Many industries experience seasonal sales cycles, some more dramatic than others. What patterns do companies that sell instructional products to K-12 schools observe? Be assured, products used for teaching and learning are purchased every month, but you can expect major ups and downs during the year. In this article, I’ll share insight from successful school sales professionals about these predictable purchasing patterns so you can adjust your school sales and marketing plans accordingly. Here’s the basic take-away: there are two primary drivers behind the seasonal purchasing cycle for just about any product or service that is intended for teaching — the calendar and the budget.
Align Your School Sales Plan to the Academic Calendar
The first and primary factor that influences timing for purchasing of curricular materials is the start date for the academic year. It should seem obvious that the greatest need to implement new instructional resources is when the school year begins. But the process of evaluating new products, budgeting for them, and getting ready to use them, starts many months before. And, of course, there are a few weeks of variance in the start date for public schools, beginning in early August and running through early September. Marketing to schools to introduce a new curricular product or service in the fall, followed by an aggressive promotion that peaks early in the calendar year and is sustained through spring is a proven approach for driving sales for the following academic year.
Spring Surge in Selling to Schools
Purchasing peaks and valleys in the K-12 school market are also affected by the availability and timing of funds. If your product will likely be bought with a purchase order with funds from the school or school district budget, then the purchasing behavior is driven by the fiscal year. For most public schools, the fiscal year begins on July 1. Accordingly, there is a flurry of buying in the late spring and early summer months. If, on the other hand, your product is priced to appeal to individual teachers (who buy lots of products with their own money) then late summer – August and September – can be busy months, and there is another secondary upswing before the start of the second semester.
Education Market Research Reveals Shifts in Timing
What I’ve described are guidelines for marketing to schools, not rules. Each product and service may have some variation, and there are shifts in funding patterns, too, that can impact products eligible for federal program dollars. In recent years, the impact of legislation and economic recession has made K-12 sales forecasting trickier. I suggest you do your homework to assess what purchasing patterns your product is likely to experience in the current and anticipated sales environment. Some basic school market research is a good starting point. I also suggest you run tests with your own marketing campaigns.
There is one final word regarding school marketing and the school sales cycle, and that word is patience. If you are considering marketing to schools, know that it is rare for sales to happen as quickly and at the level that product developers plan on. No matter how fantastic you think your product is, regardless of the rave reviews you have had from educators who have previewed your new product, be prepared for a slow uptake. The overall school buying cycle can be frustratingly sluggish. The first year may seem like a black hole and losing proposition. But, by following the guidelines in this article, and with your ongoing attention to best practices for education marketing, you will certainly be in sync with the seasonal cycle, and who knows, perhaps you will beat the odds and your new education product will be a wild success with sales pouring in from schools all year round!