13 Untold Truth Of Selling To Schools In India

I am not sure about many other startups selling to schools, but we had a hard time to cross gatekeeper and speak with the principal of the school. Our first few customers (schools) were from references only and slowly we found some more customers who were willing to try our product.
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The education industry in India is considered to be a multi-billion market. First-time entrepreneurs (like me) plunge into a startup with the aim to sell to schools and make a lot of money with ease. This ease becomes unease in a couple of months when it becomes f**king difficult to get even the first appointment with the school principal.

school

Education and Healthcare are two such categories where no one wants to compromise. People spent a hefty amount on child’s education and family health. You think that schools are making so much money these days, so why can’t I sell something to schools and be part of their success. Agree?

Don’t consider schools as cash cows or low hanging fruits.

My experience with schools was not great in my first startup. I am not sure about many other startups selling to schools, but we had a hard time to cross gatekeeper and speak with the principal of the school. Our first few customers (schools) were from references only and slowly we found some more customers who were willing to try our product.

But what is the problem with schooling industry? I am sharing few points with my experience of selling to schools.

  1. Most of the schools do not care about student’s education. They are running business and all they care about making $$$ money.
  2. They are interested in product that can be sold to parents irrespective of how beneficial it is for student. I have seen smart boards in some schools that appear to be rarely used for teaching. They just joined the race of becoming smart school so that they can charge more from parents.
  3. They don’t even buy your product free of cost if its not a money earning instrument. *You keep 30% schools keep 70%* product may be sold.
  4. Don’t talk about benefit of student’s learning, better humans, and relationship with parents?—?Talk about how to lure parents to get more admissions!! (Smart Class tactics)
  5. They don’t look at your brochures. Leave it at reception or their desk and it will go straight to dustbin.
  6. Most of email-ids mentioned on their website do not exist, yes, emails bounce from their official email-ids!!! Surprised?
  7. Some email-ids exist but no one opens them, if they open then never respond!! Very low ROI from email marketing. It only works with mature & Internet savvy schools.
  8. Its difficult to find who is the decision maker. Principal live like a puppet, without having any power to take decisions. He is the top profile for parents and teachers but not for startups.
  9. Decision makers do not sit inside schools. They are running their own businesses somewhere else (Builders, Trustees, Management Directors, Owners)
  10. It takes about 4 to 6 months to close a deal with school. If you are lucky, they will pay on time.
  11. No one knows what sort of software is required in their school. They believe they are running the super efficient software, but you will find them working on excel sheets.
  12. They don’t really cares about technology, next generation software, go-green initiative, data protection or security unless you solve their real pain point.
  13. Don’t even talk about transparency of activities through software!! Their business involves black money and they are scared to hell to disclose anything. Ssshhh…

But the time demands a revolution in the field of education field. I have shared my experience with different schools in Gurgaon, Delhi and Chandigarh area. Like humans, all schools are not same. There are always exceptions. Some schools are doing awesome work for students and teachers. It all depends on their management and school’s business.

If you care about student development, then stop selling to schools and shift your focus to selling directly to parents. Only parents can appreciate student-focused product because they genuinely care about their kid’s future.

If we can fix education, many other things will be fixed automatically. Better human beings make better societies.

Create something to add value to the future generation. There are lots of fresh engineers, commerce & arts graduates, but companies are struggling to find talent. Make something to make students skilled & employable. Or build something that can reach to masses at low cost and add high value to their lives (English teaching mobile apps).

I failed at my education venture, but you can learn from my mistakes and build next big thing. I am running a personal finance blog CashOverflow. Please leave your feedback and share your experience selling to Indian schools.

pardeep[About the author: Pardeep is an Entrepreneur, who left his job to explore his passion in startups. He co-founded two startups in past. Now, a freelance writer, digital marketer and running a blog on personal finance – CashOverflow.in. He can be followed on Twitter @pardeepg]

Image credit: Shutterstock
26 comments
  1. Sadly we at Testpress faced the same with selling to entrance exam coaching institutes. We shifted to 30% and 70% in the initial days and doing better now.

  2. Pradeep- you are spot on.. I am writing this while on a BD trip to schools …its not easy ..problem is getting access to decision makers like trustees or parents .. And it remains a sad truth ..the only people interested in a child education in this entire industry are parents..

  3. Try to get into partnership with the person who are already selling to schools. Like banks who sell their current accounts to the schools. But it is easier said than done 🙂

  4. We also tried this model but it has it’s own drawbacks. Your so called partners work with many other similar companies and they try to sell any garbage to school that have big margins.

  5. Hi Pardeep, since now you do not sell to schools can you pass on the leads / contacts / references as we do sell to schools, colleges and universities, an integrated business app. More details http://www.iwebtechno.com. We have had similar experiences but I tell you mate, times are changing! A lot of schools colleges are indeed getting professional, India will be different in the coming decade my friend!!!

