Are you in control of the buying cycle?

Are you in control of the buying cycle?

Every potential customer you have will go through some sort of buying cycle.  There are all sorts of different incarnations of the cycle but, broadly speaking, they will follow the 5 stages below.  The big question I’m often asked is: as a supplier, what is our role in the buying cycle and when should we get involved?  The short answer: every step of the way!

 

I’ve outlined below each stage of the buying cycle and what you should aim for your role to be, as a supplier, during each stage.

 

Buying Cycle stage 1: Recognising there’s a problem.

Your role – Get to know your potential customer and ask them what their priorities are.  By building a relationship you can talk to them about their future challenges and build a need.

 

Buying Cycle stage 2: Searching for solutions

Your role – Listen to your potential customer; what do they think they need to solve their problem?  By understanding their needs you can work together on identifying the issues and help them frame the type of solution they require.

 

Buying Cycle stage 3: Creating a shortlist of solutions

Your role – Be the service/product expert for your potential customer.  Explain what your product/solution will help them achieve and compare it to alternatives – focus on outcomes.

 

Buying Cycle stage 4: Finding providers who provide the chosen solution and selecting one

Your role – Be the trusted advisor to your potential customer and the ambassador for your service/product.  Discuss your value proposition and what sets you apart from the others.

 

Buying Cycle stage 5: Making a buying decision

Your role – By now you will have created a strong relationship with your potential customer, shown that you understand their needs and will have demonstrated how your product/service will solve their problems.  Now you need to make the purchase process as straightforward as possible and focus on the great experience they will have with you once the contract is signed!

 

Essentially, the buying cycle is the process your customers go through when they realise they have a problem and are looking for a solution.  For maximum success, take control of the process and get involved from the start.

 

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How to take a break

Hello Summer!  The school holidays are here at last and it’s a time when most of us get a well-earned break.  However, actually taking that break isn’t always as easy as it sounds when work is nagging at the back of your mind.  No amount of sun, sea and children telling you they’re bored can stop you from thinking about that proposal that needs to be submitted in the first week back or how you’re going to achieve next month’s financial targets.  So, to help you have the break you deserve, here are my top 5 tips for taking a break.

1. Write a To Do list

It sounds obvious but, if it looks like you’re not going to get everything done that you want, write a To Do list for when you’re back.  Not only will the act of writing down your tasks make you feel better on a mental level, it will give you a clear plan for what you need to crack on with when you get back to work and the holidays seem like a distant memory!

 

2.  Plan your social media

If you want to continue engaging via social media while you’re taking a break then there are a number of options available.  Social media management tools such as Hootsuite and Buffer are excellent and allow you to schedule tweets, etc. for while you’re away.  As an alternative, there are lots of companies who will do these updates for you while you’re away and keep you in touch with your friends and followers.

 

3. Let your customers know when you are due to go away and – more importantly – when you will be back

If possible let you key clients know when you’re due to be on leave and be sure to put your ‘Out of Office’ on in your email system and update your voicemail to let them know when you will be able to get back to them.  Everyone expects you to take a break, but what’s really important is setting the expectation with your clients so they know when they can expect to hear from you.

If you really don’t want to miss any calls or delay any email responses then there are other services you can use, which brings me on to:

 

4. Get some help to complete urgent tasks

There are lots of great independent companies offering virtual PA services that can be invaluable in helping you take a break.  Everything from writing and proofing important reports and getting expenses submitted to answering phones and emails as mentioned above can be outsourced.

 

5. If you want to check your phone/email then do so but only occasionally

I’m aware the generally accepted advice here is to turn off your phone and “don’t think about work until you’re back”.  However, it’s not always as simple as that – especially if it’s your own business or you are responsible for an ongoing large deal or key client.  Ignoring the phone and email can actually end up making you feel more anxious during your time off.  So if you do feel the need to check you messages then do so, but just make sure the phone only goes on occasionally.

 

I hope these tips help and everyone gets at least a little time off to relax over the Summer holidays

 

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Why are schools so difficult to sell to?

UK schools spend around £85 billion EVERY YEAR!  The education market is a dynamic, innovative sector that loves new technology and ideas which have a genuine impact on young people’s lives.  So why are schools so difficult to sell to?   How many of these frustrations have you felt:

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  • If there are 30,000+ schools in the UK alone, why aren’t more of them buying my product?
  • The market’s completely saturated; there are tons of competitors with lower-priced products and the big companies take all the market share
  • If schools only knew about my company they’d definitely buy – the product sells itself
  • The schools who use my product think it’s good, why don’t the others understand?
  • Why am I not further ahead by now?  What am I missing?

My guess is you may have felt most of the above as almost everyone selling into education does!

