Wednesday, 15 May 2019

How to Sell to Schools in Easy Steps

Bringing out the best from library staff has been an issue for the proper functioning of librarians in Sierra Leone (SL). Librarians, according to Crosby (2008) are information experts in the Information Age. Their expertise in the handling of information has not been seen or realised, even though these professionals have been around for a long time. Librarians and information professionals have not attained the status and position they should rightly occupy in society. In most Ministries, Departments and Government Agencies (MDAs), where information handling and records keeping are key functions, librarians, records managers and information professionals have not been employed to do these jobs. Instead, other professionals, mostly people with accounting and business management backgrounds have been employed. In essence, the work of librarians has not been so much felt and appreciated.

Library and information services in Sierra Leone

Information is a fundamental asset for any society to thrive well in this 21st century. It is the tool by which learning takes place and decisions are made. It provides the needed answers to people's requests and longings from all walks of life. Therefore, the provision of library and information services to all is undisputable. Almost all types of libraries exist in SL, because no individual library can provide all the information needed by every potential user. In this regard, different libraries exist to serve different users and their needs.

The Sierra Leone Library Board (SLLB) serves as both the National and Public library in the country. There are mainly nine (9) Academic libraries scattered throughout the country, all of these are found in the tertiary institutions (Universities, Colleges, Institutes and Teacher Training Colleges) providing higher education. School libraries are found in most Primary, Junior and Senior Secondary Schools. However, a vast majority of these are not functional. Special libraries are found in MDAs, private companies and individual established libraries. In addition to these are research and documentation centres, such as the Medical Research Centre; Information Resource centres, such as that established by the Embassy of the United States of America; and many small community information centres. These information centres are widely used by information seekers due to the main fact that they provide online services for almost free of charge.

The SLLB serves as the pivotal point for the provision of library and information services in the country. It is open to all: professionals, academics, researchers, students, pupils and for all children. There also, the general populace information needs are catered for. All of these are geared towards meeting our societal needs for information, education, research, entertainment and leisure activities.

Staff in libraries and information service institutions in Sierra Leone

There are two broad classes of staff employed in our libraries as is the case for libraries all over the world: those involved in library and information work, and those who provide back-up services. Library and information staff functions at different levels from non-professional, Para-professional, professional, specialists to managerial. At the support level, there are also manual/care taking staff, clerical/secretarial, technical and computer staff, and specialist staff. These all play a part in providing the information that users' desire.

Library staff should function above the normal information provision role. Other important functions are:

I. Guide - providing physical, technical and intellectual guides to information resources in various formats;
ii. Collaborate - with others, known users as well as users who come for some manner of services over and over again, and even remote users;
iii. Prioritise - be flexible in performing new functions in order to incorporate new demands in procedures, structures and directions;
iv. Empower - delegate responsibility thereby empowering colleagues; and
v. Understand core capabilities - of the library, its environment, colleagues and most importantly the users.

Training library staff in Sierra Leone

The Institute of Library, Information and Communication Studies (INSLICS), Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone (USL), is where Librarians and Information Professionals are trained and equipped for the world of work. INSLICS comprises two divisions that offer two distinct programmes: the Divisions of Mass Communication and Library, Archive and Information Studies respectively. The Mass Communication Division offers academic courses in the art and science of human communication and prepares students for career opportunities in public information services, print media, broadcast media, public relations, film production, advertising, marketing, advocacy and related fields. While the Division of Library, Archive and Information Studies caters for the professional training of librarians, records managers, archivists and information scientists to manage libraries, resource centres, information centres and related activities.

The Division of Library, Archive and Information Studies was formally established in 1986. It aims to provide for the training and education of Librarians, Archivists, and Information Scientists at a variety of levels, for those employed in both professional and non-professional capacities in Libraries, Archive Departments and Information Centres. Within the USL it is the particular mission of the Division of Library, Archive and Information Studies to educate men and women for professional careers as librarians and information specialists and to foster research and service programmes relating to society's library and information needs. Bringing out the best from library staff has been an issue for the proper functioning of librarians in Sierra Leone (SL). Librarians, according to Crosby (2008) are information experts in the Information Age. Their expertise in the handling of information has not been seen or realised, even though these professionals have been around for a long time. Librarians and information professionals have not attained the status and position they should rightly occupy in society. In most Ministries, Departments and Government Agencies (MDAs), where information handling and records keeping are key functions, librarians, records managers and information professionals have not been employed to do these jobs. Instead, other professionals, mostly people with accounting and business management backgrounds have been employed. In essence, the work of librarians has not been so much felt and appreciated.

