Class Act: Navigating the Hallways of Academia

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I have worked in the academy for the past 17 years. Aside from my years as a stock boy and a sales clerk, I don’t have any true sales experience. Yet in my years working in educational media, I have met and worked with sales reps from a wide variety of companies. While the university is a familiar environment to me, what I’ve learned from a great may of these folks is how difficult it is for an outsider to navigate. This can be true for just about any sector in IT, but it is particularly relevant for the online video industry

It is quite common for a central IT group to be responsible for core services such as network and security. At the same time, other services such as desktop support might be the responsibility of an individual department or school. This can be as true for the K–12 level as it is for higher education; some districts provide all the IT services, while in other districts, an individual school is on the hook for everything from email to internet access.

Given this, when it comes to selling products or services to a school, how is a company to know where to start? If your company sells routers or other enterprise-level products, it’s probably wise to start at the central administration. But this tactic isn’t always successful with online video products. A central IT department might have no interest in video and may not even know who else is.

As an educator, I find this situation as frustrating as a vendor would, because it means that many schools are missing out on whole classes of products. This is not just because companies don’t know how to find their customers inside a school; products, services, and platforms often aren’t well-tailored to the needs of educational institutions as well.

Frequently, the customers for online video products are individual schools, departments, or even individual faculty members. If central administration isn’t interested in video, and the company doesn’t know how to find these other customers (or know that they even exist), then everyone misses out. Perhaps these smaller  groups’ resources are too limited to end up with a sale that is worth the effort. I’d say that there is an enormous potential market that remains untapped.

I’m not just arguing that products need to be priced so that more educational customers can afford them. Pricing is one part of tailoring a product to a given market, but so is feature set. More importantly, it’s vital to make the value proposition to individual educators. If enough professors, teachers, students, and staff see the value in your product and start requesting it, there’s a greater likelihood that the administration will start to listen. 

I’m not just arguing that products need to be priced so that more educational customers can afford them. Pricing is one part of tailoring a product to a given market, but so is feature set. More importantly, it’s vital to make the value proposition to individual educators. If enough professors, teachers, students, and staff see the value in your product and start requesting it, there’s a greater likelihood that the administration will start to listen. 

There are more than 4,000 colleges and universities and well more than 100,000 K–12 schools in the U.S. If that’s not a big potential market for online video, I don’t know what is. Reaching that market starts with a conversation, talking with educators, demonstrating your product, and listening closely to their needs. The great thing is that no educator works in a vacuum. If you reach out to educators, tailor your message to them, and make a great case, the word will spread. 

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