 

The truth of it is, selling to schools is VERY different to business and consumer selling.  Schools are under enormous pressure to perform from the government and parents alike while, at the same time, managing a complex and usually dwindling budget.

Add to that the fact that they are being sold to by everyone and receive literally hundreds of pieces of sales literature (emails, letters, brochures, phone calls) every week.  Your message will really need to resonate to cut through all the noise.

To successfully sell to schools you need to have the following:

  • A value proposition which genuinely articulates what problem it is you’re going to help that school solve. No wishy-washy language here – get straight to the point.
  • A good idea of exactly which schools, and which people within those schools, are your ideal customers. Trying a scattergun approach such as a national telesales or email campaign is unlikely to work – you’re simply throwing money away.
  • A compelling reason for schools to talk to you. What are you providing them with which is of value to them?  Why should they give up their time to talk to you?

There are more tips in my blog 3 mistakes nearly everyone makes when selling to schools.  It’s not easy cracking the education market but it’s a genuinely innovative and rewarding market when you do  ?

 

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How to make a Product Partnership successful: the 7 things you can’t afford to ignore

Following on from my last post on the importance of Product Partners and how they help software organisations increase revenue, I was asked what to do once you’ve identified a potential software partner.  How do you make that partnership work?

There are no hard and fast rules and every Product Partnership will be different.  However, here’s my checklist for getting a successful partnership off the ground:

 

1. Business Alignment

You need to define a strategic mutual vision of success for the parties involved outlining how each can leverage the strengths of the other.  You have to be brutal here though and include looking at how any partnership might adversely affect your business in the future.

 

2. Business Planning & Governance

A business plan that clearly states missions, objectives and revenue goals is essential, and must be reviewed at set time intervals to make sure this strategy remains relevant and in line with your company’s priorities.

 

 3. Contracts

Contracts should be put in place to agree the type of relationship, responsibilities, mutual risks, rewards, payments, service level agreements, branding guidelines and rules of engagement.

 

 4. Technical Interoperability

Customers need to feel confident about the commitment of both companies behind their joint solution, so you’ll need to work with your Partners to ensure and communicate that both products and/or services work seamlessly together.

 

5. Executive Engagement

Senior Executives within partner companies are key influencers so it is imperative they are on board with the partnership vision and regularly communicate the overall alliance goals.

 

6. Marketing

Strategic consistent communications, internally and externally, will need to be conveyed throughout the alliances. Your partnership should create a joint Value Proposition unique to customers which will be promoted through marketing content.

 

7. Sales & Compensation

When working with Partners, each party involved will need to determine who in the sales teams gets rewarded and how they get compensated.  Your sales teams need to be well-versed on the collaboration with a consistent message; they need to be equipped with the necessary tools to effectively verbalise and demonstrate the partnership.

 

Many thanks to guest contributor and Product Strategy Leader, Nick Finnemore.  Read more from Nick and get in touch with him here.

Guest blog by Nick Finnemore  • Product Thought Leader • Management Exec • EdTech Enthusiast • 

The importance of Product Partners: 4 ways software organisations can increase revenue

For many software companies there is a real challenge in continuing to develop the software to keep pace with changes in their sector. To be successful you need a business strategy that makes sure you meet the needs of customers in your target market . . . and it’s here where Product Partners play a crucial role.

Product Partners are different to straightforward channel resellers who include your software in a portfolio of other solutions to sell to their target market. Instead, Product Partners have created software of their own which adds value to your existing solution. They can help you to offer a functionally-rich solution, create better revenue opportunities, position your company as the strongest supplier, and create new active and passive income streams.

There are four main different types of software Product Partner, all of which need to be carefully managed to make the business successful:

1.      Advocate partners – this is where you would recommend a partner product and company to your customers in return for remuneration, but would remain in control of the sale from proposal through to closing. It’s a low-touch partnership to add value to your solution.

2.      Strategic partners – these are high-value relationships between your company and the Partner, working together for common goals and revenue-share incentives and aligned around the same values and messaging.   This involves working in true collaboration and allows your business to position itself as a leading supplier in a given deal.

3.      Technical partners – partners who pay a fee to pass information between their product and your product, but their product does not feature within your portfolio. This can represent a separate but active revenue stream for your company.

4.      Referral partners – you would pass leads to Partner companies in exchange for commission remuneration, either per lead or per sale, and allow them to lead the sale through to closure. This is more of a passive income partnership where you are allowing partner companies to capitalize on your customer base in exchange for % revenue.

Whichever Product Partner strategy you go for (and it can easily be a combination of all four) it’s important to keep the main goal of any partnership in mind; both sides must get value from the relationship.

 

Many thanks to guest contributor and Product Strategy Leader, Nick Finnemore.  Read more from Nick and get in touch with him here.