  6. Pardeep – while what you have said is largely true, you have to understand a few things about selling to schools:
    1. The principal is usually “hounded” by sellers. Sellers selling books, software, insurance, and what not. It’s very hard to service everyone who wants to meet, and do your regular job. To put it in short – it’s hard to differentiate signal from noise.
    2. In case of software specifically, there are a couple of things which stick out:
    a. Software packages do not give a complete solution to the problems faced by teachers and management. The seller relies on the principal to do all the integration of 50 different software packages. A little steep expectation – given that people dealing with schooling are not software engineers. Excel is the way out in such cases, as all data can be put in, analysed and presented as required. If the package does actually solve a problem, then it is astronomically priced.
    b. Most of the times though, the software developer or company has designed a product after speaking to a neighbourhood teacher. Hard to digest, but true. There is no reality check. To top that, the developer expects the staff and management to undergo changes in the way they operate drastically. There is no hand-holding provided.
    c. Most of the software is a duplicate of what has either already been sold to the school, or has been seen before. There are only marginal incremental changes which are highlighted. The worst of the lot is SCHOOL MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE. There are literally a hundred packages out there who do the same thing in a different way.
    3. The Internet bandwidth of a school is limited and/or flaky. Very few schools can afford leased lines.
    4. Many times it is found that the person who is showing something is selling the product or service to himself. (S)he doesn’t care whether the other side of the table is interested or not. The seller needs to gauge the reactions of the other person, and tune the presentation on the fly. This, of course, is not restricted just to schools.

    While the schooling domain is a tough nut to crack, many people have done it. A few points:
    1. Don’t start selling in cities, unless you have a great contact – possibly someone who is a well-connected as an educationist.
    2. Understand the pain points, and then make your pitch. Every school, while the same, always feels that they have a unique problem. Listen, and then suggest how you can make a difference.
    3. Software should generally reduce work of people. It should be fault tolerant, and very easy to configure / manage and support. Expect people to call you up every time some issue comes up, and give advise for free for the initial period.
    4. Don’t expect quick turnarounds. Even when a school does buy software, the purchase is made by the management. But, the end employees will take time to adjust, and will most likely resist the change. You have to be present when they resist to make sure that the transition is smooth.
    5. When all the above goes through, expect the school to recommend you to others – as they will be happy customers.

    To summarize – if you are a startup – aim for customer delight. Go the extra mile. Make them happy.

  7. Thanks Nikhil for sharing your thoughts. Insightful!!

    We also faced these issues with the schools but the bottom line is adding value to the education system. There are many companies fooling schools, and schools fooling parents and ultimate loser is the student 🙂

    I hope to see more young blood in school management who appreciate technology and revolutionize education system with the help of genuine startups.

  8. Pardeep – what you have said is very ambiguous. What seems good to me, can be bad for you, and average for someone else.
    Young blood in school management will definitely introduce technology into education – but the downside is that the young folks have no touch with reality of the classroom. There has to be a fine balance of technology and face to face teaching, especially in schools. This is the primary reason why e-Learning solutions never really caught on in schools (well, they did, and the bubble burst quickly).
    Startups dealing with school education, as I mentioned in my earlier comment, need to have a reality check – which is not only devised by talking to a few teachers, but also by actually jumping in experiencing it for themselves. Only then will we see products and services which have “been there and done that”.
    It’s a tough job – but highly under estimated by startup folks. I hope that startup founders really get their hands dirty *before* they start building a product or service. Founders need to understand *they* have to be bridges between technology and education. The product or service that they build will automatically fall in line with their thoughts.

  9. Thanks a lot for this article. I am the co-founder of a startup which deals in mobile/internet payments. I have heard feedback from dozens of parents about how irritating they find it to go and make DD/Cheque payments in school, or deposit the money in the school’s bank.

    So, demand from end-users exists. It also helps the schools with collection and settlements, gets rid of long lines at their counters, etc.

    There is a value-add. But I am encountering the same humongous difficulties as you have outlined. Gaining entry is tough. And then, its not easy to find out who the decision maker is.

    Any pointers/suggestions, keeping in mind my specific solution offering?

  10. Hi Pradeep,

    That was insightfull,I am working as the national sales manager for One of the startups that provides experiential learning and activity based learning in classrooms.

    I have a similar experience with schools and when I took up this job, I tried to measure different approaches to schools and was shocked to see that, mailers get a response of 2%, walkin success is at 1.5% and refferals is at 7%.In a way collaboration is the best way we can sell to schools.

    On that note if any of you can help me with leads that would be much appeciated, and if any of you can help me with contacts i can work with as channel partners that would be of great help.You can get in touch with me on
    purna@yardstick.co.in
    9985402348

  11. Let me share my feedback wonderfully compiled info. Being an entrepreneur I fully endorse this info that has been shared. Keep blogging, the road less traveled keeps opening up new avenues. I am outside got the link from friend will share full feedback in a day or so. Keep going.

