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How to sell IT to schools

Dominic Sacco
How to sell IT to schools

With students going back to school this month, we ask experts what's the best way to sell IT and tech into the education sector.

With a new computing curriculum coming into play, a bigger focus on teaching children how to code, and more emerging tech in the classroom like 3D printers, schools are spending more on IT investment than ever before.

Teachers themselves will also be making preparations for the new computing curriculum. As former education secretary Michael Gove stated, this will be “much shorter and less prescriptive than the old, discredited ICT curriculum, allowing schools room to innovate”, with children as young as five learning how to code, create programs and understand how a computer works, rather than being taught about word processing and spreadsheets.

With this change comes fresh demand – more than ever before – for the tools and technology required. In fact, funding for ICT investment by schools will reach an all-time high during 2014/15. Investment in hardware replacement, peripherals, software and technical support will reach £14,220 per primary school and £65,570 in each secondary school, according to a survey by the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA).

Parents want new tech too – 56 per cent think IT investment should be a school’s number one priority according to a survey by Samsung, while 97 per cent believe school tech needs to be up to date. 

WHAT TO SELL?

Firstly, what exactly should you be supplying schools with today? Whether it’s the Raspberry Pi credit-card sized computer for teaching children programming, 3D printers, tablets and smart boards, or more traditional computing devices like desktop PCs, laptops, scanners, printers and projectors, there is space for an array of tech in the classroom. 

Providing managed services is a great way of getting business with schools. John Greenhalgh, head of public sector sales at Brother UK, says: “Schools are looking for ways to cut down on print costs and paper use, demanding more efficient print strategies from their technology suppliers. Technology that incorporates reliability, lifelong technical support and good functionality will help to ensure that printers [and other devices] are a long-term purchase, reducing the need to invest in expensive technology on a regular basis and cutting down on the amount of equipment needed.” 

Of course, security is also paramount. One in seven parents find unsuitable content on their child’s smartphone or tablet, according to research by BullGuard, and schools have a duty to ensure their pupils’ data is safe and secure. Whether it’s managing a school’s WiFi, internet, servers or storage, there are opportunities for providing a reliable security service.

Be mindful of emerging tech too – youth research firm Dubit expects devices like the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset will be used by schools in the future.

And if all else fails, ask. Call up a school’s IT technician, officer or headteacher. Eben Upton, co-founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, explains: “It’s important to listen to what your customer wants. I think companies that have done best at selling technology products to schools have done it by hiring teachers. If you decide that teachers are your customers, listening to what they want is probably the way to build a sustainable business.” 

WHERE TO SELL?

It’s not just schools, but also universities, colleges and academies that will want solid IT systems in place.

Targeting well-established schools that have a history of success and a good reputation is great, but competition will be fierce. Going after schools that are new may provide fresh opportunities, but be mindful of their long-term plans. Hackney University Technical College, the first of the Government’s technical colleges to open in London, announced in July it will be closing down due to a lack of student numbers, just two years after it first opened.

There are a number of ways you can secure contracts with schools. CloudStore is an online marketplace where suppliers offer their services to public sector bodies like local authorities via the G-Cloud framework. Public sector bodies can then buy these services on CloudStore.

There are also other frameworks resellers can use as a route into schools. Public sector buying organisation ESPO helps bridge suppliers and schools via frameworks – and it produces an annual catalogue, which acts as a buying guide for some 9,000 schools. It features a range of products and turns over around £65 million each year in sales, giving tech suppliers another sales avenue. ESPO is also a part of the Pro5 collection of buying organisations which work together to produce better frameworks.

WHEN TO SELL?

It might seem obvious that schools generally buy in August and September, but the buying season can vary depending on the school.

ESPO’s communications manager Claire Watkin says: “We see a big hump in the lead-up to the school holidays, with teachers putting in big orders for September and the start of the new school year. They’re buying all of their books, everything – one per child.

“We also get a lot of furniture orders at this time of year for all the school refurbishments. That’s really for the traditional schools that are controlled by and get their budgets through the local authority.

“With a change towards academies, they get their budgets released in September. So what we’ve started to see is that as more and more schools are being turned into academies, there’s now a massive peak again in late September time where the academies get their budgets. They get the first few weeks of term out of the way and then start buying.”

MORE SELLING TIPS

Like most customers, teachers will want an IT setup that will save them time, money and – probably most importantly – not break down on them.

Educating the educators is a good start. Graham Long, VP for Samsung’s UK & Ireland Enterprise Business Team, says: “Technology is a substantial investment for schools and governing bodies, so it’s important to have all of the information needed to make the right decisions. A good provider will help them decide on the right solution by looking at what they want to achieve and how technology can help them do that. Show the benefits of using technology in education, including saving teacher’s time and increased self- learning for pupils.” 

Jon Garaway, Education Account Manager at NEC Display Solutions, adds: “It is important that a reseller is able to demonstrate that it has the school’s best interests at heart. With budget constraints a constant issue in this sector, there is no value in pushing the most expensive ‘bells and whistles’ solution. Schools are looking for ways to bring greater interactivity into the classroom, and often this can be achieved using standard products.

“Nurturing a trusting relationship will open doors to further sales opportunities within local school consortiums and can secure future sales and contracts.” There are other ways to save money too. For example, Brother UK’s John Greenhalgh advises resellers to opt for printers that use a separate drum and toner.

Being wary of compliance, offering a straightforward solution and marketing your services are also important. “If resellers were selling through ESPO, then they wouldn’t have to worry about compliance at all,” explains ESPO’s Claire Watkin.

“Pricing is also a huge issue – it’s about value for money now, rather than cheapness, so resellers need to be able to demonstrate that schools are getting value for money.

“So it’s not just about making sure that they’ve got the cheapest thing possible – it’s making sure that they’ve got a range of options depending on how much they want to spend.”

This range of options has arguably never been as big as it is today – another reason schools need an expert supplier to help them choose the right solution.

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Tags: Education, selling, it, schools, curriculum

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