You settle into your home office, pick up your phone and dial. The recipient answers the phone requesting your account number and then proceeds to inquire as to how COVID-19 might be impacting your vertical-of-practice.
“Well,” you say, “my company serves the education sector and, as you might imagine, things have stalled significantly.” Or, so goes the trend of countless humbling conversations education company CEOs are having as they ask for financial assistance.
The game of pandemic dominoes continues to swirl from room to room as you navigate these new conversations, knocking over personnel, projects and timelines and leaving a wake of previously-incomprehensible destruction to your business.
You are left with a decision: ride out the pandemic on the sidelines, or pivot and deliver to a market that needs you―one that is looking for creative thinking and, above all else, options.
While one cannot ignore the obvious and painful realities of shrunken budgets and tenuous client contracts there are throughputs that address today’s needs and shine a light on tomorrow.
First, consider for even the briefest of moments the conversations your prospects are having. They are discussing newly constructed school year calendars with multiple contingencies. They are exploring methods to maximize altered budgets while still providing students and teachers with the same or similar offerings to deliver classroom experiences and instruction.
Is this the time to cut your own marketing budget? Should you sit idly by as districts explore new ways of engaging vendors? These are fair questions. These are prudent questions. The answer, I would contend, lies in what we know about the education ecosystem.
The system we all reside in conducts business based on relationships with vendors, historically proven solutions and often legacy-sized offerings. Will this hold true post-coronavirus? The element that should persevere would most notably be relational selling. Legacy systems may, in fact, take a serious ‘punch’ during the transition from to the “new normal.”
Relational selling requires persistent touchpoints of communication―a story and connection that maintains consistency and momentum. A good book keeps us up at night when we know sleep is calling. A good story provides the linkage, and at some level an excuse to reach out and share experiences amid societal confusion. We have a natural desire and want to know how each other is ‘doing’ underneath the current cloud cover.
So, after you put the phone down from yet another humbling discussion of financial ‘forgiveness,’ grab a deep breath and a snack and settle into what you know. You know the business of education needs creative thinking on the part of providers like yourself.
Just as you might second-guess your communication approach as a provider, districts too are left looking for a pen and paper. Start off by showing that you understand their position and their needs. The current challenge is that parents, across the country, are waking up to district narratives short on detail and long on a wait-and-see strategy. The business of running a school district changed overnight, without warning and definitely without a comprehensive communications plan.
Districts will have to spread budgets through multiple vendors for shorter periods of time. The cautious among them (read: all of them) will be inclined to spread their eggs among numerous baskets as they stare at shrinking tax bases and the potential for a furloughed workforce configuration.
The time to communicate your company’s market value is actually now. The heightened sense of urgency to integrate real-time products and solutions that meet current demands provides a somewhat uncomfortable opportunity for your company to not only sustain but also thrive. Nobody wants to be characterized as an opportunist, but this is the time to appreciate your market offering, and if applicable, communicate that offering in the most supportive manner possible. The audience has arrived and this time it doesn’t matter whether attendance is based on desire to know or need – solutions are being vetted and now.
Take control of your market offering and message as you audit your own operational budgets and new normal. Investors are naturally hesitant during times of unrest. Sales are crucial for education companies to survive and thrive.
Let’s get creative…together. Here are some questions to consider as you reflect on the field of play.
- Do you currently have a communications strategy that positions your value within the current context while mitigating risk, or could one argue your market-facing communications are tone deaf to new realities?
- Have you considered shared communication activities and strategies with existing channel partners to offset costs and maximize reach and relevance?
- Are you still relying solely on a company blog or one-to-one outreach to communicate with prospects? Why not turn those opinions into client ambassador stories that are pitched to the industry trade publications?
- Have you explored methods to communicate company stories through alternative, narrative-friendly media (ex. podcasts)?
- Have you audited your sales pitch messaging strategy to align with current conditions and upgraded your internal support of sales staff’s market knowledge?
These are but just a few questions that can provide market-facing communications that instill a confident notion of a battle-tested company built on values, sector-specific knowledge and relationships for the long haul.
Take control of your message and dial up creative talking points that reframe the narrative for you, your company and your market offering across the educational landscape.