking your leads? In the education industry, the sales cycle can be long.  Make sure your CRM system is updated with each customer touch so that you can calculate the cost of acquiring a lead all the way through closing a sale. My former colleague at Follett, Sheri Thompson, Director of Events, is very adept at tracking not only the individuals, but the schools and districts, knowing that individuals moved from position to position and district to district. Sheri is able to track a customer all the way back to the first trade show lead.  

ISTE, ALA, ILA, and the rest of the conferences were a success. Educators and industry professionals came together in each of the cities to celebrate, to learn, and to network around educational themes and ultimately how education can be improved. Now it is time to re-group and begin planning for the 2017-2018 school selling season. 

Forward Thinking EDU specializes in helping organizations big and small with strategic marketing and market development strategies and services. Let our experienced advisors help you plan and implement your next school product or solution marketing and sales launch. From strategy to execution, we provide results. We want to partner with you as you grow or build upon previous successes. Email Michael Campbell, Principal Advisor or call (224)357-8283.


July 11, 2017

Adapting Sales to the K-12 Buying Cycle 

Ed Kisman, Advisor, Forward Thinking EDU

As we enter the dog days of summer, some of us our planning a vacation, tackling a home renovation project, or attending /exhibiting at a conference or trade show. And some organizations are in the throes of summer implementations. Last, there is a small minority of vendors that are getting ready for the upcoming school year, which kicks off in August in most states.

When I was asked to write this blog, I immediately thought of companies I partnered within the K-12 space and the challenges they had in alignment of the K-12 buying cycle with their sales cycle. By this I mean most schools operate on an August-to-June budget year; while most K-12 companies operate on a physical calendar year.  

The challenge for many companies is the timing of a school’s buying habit to be in alignment with a company’s revenue budget. In many cases, there is a disconnect and shortfall of expectations. The disconnect often falls onto the selling cycle of a sales team.

Understanding the K-12 Buying Cycle
K-12 has a buying cycle that is specific in purchasing considerations, spending time frames, and implementations. The K-12 buying cycle for the new year begins in August/September and runs through the end of June the following year. Most K-12 vendor companies operate on a calendar year – January to December. This can be challenging if a company cannot be flexible and align their sales cycle to the K-12 buying cycle. Successful K-12 vendors have learned to be proactive and adapt their solution to the buy cycle of their K-12 customer base. This adaptation benefits both the seller and buyer in anticipating, meeting, and planning for both short-term and long-term needs. Positioning your solution ahead of a need or a competitor is like playing a game of chess!

Many companies that have a toe in the K-12 space will not be open to changing their revenue cycle because K-12 is a small percentage of their global sales revenue. In many cases these divisions suffer and falter in consistent sales growth.

Factors to Consider When Selling in the K-12 Space
To adapt to the K-12 buying cycle, keep in mind the following:

  • The school year ends June 31st and the company fiscal year is December 31st. There is a 6-month revenue gap if not planned for in advance.
  •  Consider how a sales teams meets its Q3 quota objectives when schools are closed or on reduced staff.
  •  Many organizations add or make changes to their sales organization in Q1 to meet their physical year budget projections; however, if the sales team is new and is fresh from training, you are setting them up to fail if your sales cycle and new hire quota expectations are not in alignment with the K-12 buying cycle.
  • Most successful companies hire in August/September to be geared up for the new year K-12 buying cycle.
  •  Special funding and grants can play havoc during the school year and play a key role in timing of buying.

K-12 Buying / Sales Cycle

It’s Summer So What Can I Do?
As most successful K12 companies know, the summer is a time to regroup, build new relationships, and expand current relationships. Districts are open however Admin schedules fluctuate due to summer vacation. Schools are often open for only ½ day and the principals do not have a fixed schedule during this time.

If your solution requires onsite implementation, this may be a good time to meet the IT Director, facility people, and the end user of your solution. This is also a great opportunity for new hire training and/or mentoring.

Some sales organizations are retrenching and getting ready for their August sales meetings while others are attending conferences. Executive management teams are wordsmithing their product awareness for the upcoming email onslaught, while many schools are looking at all the unused piled up programs and solutions they bought, but haven’t installed or used!

So while your laying on the beach relaxing, be aware the K-12 buying cycle is fast approaching and the selling season is around the corner.

Regardless, if you are on a school year budget or physical calendar year budget you need to understand the relationship between K-12 school/district buying cycle before you turn your flip-flops in for your sales kit!

Now is the time to plan and prepare for the Fall/Spring selling season.  Contact the Forward Thinking EDU team to learn how you can better focus your sales effort in the education markets.  


