A digital strategy is not enough for most K12 education companies. While it is certainly possible to market and sell low cost products through entirely digital channels, once the price point for your product or service exceeds a certain threshold, you will need to press the flesh to sell it to schools. For some schools that threshold might be as low as $2,000. For others, it might be the RFP threshold, which varies, but is generally not less than $10,000.
The decision makers in schools and districts are accountable for their purchases to their boards. They want to meet the throat they will choke if things go south on your delivery. Since most K12 institutions are not terribly friendly to sales visits, conferences can be a great place to build the relationships that lead to meaningful deals.
You were hoping the question I would answer for you is, “What are the must—go conferences?” If you start with that question, however, you are missing the point. It is not the conference that matters most. It is the opportunity to meaningfully connect with a potential client that will determine your success in growing your business.
Few conferences offer the opportunity to directly connect with prospective buyers in a meaningful way. The exhibitor hall at major conferences, like those held for subject area associations (e.g. NSTA, NCTM), or the large edtech gathering in July each year, ISTE, can be a decent place to keep your brand top of mind in the space, but without planning and intention, your leads are are not likely to be decision makers, and your impact will be difficult to measure. Impressions are important, but if you want to sell, you need to be prepared.
Book Meetings Before You Go
Fortunately for you, the contact information for K12 decision makers is generally easy to get. Identify who you think would benefit from your product or service and reach out to people near to the venue to your target conference one or two months prior to the event and book meetings. For some, learning about your product will be enough enticement. For others, you will need to entice them with other types of engagement where you have something to offer besides your product or service. Perhaps a hosted dinner with a featured speaker.
Participate in the Conference As a Contributor to the Field
Casting out your net on the conference floor will fetch you everyone who is looking for your free, branded USB charger, and your LED pens, but if you want respect from decision makers, you need leather bound journals. Just kidding. Sort of. If you want to bring interest to what you have to offer, then apply to present at the conference. Get up on the stage and share something of value related to the field in which your product or service resides. Build credibility through genuine contribution to the field.
If you do this, your audience is very likely to be in the prospective buyer zone. Then, you can ask the attendees to sign in, and follow up with a communication campaign that starts very warm.
Pay for the Email List?
Many large conferences will allow you to rent the email list of attendees. This is a great way to gather interest for meetings, and follow up with those who attended. If you hope to continue emailing those on the list, in most cases, you will need to have them opt in to your mailing list. This requires some creativity and a value offering that is out of the scope of this article.
Look at Smaller Venues with an Integrative Approach
There are a few reputable organizations that bring together education purchase decision makers with industry influencers and ecosystem companies to participate in forums and round tables together. Your participation at these boutique gatherings will be quite different than a hard sell. You will be expected to contribute like a regular attendee. Your sale happens after the fact; resulting from the trust you built by demonstrating your commitment to field. This setting is not for everyone. If you are not deeply knowledgeable about the K12 space, you might do more harm than good here. Tread carefully.
See Beyond the Exhibitor Hall
Conferences can be an expensive undertaking. If all you expect to gain is some immeasurable top of mind awareness building (or maintenance), then spend a hundred grand on your 30 x 30 floor space. If what you would like to do is grow your business with normal cycle sales, you can make that happen with mindful preparation and meaningful connections.