Selling solutions and products to end-users is basically the same in any vertical market. Every customer needs a constant stream of communication and understanding. Schools, short of a few extra rules, regulations and constraints, have funds to spend the same as everyone else. They should be viewed and treated no differently than other customers.
Dealing with school boards, however, is one area where working with schools may be different. The contractor often will have to adjust to dealing with a customer who is not very experienced. School boards typically are made up of community leaders, and it never is certain that members of a board have knowledge regarding such things as security, safety, life safety and other technology-based systems. However, that can be an opportunity for electrical contractors. It means schools prefer to work with contractors they know they can trust.
The contractor and the board need to understand they can work together in a coordinated manner to ensure projects move forward. There are some relatively simple steps to help ensure working with entities, such as school boards, goes as smoothly as possible.
Subscribe to bids
The easiest way to start becoming an active participant in what schools are looking to buy is to track their bids.
This could work to a contractor’s advantage in several ways. Subscribing to bids outside of one’s comfort zone is a way to stay abreast of bids being circulated for such markets as communication, security, fire alarm, access control and networking storage. All of those systems require wire and cable, which means there may be a chance to pick up some extra work, possibly as a subcontractor.
After finishing one project for a school, keeping track of other work can help maintain a dialogue, as contractors can be useful consultants across a variety of systems.
Some school districts and universities have created workshops for those interested in doing business with them. These can be informative for contractors, as they help explain the district’s approach to relating to vendors, and they also open the door to networking with those who are the true decision makers and influencers. These venues give contractors the chance to explain peripheral offerings, such as maintenance, service and training.
Routine and contract maintenance is no less confusing in the education market. It is one of those things that remains critical after an installation, but often is overlooked and misunderstood. If no maintenance is being offered, suggest it and help create a program. It is an investment of little time and money and can prove to be a good way to keep in contact with customers.
Participate in meet-and-greets
You could easily introduce yourself to a school district or university and offer to have members of your staff visit the potential customer to answer any questions they may have.
This line of questioning could include the contractor’s experience and areas of expertise, information regarding technology trends and ideas, and suggestions for new items that the school may want to consider.
This can be extremely beneficial when one is targeting technology and communication projects. With the rapid rate of technology evolution, nonprofit entities, such as schools, often are looking for guidance and advice, which could prove to be an ideal way to be introduced and get involved with what could become an important customer.
In the end
There are other ways one can become a more visible presence with schools. Some of this involves common marketing sense. The list grows when one considers advertising in school publications, offering financial contributions for sponsorships, allowing students to become interns at your business, and donating leftover material and equipment for school use, etc.
Because of budgetary constraints and lengthy bidding policies, schools and other educational entities sometimes are overlooked as potential clients; they need to be sold the same as clients in other markets. Remember, it is important to pursue these ideas even after an initial contract has been established. Schools should be treated just like commercial customers. Keeping the lines of communication open is a way to make sure work progresses smoothly.
STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.