Singer-songwriter James Taylor tells us in the lyrics made famous by Carole King:
“Winter, spring, summer or fall. All you have to do is call. And I’ll be there. You’ve got a friend.”
Well, no – not quite!
It pays to do your homework when selling to schools. Think strategically. Tracking down decision-makers is notoriously difficult.
Furthermore, it’s worth remembering that each term has its pinch points: if you catch a key contact at the wrong time, you may well lose them forever.
Teachers will tell you there’s no ideal time, and they’re right. But it’s also true that some times of the year are less fraught than others. It pays to know those sweet spots.
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The school year begins in August
Not September. Jump too late and you’ll miss the boat.
Once the autumn term has begun, teachers will be hard at it. Some compare that first week of teaching to stepping onto a motorway. They have little time for anything other than dodging traffic, whilst spinning plates, and keeping pupils, parents and management happy.
Rewind two weeks. The second half of August is a far saner time. The dust will have settled on public examination results. There is time for reflection, time for looking both forward and backward. Back to lessons learned from the data. Forward to the energy and optimism of a school year. The keen and ambitious will pop in and out of school in those closing weeks of the summer holiday. More importantly, they’ll be looking for the best resources to kickstart the term.
TIP: September is when many academies start their financial year, not April. And some schools start in August.
The clocks have gone forward, bringing longer days and renewed zest after a relentless slog through the dark winter months. April means spring blooms and green shoots of hope and recovery. At last, daylight at the end of the tunnel.
Budgets past and present are being reviewed, as are resources for public examinations.
Word of warning, however: this is less a time to sell, than foster relationships for the summer.
The beginning of the summer term is a frenetic time, but give it a month or so, and a quiet descends. You can actually hear birdsong. In many schools, oversized Year 11s to 13s will have buzzed off on study leave. Younger students are busy with last-minute prep for end-of-year tests and projects.
Once the bulk of internal examination marking is done, teachers breathe a sigh of relief. They’ve survived the year, bar the shouting, and the report writing. This is a time of blue skies, blue sky thinking and greater optimism. You’ll find that staff rooms are busier, a little more sociable.
And so, teachers’ thoughts return to the world beyond the school gates.
Heads of department are doing stock takes and topping up supplies for the following academic year.
Having received timetables for September, teachers will begin to plan lessons, fired by an enthusiasm to try new things.
Note, however, that other companies may have the same idea. There may well be a rush of sale pitches during these weeks.
So be sure to pick…
The best time of the day
It’s tempting to call at break, but teachers often face a queue of needy children at such times. Or, it may well be the first chance they’ve had to pause and breathe that day. The same goes for just after the final school bell.
A teacher’s day is a busy one, and with surging class sizes, and the pressure to offer revision classes or extra help during breaks and lunch times, the situation is only getting worse. And teachers have less flexibility to come and go as when required compared to someone who works in an office, for instance. Some teachers report barely having time to nip to the loo.
A politely worded email to arrange a mutually convenient time may work wonders. This shows you respect their time and are keen to help.
Some may welcome a chat at the end of the day, for example, or when they have a lighter timetable.
And what’s the best way to make that approach?
With caution, we’d say. Look before you leap. Don’t bombard schools or teachers. Throwing spaghetti at the wall – or spray and pray – rarely works anywhere, but we know that’s especially true when selling to schools.
Play the long game. Know your customer. Build relationships. Enter the process in the spirit of helpfulness.
Teachers are a savvy bunch. And they’re less interested in business-y or marketing stuff than, let’s say, your average entrepreneur or investment banker. Avoid jargon at all costs.
They have no time for salesy or pushy, but they do have time to talk about exciting new resources or apps that could save them time.
Be sure to bring some biscuits when you visit.