Library and information services in Sierra Leone

Information is a fundamental asset for any society to thrive well in this 21st century. It is the tool by which learning takes place and decisions are made. It provides the needed answers to people's requests and longings from all walks of life. Therefore, the provision of library and information services to all is undisputable. Almost all types of libraries exist in SL, because no individual library can provide all the information needed by every potential user. In this regard, different libraries exist to serve different users and their needs.

The Sierra Leone Library Board (SLLB) serves as both the National and Public library in the country. There are mainly nine (9) Academic libraries scattered throughout the country, all of these are found in the tertiary institutions (Universities, Colleges, Institutes and Teacher Training Colleges) providing higher education. School libraries are found in most Primary, Junior and Senior Secondary Schools. However, a vast majority of these are not functional. Special libraries are found in MDAs, private companies and individual established libraries. In addition to these are research and documentation centres, such as the Medical Research Centre; Information Resource centres, such as that established by the Embassy of the United States of America; and many small community information centres. These information centres are widely used by information seekers due to the main fact that they provide online services for almost free of charge.

The SLLB serves as the pivotal point for the provision of library and information services in the country. It is open to all: professionals, academics, researchers, students, pupils and for all children. There also, the general populace information needs are catered for. All of these are geared towards meeting our societal needs for information, education, research, entertainment and leisure activities.

Staff in libraries and information service institutions in Sierra Leone

There are two broad classes of staff employed in our libraries as is the case for libraries all over the world: those involved in library and information work, and those who provide back-up services. Library and information staff functions at different levels from non-professional, Para-professional, professional, specialists to managerial. At the support level, there are also manual/care taking staff, clerical/secretarial, technical and computer staff, and specialist staff. These all play a part in providing the information that users' desire.

Library staff should function above the normal information provision role. Other important functions are:

I. Guide - providing physical, technical and intellectual guides to information resources in various formats;
ii. Collaborate - with others, known users as well as users who come for some manner of services over and over again, and even remote users;
iii. Prioritise - be flexible in performing new functions in order to incorporate new demands in procedures, structures and directions;
iv. Empower - delegate responsibility thereby empowering colleagues; and
v. Understand core capabilities - of the library, its environment, colleagues and most importantly the users.

Training library staff in Sierra Leone

The Institute of Library, Information and Communication Studies (INSLICS), Fourah Bay College (FBC), University of Sierra Leone (USL), is where Librarians and Information Professionals are trained and equipped for the world of work. INSLICS comprises two divisions that offer two distinct programmes: the Divisions of Mass Communication and Library, Archive and Information Studies respectively. The Mass Communication Division offers academic courses in the art and science of human communication and prepares students for career opportunities in public information services, print media, broadcast media, public relations, film production, advertising, marketing, advocacy and related fields. While the Division of Library, Archive and Information Studies caters for the professional training of librarians, records managers, archivists and information scientists to manage libraries, resource centres, information centres and related activities.

The Division of Library, Archive and Information Studies was formally established in 1986. It aims to provide for the training and education of Librarians, Archivists, and Information Scientists at a variety of levels, for those employed in both professional and non-professional capacities in LibrariThere is a common myth that selling to schools is a closed book, that the annual education budget is spread amongst the few larger organisations lucky enough to be "in" with schools, and that breaking into this closed group is not possible without investing vast amounts of time and budget.

Well, you've guessed it, this is a downright myth! Hundreds of businesses manage to successfully market their products and services to schools on a daily basis. Marketing to schools is no different to marketing to any other sector of the economy. For marketers, the basic rules are still the same. However, those that succeed in marketing their wares to schools pay particular attention to the intricacies of the marketplace itself. So, if you are serious about obtaining some of the £83bn school budget, you must take heed of these 4 golden nuggets of marketing advice.