Guest blog by Nick Finnemore  • Product Thought Leader • Management Exec • EdTech Enthusiast • 

Why you need to stop being so Customer-focused (and what you should be doing instead!)

Many organisations would claim to be Customer-focused and, indeed, hold it up as their USP and a reason to do business with them. In truth, to say you’re focused on your customers should really come as standard. Keeping customers happy and giving them the products and services they need is basic business common sense.

However, being just Customer-focused is the old way of doing things; to be truly successful you need to start being Customer-centric – an entirely different approach.

Customer-focused organisations

Customer-focused organisations address customer needs as a way of addressing business goals. They look at how they can get more business by creating a product or service that is ‘better’ than the competitors (and in the software industry this often means ‘has more functionality’) or is cheaper than the competitors. The reasons for being Customer-focused are about maximising revenue and this often comes across as a bit self-serving.

Customer-centric organisations

Customer-centric organisations aren’t just responding to customer needs. They spend time properly understanding their needs and creating a strategy that brings long-term mutual benefits. And they do all of this while delivering a great product to the customer and creating an easy and positive experience for their customers to buy. The revenue which results from this approach is a result of the degree to which their customers have been satisfied.

Customer-focused organisations make decisions that superficially address customer expectations, driven by their desire for improved profit performance. Customer-centric organisations make meaningful changes in order to address their customer’s expectations.

And it’s the Customer-centric approach that results in increased engagement, support, loyalty – and essentially profits – from a happy, expanding customer base.

 

Many thanks to guest contributor and Product Strategy Leader, Nick Finnemore.  Read more from Nick and get in touch with him here.

 

Guest blog by Nick Finnemore  • Product Thought Leader • Management Exec • EdTech Enthusiast • 

Are you guilty of bad love?

As its almost Valentine’s Day it seems only right to tackle the issue of love and, specifically, is your company any good at it?  Many, many companies will say they ‘love their customers’ but do they really?  Or are they guilty of bad love?

Bad love is where you really absolutely genuinely love your customer . . .  based on the fact they provide you with £XX revenue per year.  Would you still love them and spend so much time on them if they didn’t provide that income?  If you were being honest, would you say it’s the money you love, not the customer?

Good love is where you absolutely genuinely love your customers and if it ends a fruitful financial relationship then great!  And even if it doesn’t then your business will still gain in brand and reputation as you build a network of contacts who regard you as helpful, professional, willing to go the extra mile and not just interested in the next order.  Yours will be the sort of business they recommend to others even if they don’t need your services themselves right now.

Love your customers for who they are, not how much they are worth to you financially.  As with all relationships, the stronger they are the happier you will be.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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Reaching the right person

Reaching the right person

This post is about the question I am undoubtedly asked the most by large and small businesses alike: how do I reach the right person?  Everyone wants to be able to get an audience with the elusive ‘decision maker’ and it still remains one of the most difficult challenges facing growing businesses.

The reality is that, within education, the actual name of whichever person you are trying to contact (be that an Assistant Head at the local secondary school or an Assistant Director of Children’s Services at a local authority) is usually quite easy to find.  The real question is not how to ‘reach’ them, but how to engage with them.  These are my top tips for engaging the right person to help drive your business.

 

Do your research

Due to the nature of the education landscape, contact names within schools, academies and local government can almost always be found either with a bit of online research or by putting in a phone call to the relevant organisation.  A lot of info can be gleaned from DfE lists (although I would double-check the details as this goes out of date quickly) and there are lots of companies who will provide data for you.  Spending time on getting the right contact details will not only increase your success rate, but also present a professional and credible image for your company.

 

Approach your contacts in the right way

Much as we would like it to, cold-calling and traditional telesales campaigns rarely work when it comes to reaching high-level decision makers in the education market.  Ultimately the people you are trying to contact are unlikely to ever be in a position to answer the phone to an unknown outside organisation.  They are more likely to be busy with teaching and pastoral duties, dealing with parents and working with the SLT.  However, our research shows that these decision makers do make time to go through their email and open their addressed post so it’s likely that first contact made in this way is likely to have a greater impact.

 

Say something that’s relevant to them

All too often I see letter and email campaigns based around how good a company’s product or service is which implores the decision maker to find out more.  In reality, the way in which your solution works is never going to create engagement with the high level contact you’re trying to reach as, while its important to you, it’s unlikely to be important to them.  Think about what is on their mind, what’s keeping them awake at night.  For example, a school may be having a particular issue with truancy; as a result the Assistant Head may be looking for something which helps ensure that school is safeguarding children.

Ultimately, if your campaign shows that you understand what’s important to them and, better still, articulates how your solution will help with the issue (the ‘value proposition’ which I will cover in another post) then you have a far better chance of engaging with the right person and creating a meaningful relationship.

