As any experienced executive knows, building a successful sales team involves more than merely finding people with sales experience on their resume. The costs of not having a key sales role in place can be substantial, when one considers the simple formula: revenues generated plus incremental pipeline added minus employee cost (recruitment, salary, benefits and commissions). For an $80,000 annual base salary Sales Executive, the multi-year business costs of a delayed key EdTEch SaaS sales hire can be approximately $150,000 in the first three months alone and over $1.5 million if the delay lasts a year (based on TRN modeling estimates).
With EdTech organizations, it is not even enough to find talent with industry-specific sales experience to their credit (although that certainly helps). If your organization is adding to its ranks, consider implementing these five best practices.
1. Evaluate Current Talent
Your current sales leaders may have been with the organization since its inception and may have played vital roles in helping you get where you are now in terms of market share and revenue. However, that past success does not necessarily mean they are ready to help the company continue to grow and thrive – at least not in their current roles.
Conduct a gap analysis for the skills your business currently needs compared to the skills your team possesses presently. Also, consider your sales professionals’ capacity related to your current EdTech products, an expanded sales market (if applicable), and their ability to successfully engage with school district administrators and other decision-makers in an environment where a majority of sales interactions are occurring virtually, rather than face-to-face. Another best practice for talent evaluation is conducting an objective “outside-in” assessment to judge capabilities and current team members’ capacity.
2. Look for Understanding of the Evolving Education Sales Market
The EdTech sales market is also different from many other types of product sales. For example, there is rarely one single decision-maker for the school or district. Approaching a potential school district or institution with an untargeted marketing strategy will not likely result in meaningful success. Instead, EdTech salespeople could expend an unreasonable amount of time and effort and not make any headway.
Sales leaders who understand the multi-stakeholder model in education technology sales and who are adept at identifying the key players – which may be state officials, district administrators, technology leaders, educators, and even parents – will be better equipped to work within that framework more efficiently and, ultimately, more effectively.
3. Consider Candidates’ Abilities to Market to Clients in Multiple States
The education market is incredibly diverse. Hiring a sales professional who mistakenly believes all potential districts are the same can be problematic – in multiple ways. Suppose your company has previously limited its marketing efforts to districts and educational institutions in one state or part of the country, but you intend to expand your footprint. In that case, you need skilled sales leaders who understand how EdTech is viewed, funded, and approached in your new target market(s).
Engaging school districts solely in New York and New Jersey and then expanding to somewhere like Wyoming or Montana generally requires sales teams to use different approaches. EdTech organizations that don’t understand this can waste valuable time or worse, alienate potential clients.
4. Evaluate Competitors’ Sales Models
Before making significant changes to your sales structure, it is worth considering what other successful EdTech organizations are doing with their inbound, outbound, and channel sales functions? Are they achieving deep penetration through localized sales positions? Do they support the direct sales function with a quality transactional inside team? What role does building strategic industry partnerships play in building long-term district sales relationships? What are your competitors doing well? What can you learn from their missteps?
Gaining insight into how other EdTech firms approach sales is not always easy, of course. You may be able to glean information from recent hires, buying off-the-shelf or custom market research, or by engaging a talent acquisition company that works exclusively in the EdTech space.
5. Prioritize Building the Right Sales Structure
Finally, be aware that there are consequences associated with inaction inadequately structuring your EdTech firm’s sales function. There is no single “best” way to structure your team; what works well for one EdTech organization may not work for another. Evaluate the potential pros and cons of using a centralized vs. a decentralized structure, adopting an “assembly line” model, or an “island” model where each salesperson is on their own to manage all of the tasks in the sales cycle.
Just as there are consequences to inaction, there is also danger in taking a haphazard approach to talent acquisition. Unfortunately, it will likely not be immediately apparent that your approach has failed (or is failing.) In the meantime, you will have wasted time and money and missed out on opportunities to attract and retain key EdTech sales talent and secure client engagements.
Engaging talent acquisition consultants who understand EdTech sales, and the challenges that come with the territory, can help you build the right organization from where you are starting today.
Putting These Strategies into Practice
The Renaissance Network (TRN) recently had the opportunity to help a well-established Education and Technology organization put these best practices to the test. This company had been in business for nearly 50 years but realized that to continue to be competitive in the education marketplace and maximize their impact, they needed to make some changes to certain key positions.
TRN has acted as an “organization building” partner with this company, including considering the factors identified above. Ultimately, TRN helped this client create/revise/recruit several positions, including VP of Technology, VP of Sales, Product Owner, Education Consultants, and Sales Executives. The company has expressed its pleasure with the caliber of people TRN brought to them, skilled professionals who are now positioned to help the company achieve its sales objectives.
You Need Talent. TRN Can Help.
TRN has 25 years of experience working with Education and Technology companies, helping them create strong teams and structures. We can analyze and assess your current sales organization to determine whether and what type of strategic changes could open the door for more sustainable growth.
Contact us today to learn more and to get started!