1. School buyers are lazy. OK, cue scores of teachers telling us this is ridiculous, they work 80 hours a week, they work holidays, and all the other things our teacher friends tell us when we mock them for having long holidays! Well this isn't quite what I mean. School buyers are often teachers. Teachers who have been to college and university and been taught how to teach. There is a big gap between a teacher and a professional buyer, and it is important to sympathise with this notion. Keeping your marketing simple, succinct, and to the point will attract a lot more school buyers than something which has been overthought and oversold.

2. Teacher's time is restricted. Picture the scenario of the professional buyer. He comes to work, he may have a few meetings, he may have a report to write, he may have a presentation to prepare. Whatever, he spends plenty of time at his desk. Now picture the teacher. He has a desk, often an office to call his own. But, the majority of his time is spent in the classroom, teaching. Not one classroom, often 5 or 6 different ones every day. Contacting teachers isn't necessarily harder than contacting buyers in other sectors, it is just really important to time your communications effectively, to ensure the teachers see it. (Early morning is often best!)

3. Teachers have budgets. Sure you already know this, but if you are going to get serious about marketing to schools, don't forget how the buying process in schools works. Schools don't buy to make a physical return on investment, they buy to satisfy the demands of their staff and pupils, and to make cost savings. Marketing to schools by hammering away about ROI's and KPI's will almost certainly get you nowhere. Outline the benefits, remember your goal is to get them to allocate budget to you, not to dig deep into their pockets and justify a purchasing decision.

4. School buyers like repetition. This may seem obvious, but look at the first 3 pieces of advice we have shared here. Lazy buyers, little time, strict budgets. Anyone suiting these traits will surely not enjoy the buying process right? Well whether they do or not, the combination of these three factors generally leads to repetition. Schools and teachers will always look to reorder if the price and service were right. This is important for 2 reasons. Firstly, when you are marketing to schools, always consider telling them that there is a long term relationship in it for them. Schools love this. Secondly, give a good service. The easiest way to market to any business is to offer a good service which makes them want to come back time after time. There are a wide variety of directories out there on the internet, some big, some small, some free, some paid. The majority of these larger directories offer a great service to start ups to improve their SEO their link building, and their basic presence online. We all know of the Yell.coms, the Thomson webs, and Directory.com, but what about the specialist sites. The sites which go that little bit deeper into the specific market they are designed to help. Used right, these directories can give a massive boost to your brand presence in the target marketplace.

Take a look at schools. Go online, look for a schools directory. You won't find many. Why? Because selling to schools is such a niche that there is only demand and space for a few. It is also very difficult to build up a directory in a niche market, so only the strongest get the visitors required to make it work on both sides.

Let's take a look at how the Schools Directory works. There are over 3,500 businesses registered in over 100 different supplier categories. The directory is accessed daily by the 400,000 Teachers and Education decision makers. So, you could say it is big. It is big in a niche market, so it is powerful. Every supplier on the site registers in up to 10 of these 100+ categories (of course very few will choose all 10!), meaning the spread of options for a school buyer is immense. Their job is only to choose a category, and if they like, a location. The suppliers' job is to tell the school buyers as much as possible about their business by creating a compelling profile. The result is that hundreds of quote requests flow from buyer to supplier every day, for minimal effort on everyone's behalf.

Remember, if you are looking to get a foothold in the education marketplace and sell your goods and services to schools, then targeting the simplest and most efficient method from day one is vital to using your limited resources in the right way. A schools directory will achieve this for you so go take a look, search for the few that are out there in the selling to schools niche, and see how well they can work, and how powerful a tool they can be to promote your business into schools. £83bn is a lot of money to spend and sometimes schools need a helping hand finding you! We often get asked about buying patterns in schools, about the whole procurement process in schools, about how schools buy. The answer is straightforward - all schools and departments buy in different ways. Dependant on who your target is in the school will depend on how they buy, and therefore how you target them, how often you market to them, and how you deal with them in the long term.

Let's take a few examples of different types of schools and school buyers and examine how each group buys from the private sector.

Academies - academy schools are only prevalent in England and have grown significantly in number over the last 5 years. The key thing to remember when looking at how academy schools buy is that they are free from local authority control. Academy schools can make their own purchasing decisions on things like catering facilities and grounds maintenance. So, if you are a catering supplier who previously had the mammoth (and potentially lucrative) task of becoming an approved local authority supplier, you are now able to go directly to the school to deal with them. Although the contracts may be smaller they are potentially easier to obtain. Academy schools buy in a different way, therefore, to many other types of school who are under the guidance of the local authority.

