Vertical Leap: Get Schooled in Education Sales

Vertical Leap: Get Schooled in Education Sales

Third in our series of Vertical Leaps

Today’s classroom is a far cry from the chalkboards and yardsticks of yore. Technology has made public schools look more like modern offices with a proliferation of IT that has radically altered – and dramatically improved – education in much of the developed world.

The trend toward connected classrooms and tech-enabled students has spawned vast opportunity for channel partners that now find the education vertical a lucrative and fertile space. Global spending on education technology in classrooms topped $13 billion last year, up 11 percent from 2012, according to Futuresource Consulting.

The growing use of technology in the classroom is making education better and producing a generation of graduates with sharper skills, broader knowledge and no experience with the tedium of dated, old-school materials and methods, according to McKinsey & Co.

The high-tech push in schools is hot for mobile devices, networking and peripherals. According to the latest data from the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of educators polled say they and their students will be using mobile phones in the classroom to complete assignments. Forty-five percent say they and their students use e-readers and 43 percent use tablets as part of their day-to-day education.

Supporting these devices, most of which are purchased and owned by the faculty and students, requires a fair bit of mobile management acumen and a requisite increase in wireless networking and local printing capabilities in schools. Ninety-two percent of teachers tell the Pew Center just being connected to the Internet has had a “major impact” on their ability to share ideas with other teachers, while 67 percent say the Web has had a similar positive effect on their ability to interact with parents; 57 percent say it has say it has done the same for their interaction with students.

A recent CompTIA study finds 70 percent of teachers employ high-tech education tools such as classroom management software, interactive whiteboards and digital textbooks. More than 80 percent of America’s classrooms now have Wi-Fi access.

It’s not surprising then that data from the latest Ingram Micro SMB 500 list finds 30 of the distributor’s most successful solution provider partners focus on the education vertical. The trend toward high-tech learning gives these partners an edge in revenues and growth, according to the SMB 500 research compiled by Ingram Micro’s Business Intelligence Center and U.S. SMB Business Unit and channel research services firm The 2112 Group, the parent company of Channelnomics.com.

Education-focused VARs on the Ingram Micro SMB 500 list show three-year growth averaging close to 219 percent.

The Ingram Micro and 2112 data shows most sales in education come in systems (27 percent), components (23 percent), software (22 percent) and networking (21 percent). Print and related peripherals still make a solid showing at 19 percent.

The use of those print resources indicates the value of the opportunity for partners. Where enterprises spend 3 percent of their revenues on business printing and imaging, according to Gartner, schools come in well above that at 8.1 percent, on average. K-12 schools spend about 6.2 percent of their budgets on printing while institutions of higher learning come in at a whopping 10 percent. Couple that with findings by All Associates that 83 percent of education decision-makers don’t know what they spend on printing and imaging, and 68 percent feel their print infrastructure isn’t living up to its potential, and the possibilities for managed print services in this important vertical space become clear.

Managed print services represent a perfect lesson plan for wringing out inefficiencies and cost while supporting cutting-edge capabilities for networked and wirelessly-accessible imaging in a market that values both frugality and superior functionality. Whether you’re a print services partner with an eye on education sales, or a seasoned education IT specialist looking to expand into print services, here are a few of the vertical’s unique considerations for closing deals:

  • Different priorities. Where many B2B clients seek business benefits and cost savings purchase in their IT contracts, schools have different motives. Roughly 63 percent of K-12 schools and 55 percent of colleges are focused on improving the educational experience for students, CompTIA found. And most buyers at schools come from an education background, not from IT. Sales pitches need to go beyond technical merit and speak the language of the teacher. It’s also important to note the benefits of color printing over black-and-white: K-12 customers are more sensitive to costs, thus they are more apt to adopt black-and-white printing options, but according to a recent University of Massachusetts study, “thinking visually in color promotes long-term meaningful learning and problem-solving achievement” –customers should understand the additional cost of the color equipment and upkeep can be made up in the educational benefits for students.
  • Cost and efficiency counts. Don’t lose sight of the fact that pitches for more technology in the classroom need to address benefits to education as well as improvements in organizational efficiency. For example, the expansion of remote and mobile access coupled with integrated unified communications and networked printing can eliminate the need for repetitive curriculum development and let teachers deliver existing material that’s varied and customized to different classes.
  • Stay nimble. Basic technology solutions often suffer the most pricing pressure and are first to succumb to budget cuts. That puts the burden on the partner to view the classroom as a holistic IT opportunity. According to CompTIA, some 25 percent of higher-education institutions have adopted some form of cloud computing services. And some 40 percent of schools are looking to add unified communications solutions this year, which makes schools both a deep and wide IT sales opportunity for enterprising education partners.
  • Understand the cycle. There are no quick turnarounds in education sales, where navigating the procurement cycle takes an average of 20 months, according to our research. Large contracts near year’s end are out of the question in this market, where more than 90 percent of school budgets are spoken for by mid-July. Solution providers serious about building an education practice need to raise their comfort level with such cycles and consider hiring an experienced government procurement expert well-versed in dealing with schools and administrators.

Despite tight municipal budgets, spending on IT initiatives in the classroom is rising, and schools are looking to solution providers with education practices to fill the need for cutting-edge technology.

The reason for this proliferation of education technology is simple: It works. Nearly 80 percent of the educators polled by CompTIA say classroom tech has improved education results, processes and performances. Some 65 percent of teachers say increased use of technologies such as mobile devices, remote access and collaboration tools, and networked and wireless printing has made students more productive than they were just three years ago.

Solution providers that can master these skills stand to reap rich rewards from the education vertical. Integral to this opportunity are print infrastructure and print services, two vital pieces in the IT strategy for a vertical market that spends well above average for printing and imaging.

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