6/19/2017  Attending #ISTE17?  Make the Most of Your Conference

 Thanks to Ellen Cleary Ruane, Forward Thinking EDU Advisor, for her blog post this week!  EDU Companies attending #ISTE17 - Contact Ellen or Michael Campbell to see how we can help your organization achieve better-than-market rusults!  

I blinked and the end of June is fast upon us.  You know what that means?  It's almost time for #ISTE2017!  Vendors and educators alike meet face-to-face to deepen their understanding of the impact of technology on education across the globe.  It's a time to share without the pressure of the school year, and it's where innovation is uncovered and recognized.  How are you going to have the best possible #ISTE2017?  Assuming you have already figured out your customer contact strategy, here are a few easy-to-implement ideas for making the most out of the upcoming opportunity.

  1. Identify whom you need to meet at #ISTE17 and make it happen.  Whether this is a specific individual, a VP of whatever competing firm, or someone on the cutting-edge of classroom technology, make a list and make it happen. Request a meeting before the show. Offer to meet up for breakfast or other non-customer facing times. Attend a session they are facilitating.  It is reasonable and important to have goals around exactly who you need to see in order to call #ISTE17 a success.
  2. Walk the exhibit hall like a customer, not a vendor.  What does the customer see?  What is grabbing your attention?  What trends can you identify?  If you walk the hall as a customer, you will not only understand the educator experience , but also uncover new ideas to improve your booth traffic for your next show or campaign.  Most importantly, you will see vendors you have never noticed, perhaps because you don't directly compete.  But you do - for mind share, for focus, and for budgeted dollars in many ways.
  3. Network, network, network.  Escalators, coffee lines, cab queues - each offers the opportunity to connect and talk about someting entirely unrelated to "buy my stuff." Whether it's a vendor or an educator you find yourself standing with, strike up a conversation. Ask them what they have learned, their favorite presentation, and their plans for social activities.  Networking is two way, so don't forget to share something you have learned.  We only get smarter, and more interesting together!

  4. Make the time to attend at least one session about something that genuinely interest you.  Is it strictly relevant to what your current job or firm? Great! Is it just something that caught your eye?  Go for it! #ISTE2017 is where the EDU community comes together to learn.  If you skip the opportunity, you have done yourself a disservice.
  5. Hit the Startup Pavillion and PitchFest.  Innovation happens here!  This is where you can learn something new - about fire and tenacity and pitching your passion that will serve you well no matter what kind of firm you are representing.  Who knows what else you might discover?
  6. Have Fun!  There are so many fun activities and interesting people at #ISTE17.  Make sure you know where it is happening (check out the bloggers cafe!) and how you can jump right in and participate.  Networking and your business development often happens outside of the conference venue at social events.  Participate, partner, and become part of the EDU community.  You will find it pays dividends in the long run and makes the time you spend in San Antonio so much more entertaining and productive.  

Look for me and my colleague, Michael Campbell.  I'll be looking for you too.


5/23/2017  Bringing it all Together:  Surround Your Customer with Credibility

Have you read the Harvard Business Review article called What Salespeople Need to Know About the New B2B Landscape? (Frank & Vova, 2015) The authors discuss the implications of their B2B research from Gartner (which, in my opinion, is useful for the education market). The article and research offers up a new way of looking at the activities traditionally associated with the B2B sales funnel and provides insight into the most important of B2B marketing activities. You and your sales team should understand that these principles are critical for effective selling in the current B2B educational market. 

As I read the article, I kept thinking of former colleagues, clients, and friends who would find value in the article. The research cited is also an excellent resource for anyone doing marketing planning for an educational service company. It provides a great perspective on how selling and marketing in the education channel is changing along with the new digital reality, much like we have been telling our clients for some time.  

What Were the Findings?

Some of the findings of the research regarding effective marketing tactics: 

  1. Salespeople continue to be the most important marketing tactic in a company’s toolbox. Despite the digitization of the marketing world, there is still nothing as important that the relationship between a client and their sales rep. 
  2. Social Media ranked relatively low (LinkedIn excepted) because business (and education) buyers must justify a decision to others in the school or district, especially as budget money flowed less liberally since the financial crisis of 2008. You are naïve or spending too much time on your smartphone if you believe that a combination of economics, solution identification, product application, risk management, and political journey through the buyer’s organization is now handled predominately online in most buying scenarios and without knowledgeable and savvy sales help. We know that key to most schools buying decisions will be the evidence that your product or solution is likely to improve achievement results or to foster engagement. 