  12. I agree with the points made by Nikhil. I was part of a team that set up a school and a teachers training college (Eklavya in Ahmedabad) at a time when Education had not yet become an industry. Post that based on our experience in understanding school education first hand we set up Educational Initiatives which for the past 13 years is working with schools in India, Gulf and Singapore. Our customer base is across 1000+ top schools in these locations. My two bits based on working first hand with over 2000 schools.

    1. Schools who have established themselves have done it based on a lot of dedication and hard work by the founders and if the founders are also looking into the academic rigor of the school (yes there are a sizable founder principal run schools), then these schools should be the first target. They are difficult to reach because they are inherently suspicious of sales people. So the best bet is for the owners of the educational companies to reach out directly to the founder principals and make a pitch to them. The founder principals do not like talking money or cuts or discounts but they want to understand how the product/ service will help their students so they can be pretty demanding of quality and dismissive of faddish products.

    2. These owners who take a keen interest in the quality of their schools, have a network of their own and each network has one or two people who are the pedagogy experts. Most other owners who are not that much into education look to these pedagogy expert owners for ratification on any new concept which involves collecting money from students.

    3. The second group of schools that focus on quality are the iconic schools in each city. EI had done a survey of top schools in metros (called the metro school study) and created a list of the top schools as per public perception. These iconic schools again are very difficult to crack because of the layered process of decision making and the best way to reach them is through reference possibly from the first group of owner principals. Unfortunately the owner principal group is more innovative and the iconic schools tend to rest on past glory and are not early adopters.

    4. We always took a stand of being completely transparent in our pricing and stuck to it without exception. This is difficult for front line sales people to accept but when persisted with, it has long term benefits of schools respecting your stand.

    5. There are owners of schools who talk and discuss money as the first and sometimes only point of discussion but even in these schools, they do respect you if you stick to your stand of quality and deliver to your promise.

    6. More than any other industry, education is not a place for a quick buck. Schools are resistant to change because they are balancing a lot of forces (parents, teachers, management, press, politicians and govt) and any quick movement can cause imbalance between these forces. So if one has long term views and plans then educational interactions can be very rewarding (financially and intrinsically).

    7. There is space for a lot of educational companies that focus on fundamental issues like reading, neuroscience, values, project based learning, teacher education, principal training and a sustained effort can make a big impact on lives of millions of children who come to school wanting to learn and grow.

  13. I am an education sales consultant and founder of Graphyke. We are helping edtech companies in selling their products to schools. Some of my finding and ways to sell product

    1. Its more important to build the trust in education industry rather than selling your product on day one. Segregate your product into free and premium product. For the 1st meeting if you meet the principal offer only free products. Principal has rights to take decision on free to use products.

    2. If you have visited a school and you are lucky enough to meet a teacher or principal, trust me you have found the person who can be your evangelist. Try to engage your evangelist in activities which will help him or her to remember you.

    3. Conduct some free event in the city or in the school to spread your name across the founders and key decision makers. Surely founder would not be interested in knowing who is coming for the sales but would be interested in knowing if some free event is happening in his or her school

    4. Before approaching establishes schools, approach small and new schools, they are open to new products which can help them to be in the competition.

    5. Don’t sell anything in tier 1 city directly, sell your product in tier 2 cities where you get enough scope for experiments. Initially focus on number of schools, rather than quality of school.

    6. If your product is for playgroup schools – A playgroup school never becomes an established school, any new player can come in and disrupt the existing players. The ultimate need of a playgroup is engaging their parents, and look for more new parents. Think of engagement activities with parents, and make sure its not free.

    Recently to upsell one of our client’s product in playgroup school, we conducted parenting sessions in corporate companies. It worked for us, we closed more than 25 playgroups in a month as we offered them free marketing of their school during the session.

    7. Tie up with sales channel partners, they can take you to the right places if they see a good margin your product.

    8. Every principal is connected to every other principal, explore their network

    9. In your city search the best and known school, ask the principal of that school to be your mentor. You can get a lot of information about the education market of that city or area from them.

  14. Very true.. spent 2 years post my failed edtech startup experience in learning about learning science and pedagogy / andragogy / heutagogy. Currently manage industry-academia portfolio for a large IT MNC

  15. Hello,

    We are having digital educational content for K-5 classes in 2D & 3D. We also provide interactive and assessment based learning. We are planning to hire regional sales agents.Please let us know if you can help.

    I appreciate your time and inputs.
    http://cubedigico.com/Demo.html

    Thank you,

  16. We agree to your points, started a startup for education ERP on the cloud, Got limited traction and for most of the schools, Software does not become part of capital expenditure, It is a revenue expenditure and none of them are interested in value add. More often, teachers dont have time to digitize the lesson plans, and take time to focus on analytics of progression of students. We have closed down our venture. Time for something different now…

    My single point advise to all who want to make money in schools is simple: Start with having connections and network in schools. There is limited scope for principals to make decision except certain schools. Also be clear with your financers that it needs a deep pocket to start making revenue and eventually profit. Most of financers will perish after 12 months… This is a clear B2B model.

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