Day Two of SXSWedu - How to Sell Test Prep to Schools

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EdTech is an exciting field. I'm thrilled to be a part of it. But selling test prep (or anything at all) to schools can feel scary and confusing. Those are the times it feels less like an exciting field and more like an intimidating hedge maze. Attending SXSWedu is a great way to get a sense of what's really going in EdTech and in education in general. I recommend it to everyone. You'll see amazing new products. You'll hear ideas that may well change everything before the end of the decade.  But make sure to get a good night's sleep the night before. Last night, I didn't. 

Today got off to a bad start. In truth, it all went off the rails last night. As I sat down to knock out my SXSWedu Day 1 write-up, I casually sipped what I thought was coffee that I'd helped myself to in my brother's fridge. Bad move.

It turns out my brother buys this stuff instead of normal human coffee.

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That's Cold Brew Coffee CONCENTRATE and, as you might have guessed, it's highly concentrated. As a result, my evening cup of coffee was actually more like generous cups of coffee. Bad move indeed.

So this morning, I woke up — if indeed I'd ever actually been asleep — and got right to work. After knocking out a quick software demo and an onboarding event for a new partner, I barely had time to grab a breakfast taco on my brisk walk across town to the Austin Convention Center. 

I arrived a full 20 minutes early, took my seat in the nearly empty conference room, and waited for the talk to begin.  I had been conflicted about which presentation to attend before selecting Humans of K-12 Purchasing. That meant I'd miss App Overkill - Beyond the Buzzwords which was being held simultaneously an adjacent conference room. Side note: The Hilton Austin calls these rooms "Salons," which I like because it makes me think of the old-timey definition: 

sa·lon: (n) a meeting of intellectuals or other eminent people at the invitation of a celebrity or socialite. 

I'd spoken with one of the Humans of K-12 Purchasing presenters a few years ago at an event in Dallas. She's good. And I'm fairly certain I'd seen another of the presenters at an event by a now defunct organization in Newport Beach. I was less amped about seeing him again.

His talk had been on the topic of best practices for procurement. Every person in the audience was a vendor, trying to learn the answer to the $64 million dollar question: how do we sell to schools?! His response, and I'm not joking, was this essentially this:

"You don't want to sell at the school level. Too much turn over, and too many people need permission from too many other people higher up the food chain. It'll take 18 months to get anything done. The big money is in selling higher up. As a former superintendent, I can tell you one thing. You've got to butter me up! The best way to do that is to pay to attend a Superintendents Conference. Then pay to sponsor a dinner — in my name. That'll buy you some face time with me. And then, if your product isn't garbage, I'll give it the go ahead and put you in touch with the people who will make it happen. Even then, you'd better plan on sponsoring an event every year to maintain that relationship, or else you'll lose me to a competitor."

Again, that's all paraphrased from my memory of an event in 2014, and I'm not 100% sure he's the same guy that was presenting this year. That's because I accidentally went to the wrong... salon. And so I found myself listening to the opening remarks from the panel of App Overkill - Beyond the Buzzwords. 

The talk was really good, focusing on the disconnect in priorities between the interested parties in education: students, teachers, administrators, developers, and investors. Essentially it boils down to this:

First, you must realize that everyone in education feels as though they've been burned at least a few times by the EdTech industry. Their level of animosity ranges from mildly skeptical to open disgust. Some of that is warranted. They feel like peddlers of EdTech have repeatedly broken their promises.

To deliver on that promise, you must:

1.  Create something that is IMMEDIATELY USEFUL to the teacher. In other words, don't scratch itches that aren't there. Even if you succeed in getting someone to buy it, the teachers won't use it, and the students won't even see it. 

2.  Provide the necessary onboarding and support, usually in the form of PD.  

3.  Cultivate PERSONAL buy-in from teachers. Make sure they understand how this product enhances their teaching and improves their lives. Teachers are very tired of being told to use products and adopt systems that don't actually make their lives any better.