There were some surprises too:

  1. White papers are more influential than sales presentations.
  2. Collateral is still a relevant marketing tactic. While I am not a fan of collateral, I recognize that it does still have a place in this world. In a world where we have tons of email, an alternative to email could be a simple postcard or sale sheet. 

Bringing it all together

Ultimately, we have to surround the customer with credibility. The relationship with the salesperson, the credibility of the white paper, and finally the referral from colleagues or similar customers can vouch for your business (and product) success for that school or district. 

How are you wrapping up the 2017 selling season? What will your Summer sales activities look like?  Back-to-School planning begins early so that you have your go-to-market plan for Fall 2017 ready. 

The team at Forward Thinking EDU is skilled at providing:

  • Marketing Planning/Tactics
  • Pilot season prepping
  • Sales meeting tools/training/organization
  • Back-to-School Sales planning
  • ESSA Implementation

Contact us to see how we can help you experience growth and achieve success the success for you and your customers.



Click on the link to see an overview of our EdNET 2013 experience, including partner news, and info on October's Connected Educator series.



Excellent Opportunities for International Education EdNET Recap

I was privileged to attend the EdNET conference recently.  This is just a recap of one of the many session I attended.

Karen Khemka, Partner and head of Emerging Markets Education Practice at the Parthenon Group spoke about the business of education in the rest of the world.The Parthenon Group is a consulting practice and has completed over 150 assignments in over 60 countries annually.

It was interesting to hear that 20 companies have more than one billion dollars in sales in education, seven of these are publishers, and only one focuses on emerging markets,Laureate Education.

Mr. Khemka focused on three areas of opportunities for companies considering international opportunities.

  1. International and Premium Bilingual School Market
  2. English Language Training (ELT)
  3. Transnational Education - Attracting International Students to the USA.

In the International and Premium Bilingual School Market, which are considered English language private schools, The Parthenon Group has estimated the market opportunity for this segment to be in Latin America: (From largest to smallest)

  1. Mexico
  2. Brazil
  3. Argentina
  4. Columbia 
  5. Chile

Now I personally found this surprising, as I would have said China or India would have been larger markets, just by sheer size of population.  But countries like Mexico have a legacy of private English language schools.

Next in size of opportunity was the Middle East.

  1. Unite Arab Emirates
  2. Egypt
  3. Kuwait
  4. Saudi Arabia
  5. Qatar
  6. Oman
  7. Bahrain

In Saudi Arabia alone there has been 12% growth for private education from 2008 - 2011.  

Following the Middle East was Asia:

  1. Thailand
  2. Hong Kong
  3. Singapore
  4. Korea
  5. Malaysia
  6. Indonesia
  7. Vietnam
  8. Taiwan

Followed by the Southern Hemisphere:

  1. Australia
  2. South Africa

Then by the two big ones:

  1. China
  2. India

Now this deserves some discussion, according to Khemka.  India has a native language of English, so most public schools are using an English language curriculum.  In China, the issue is government control.  The Chinese Government wants to control the curriculum, so there is a tremendous amount of regulation.
Transitioning to the English Language Training (ELT), the story changed in where there is market opportunity.  China seems to be the biggest market for this area.

  • In affluent households, the Chinese spend 8 - 10% of their household income on education.
  • There is an increase in the number of what is considered affluent households in China.
  • China leads in the amount spent percentage wise (7%) vs other countries such as the UAE, Indonesia, Singapore, and India.
  • The reason why ELT is so important to the Chinese is the opportunity for advancement in the workplace, making it easier to advance in their particular organization.
  • China provides only a limited number of hours of English language curriculum in the public schools
  • The Chinese P - 12 ELT market is expected to grow at 12% by 2015.
  • Huge opportunity for a blended learning environment - technology, content,

Finally, for the higher education sector, there are opportunities in recruiting international students to the USA.  

  • The clampdown in educational visa's here in the US (since 2001) has lead to a surge in international students in the UK and Australia.
  • International students make up only 3% of the higher education students in the US vs, 28% in Australia , and 17% in the UK, and 15% in Canada.
  • The opportunity (if they increased to the UK level) for US colleges and university would be about $84 billion  in additional tuition revenues.  
  • Plus the additional opportunity for new faculty would add additional  tax revenues and drive additional job growth here in the US.  

For businesses and higher education institutions these opportunities seem like key strategic issues to consider in the coming year.

Join us in the edGlobal community, a professional learning community that explores education initiatives around the world and provides a forum for a global exchange of ideas. The community is part of and members include educators, administrators, government officials, and educational industry professionals.  