Independent schools - independent schools buy from the public sector as they see fit. The clue is in the name, and we will focus here on fee paying schools. They follow the national curriculum like all other schools, but beyond that independent schools are just that - independent. They choose which pupils they take in, they choose which teachers they employ, which subjects they offer, and most importantly, what they buy. Independent schools will almost always have a Bursar or Business Manager whose job it is to oversee the procurement process, and who would often be the first point of contact for any private sector looking to sell to independent schools. The second thing to note about how independent schools buy is that their annual budgets are much less strict. Public sectors schools buy according to a fixed budget, if they don't spend it all they can be penalised the following year. As independent schools are run as commercial operations, this is not the case. They set their own budgets, which means these schools buy all year round, so you can sell to them all year round.

Maintenance staff - maintenance staff in schools buy according to a long term need, rather than the here and now. These school staff buy based on a long term requirement, and will often use the same supplier over and over again on fixed length contracts. Examples might be maintenance contracts they have with alarm companies, CCTV suppliers or gardening businesses. These can be potentially lucrative contracts to win as budget will be allocated to you for a couple of years rather than a one off payment for a one off supply. All schools buy these facilities and contracts from third party suppliers, and here a longer term view is required. You may not be able to knock on the facilities managers door and become the new alarm contractor, but a steady process of relationship building and a good inbound marketing strategy will help you win contracts with these school buyers.

Heads of department - heads of departments in schools buy according to a set budget, but unlike maintenance managers who will have long term contracts, these staff buy based on a fixed budget and a current need. They are more likely to buy school textbooks and learning resources according to current demand and current supply. Offering a head of department in a school the chance to buy a new book or a new interactive resource is far easier than trying to get a grounds manager to replace the CCTV system. If your product or service is aimed at these school buyers, then you should consider marketing to them at key budget intervals, such as the beginning and end of the school year. These buyers will always look to allocate 100% of their budget in order that it is maintained the following year and so these departments' heads in schools buy according to what they need now.
Wow. What a statement! If we all knew the answer to this, we would all be wealthy right? Well we are not here to give you a hard and fast answer as to how to sell to schools, but we can certainly help. We can cover some important considerations which although will not tell you everything you need to know to sell your particular product or service into schools, they will definitely give you some insights into how to sell to schools.

1. Know your audience - think about who you are selling to. Is it the bursar, the head teacher, a particular staff member, or any member of the teaching staff in the school? Dependent upon the target you are selling to, you need to consider the best approach for getting their attention. What gets the attention of the bursar will not necessarily be suitable for a head of PE, so whatever you sell to schools, remember to pitch it according to the recipient.

2. Know your product or service - what you have to sell to schools is as important as how you sell it to the schools. Companies that sell to schools, for example, sell everything from lockers to grounds maintenance to schools badges. It doesn't matter what you sell to schools, just remember to focus your marketing on the product itself, and to make sure your marketing is consistent with your brand. Your brand may be serious, it may be a little more fun and contemporary, whatever it is, stick to the brand. Selling to schools is no different to selling to the private sector. Your brand comes before the client.

3. Be consistent - start with your brand when you sell to schools, not the schools themselves. Don't assume that schools will buy in a different way to your current market and therefore you need to change who you are. Let your brand be itself, and approach the schools with it - school buyers are human too! Sell to schools like you would sell to everyone else.

4. Continually test - the last piece of the selling to schools jigsaw is the ability to test. This may seem like a luxury to some, but doing split subject line testing on email campaigns or sending different postal mail campaigns to different types of schools are great ways to test the market and see what works best. Your product or service and your brand are all unique to you, so you need to know (and possibly already will) the best and the most effective way to sell them. If you want to be an expert at selling to schools and build your brand in the marketplace, make sure you test what works, and stick to what works.

Remember, if you want your product or service to sell to schools, you will need to know the buyer. You will need to know your product or service and how it fits into a school's buying process. Most importantly when selling to schools, keep your brand consistency in check and keep on testing what works. This all may seem obvious, but the clients we know who sell the most to schools are the ones who follow these 4 pieces of simple advice the best.

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