Good luck and be patient; it is possible to reach the magical ‘decision makers’ but it takes a bit of planning and a lot of effort!

 

Sarah

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3 mistakes nearly everyone makes when selling to schools

3 mistakes nearly everyone makes when selling to schools

So you’ve created a product, be it a piece of technology, clever software or an invaluable service, and you’re pretty sure it’s something schools need and would love to buy.  But when you start contacting schools to tell them about your fabulous product by post, phone and email you get no response.  Where are you going wrong?

Selling to schools is VERY different to business and consumer selling.  Schools are under enormous pressure to perform from the government and parents alike while, at the same time, managing a complex and usually dwindling budget.  Here are the top 3 mistakes nearly everyone makes when selling to schools:

 

1. Schools are buildings – they don’t buy.

Companies tend to try and sell to schools generically as if it is the actual school that’s going to buy.  But schools are buildings, bricks and mortar, it’s the people inside who will have a need for your product.  Have you thought about who it is you need to target?  Will your product support teaching and learning and, if so, do you know which teachers to try and contact?  Is your product designed to save time and money in the office and, if so, do you know who the business manager is?  Thinking about your end user will help you reach the right person.

 

2. Decisions take time because there are lots of people involved

Salespeople often wonder why a school hasn’t purchased because they don’t take into account the decision-making process for schools; they almost always forecast the sale to close way too soon (if at all!).  In schools, it’s not unusual for the vast majority of purchasing decisions to go to a Governors meeting for discussion and approval and this may only happen once a month.  In addition, if a purchase is over a certain threshold then they usually need to speak to other suppliers and get quotes to be absolutely sure they’re getting best value.  This means the sales cycle can be quite long and is very competitive – you need to make sure your product offers real value!   In the case of really large purchases a full competitive tender will be required which can take months so you need to forecast carefully.

 

3. Never underestimate the power of peer-to-peer recommendations

Teachers, school leaders and support staff respect the opinions of their peers within the education industry.  If you can build a relationship with a team at a school and prove the value of your product or service then the introductions they can make for you could be priceless.  However, it works both ways so not making good on a promise or delivering something of low quality could lead to a dent in your reputation.  Either way, never underestimate the power of peer-to-peer recommendations, education networks are vital when selling to schools.

 

These are my top 3 common mistakes but there are many, many more!  What’s your biggest challenge when selling to schools?

 

 

How to survive Bett 2017: 5 tips to get you through the UK’s biggest education show

How to survive Bett 2017: 5 tips to get you through the UK's biggest education show

For many of you this week will be about one thing and one thing alone.  The stand will have been built and the first queue of visitors will soon be going through the doors. In can only be the Bett show.

The Bett show seems to get bigger and bigger each year with the exhibitors becoming more and more creative around how they attract the visitors to their stands, meaning it’s always an endurance contest for exhibitors and visitors alike!   Here are my 5 top tips to help you survive the Bett show:

 

1.      Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Nothing can prepare you for how long, hot and tiring the day at Bett can be. The canny exhibitors know how big a draw the promise of some refreshing water or a hot coffee and the opportunity for a sit-down can be and offer these free to visitors on their stands. Be prepared and take a water bottle or risk dehydration. (Ditto lip balm – it’s a hostile environment in there!)

 

2.      Throat sweets

You’re about to spend the next four days talking to potential clients and suppliers and, what with 600+ companies exhibiting and god knows how many visitors attending, the noise will be deafening! I’ll give you until Thursday evening before you’re on the Soothers.

 

3.      Comfy shoes

Don’t look at your lovely new shoes that go really well with your suit and think “they’ll be alright”. They won’t.  Excel is a huge venue – whether you’re a visitor or an exhibitor you are going to walk for miles and spend hours and hours on your feet. Choose the comfiest, oldest shoes you own – you’ll be glad you did.

 

4.      Mints (and gum, etc.)

It may or may not be for you, but there are lots of people who really take advantage of the socialising and networking opportunities the Bett show offers. And by that, I mean lots of booze, restaurants and late nights. . . . which is a great thing to do but can often leave you and your colleagues feeling a little special in the morning. So do everyone a favour and have a good supply of mints and gum for anyone who needs it. And paracetamol for that matter.

 

5.      Enjoy yourself

No matter how tiring you find it, Bett is a fantastic opportunity to network, find out what’s going on technology-wise in the education market and build relationships. Everyone who attends is there for a reason – they want to find out more. Everyone who exhibits is also there for a reason – they want to showcase their new stuff to schools and academies. Smile and enjoy it – it’s a fantastic opportunity to be made the most of (even if you can’t walk at the end of it!)

Best wishes to all exhibitors and visitors at #Bett2017 – hope you have a fantastic show!