4.  Create something that is IMMEDIATELY USABLE by the students. If they need to be onboarded at the expense of multiple days of class time, that's a deal breaker. If the teacher is going to have to answer complicated questions about the app on a regular basis or appeal to help from customer support, then that's a deal breaker.

5.  Focus on the time BETWEEN class sessions. Teachers want to enhance their teaching, not replace it. 

6.  Be prepared to prove the effectiveness of your app. 

This made me really happy. I take a lot of pride in the 100% custom branded test prep system that we've put together at Clear Choice Test Prep. We started organically, solving problems that we as test prep tutors had faced in the early days of our company. One of our very early tutors worked at a small charter school, for whom we still provide test prep services. We learned a lot from working with them. These lessons enabled us to do a better job checking off the other items on that list.

If I were a better blogger, I'd totally spin this whole post into a list of our best features and benefits, but it's late, and I don't think you really want to read that right now. So instead, I'll just note #5: Focus on the time BETWEEN class sessions. That one made me really happy. As you'll recall, I recently published a blog post called How to Raise a Student's SAT Scores Between Sessions. In it, I laid out much of the same reasoning that the presenters provided. Hearing that was further proof of concept. And as an EdTech developer, that never gets old. 

Now, I realize that most of my readers are tutors, not app developers. But this list can help you sell your tutoring and test prep services to schools. In fact, I'd venture to say that we both lucked out by sleepily wandering into the wrong salon! 

I was able to confirm that suspicion by speaking with a few people during the afternoon sessions. According to more than one source, the Humans of K-12 Purchasing featured more of the same boasting I've already heard: "I'm a former superintendent. I've got thirty-seven thousand LinkedIn followers. It takes a lot to get my attention. You've got to butter me up!" As soon as I heard someone quote the "butter me up" remark, I became very thankful to have missed that talk. There's nothing actionable about hearing someone brag about being a gate-keeper.  

So what's the lesson? Well, review list I've put together above. You'll notice a significant overlap between the criteria for a winning educational app and a successful tutoring partnership. Additionally, you need to know that the demands of administrators are not the same as the demands of teachers. The demands of students are not the same as the demands of parents. 

In the past, I've oversimplified the demand of administrators to suggest that what they really want a test prep provider who will make them look good and make their job easier. That's not wrong, but it does not account for the more complex motivations of dedicated administrators. And so, I'll amend that assessment by pointing to a quote from the administrator on the pannel.  "What I really want is a tool that can help me ask better questions when I'm meeting with my teachers." 

It's a great insight. Administrators want a window into how everything is going. They want data. And the lesson here is that you're not going to be able to maintain the relationships you've got with schools without being able to provide that data. You need that data in order to monitor your ability to generate beneficial outputs (e.g. increased time spent studying) and ultimately deliver improved outcomes (e.g. increased test scores). If you can't draw a direct line between your test prep services and increased test scores, then you're in danger of losing whatever partnerships you've got with schools. Because that was the other plea from the administrator on the pannel — and I'll end with this.

"It's time to start holding vendors accountable for the products and services they deliver."

So what exactly does your test prep tutoring deliver?  

If you answered, "a book," "photocopied worksheets," "stolen practice tests," "a fake hybrid SAT/ACT," or some combination of all four, then it's really time we had a chat. Click the link below to set up a time for a quick phone call. We've got a ton of actionable suggestions to help you grow your tutoring business. And yes, one of those suggestions is to use our 100% white label test prep system for tutors. But that's just one of them.  And after this week, I've got a whole bunch of new industry insight to share. So give us a call right now at 628-400-7737 (PREP) or click the link below to set up a time to chat!  

Mention Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate, and we'll set you up with a free practice account for a full week! (Or just ask nicely during your software demo. That works too.) 

Finally, if you'd like to learn more about how Clear Choice Test Prep can help you grow your tutoring company using our 100% custom branded test prep system, please sign up for a software demo by clicking the link below. We look forward to hearing from you!

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