 Forward Thinking EDU and its team of professionals have many years of experience in international education.  Michael Campbell worked with Pearson Canada from 2001 - 2008.  While in Canada, he worked in Europe and Asia promoting several English language educational solutions.  

October 12, 2012


The Future of the Education Industry Looks Bright!

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the EdNET conference, in Baltimore, MD,  sponsored by MDR.  The theme this year was Chart, Navigate, Deliver.  And boy did it ever live up to it's theme!

At one point I heard that over 300 companies had sent representatives to the meeting.  With over 500 folks in attendance, some sent more.  One of the many interesting things about EdNET is the opening session;  The Business Networking Forum.  During this session, one representative from each company is able to have their "30 second" commercial in front of those attending the conference.  Some of the memorable introductions for me were from Jane Radenhausen, Publishing Director at Today's Catholic Teacher and Scott Hines, President, World Education University.  Jane used a prop and Scott emphasized his University's commitment to free education.  Even at a industry conference the challenge is to cut through the noise.   

This was my fourth EdNET and the challenge is always mixing business with networking.  There are just not enough hours in the day.  I'm fortunate to have been in the education business for twenty years.  I have many friends who truly want my business to succeed and I want their organizations to succeed.  So there is this constant dynamic of introducing folks to each other who might need the other's services or solution.  It is amazing to watch, I would venture to say that few other industries have this kind of collaboration.  Most folks want to make a living, but ultimately everyone wants to lift the education industry up to the next level.  We all want to see kids educated to the best of their abilities.  So thanks to the team at MDR for making this event possible each year. 

During the next few days you can read my overview of the conference.  Highlights include:


  • Doing business globally in the education sector
  • Sales and marketing in the digital age
  • Doing good and making money:  Do they go together?
  • Wall Street is paying attention to the education industry.  
  • The impact of the Common Core
  • Is gaming good for K12?
  • Education of the future.


Education Should Not Divide Us

Labor day is the traditional start of school.  However, many of our children have already begun the new academic year.  Our daughter started first grade a week ago, and next week her Dad and I will attend the Fall Parent’s night where we will have the obligatory sit down with her teacher.  I’m sure that we are not the typical parents, for a number of obvious reasons, but also because we are knowledgeable in the issues of education, technology, parental involvement, the Common Core, assessments, STEM,  even teacher evaluations.  We believe there is power in all of these initiatives.

 Why?  Because we have been a part of the process.  We have witnessed—through our work as partners in developing curriculum and technology solutions or actually teaching in the classroom (as is the case of my partner)—that education matters, teachers matter, administrators matter, publishers, educational technology providers matter, and that parents matter.  In order for education to be successful, we must put aside what divides us and work toward a pragmatic approach to educating our children to compete in a world that is very different from our own upbringing. 

Last week the 44th Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitude Towards the Public Schools was released.  The report clearly showed that we are divided on illegal immigration, vouchers, teacher evaluations, and even whether high school kids should be career and college ready. The study also revealed that while we are divided on how we view the education system as a whole in the U.S., we are still supportive of our local schools. In our world of blue and red states, surprisingly we do agree on a lot when it comes to education:

  • Support for the profession of teaching (should be equal to that of doctors, engineers, lawyers).
  • The Common Core initiative will have a positive impact on education.
  • Urban youth need attention and increased support in the learning process.
  • Neither high school drop-outs or graduates are ready for the real world.

Abraham Lincoln’s quote of “A house divided against its self cannot stand” is very appropriate.  With so much at stake we need to focus on a pragmatic approach to bringing parents, teachers, administrators, and politicians together. 

It is time to stop the rhetoric and work toward a solution.  We must, if we are to raise a generation who can compete with the economies of China and India.  Charles Blow of the New York Times recently wrote an op-ed piece titled Starving the Future.  His article states that by 2030, China will have 200 million college graduates—that is more than the entire U.S. workforce.  By 2020, 95% of children will have graduated from nine years of compulsory education (165 million students, again, more than the US workforce).   China will provide 70% of children with three years of pre-school.  A few other comparisons:  the U.S. graduated almost 500,000 students in the STEM areas between 2000 and 2008 – China graduated 1.18 million.  So while we are debating vouchers, teacher evaluations, and whether technology really works in the classroom, our competition is building economies that will eclipse the U.S. in a few short years. 

These emerging economies improved and are improving upon the U.S. model of education to gain the competitive edge in the world economy.  America has always risen to the challenge.  Our challenge is to insure that our children are prepared to compete effectively in a world where science, technology, engineering, and math help drive economies.  We all have the responsibility to support our educators, to participate by having your voice heard, and to make sure our education system is preparing our children for future success.