Working with Channel Sales in K12

I am going to assume that if you are reading this blog post that you do not have an electronics product for sale at all Best Buy retail stores. And we will skip the overview of channel sales and get right down to some of the channels (broadly defined) that work in K12.

The Big IT Resellers

CDW-G and Synnex (with their associated sub-channels) handle much of the K12 reseller sales. They have massive sales teams with regional coverage and they will sell their clients just about anything.

Some products are a very good fit for these guys. Hardware of all kinds is generally easy to sell and because a reseller rep can have the hardware in his hand, he can generally make the sale. Security software is also a nice fit for the large reseller sale because it is a nice add-on to the simple hardware sale. Protective cases – same thing.

Other products are more difficult to sell through the big guys. If you need a demo to sell your product, then it may not be a good fit for the big reseller channel. The message gets lost in translation as it moves from regional manager to regional rep and you might cringe at how those reps are positioning your product.

If your average sale price is small compared to other products in K12 it may be neglected by regional reps. They may run the risk of jeopardizing their core product sales with add-ons like yours.

Perhaps most importantly, if there is an established incumbent that you are trying to dethrone with your product, you will have some serious convincing to get the reseller reps to push you above the sure thing.

A Smaller Alternative

Like many business sectors, K12 sales are heavily relationship driven – for better and worse. While the large resellers can certainly build relationships like anyone else, there are a number of regional, smaller resellers, many of whom emerged out of the school systems themselves, and are well tuned to their local markets. One example is New Mind Group out of Michigan. These guys provide an extra layer of service to their clients to ensure that their sales stick and that their customers are happy.

Tierney Brothers is another small reseller that might be a good fit for your product. Based out of Minnesota, this team focuses on interactive solutions to different verticals. With a narrowed focus, the team is able to provide a high level of expertise to their clients that someone selling you anything and everything might not be able to offer.

Education Service Agencies

Aside from the reseller channel there are other, less conventional, sales channels to consider in K12. Education Service Agencies (ESA’s) are a strange construct. These government institutions sit between the public school district and the state in the bureaucracy and can act as both a cooperative negotiation mechanism on behalf of many schools or districts at once and serve as an implementation partner. They become a channel, in a sense, once you hatch a contract because they can then essentially ‘sell’ your product to the districts they represent. They do not actually carry out the transaction, but they will sometimes write contracts to support your sale with technical assistance in exchange for a percentage of the revenue. This motivates to represent your product to their member districts.

PD Professionals

Professional learning contractors will sometimes rep your product. You want to be careful here because it is unprofessional for both you and the trainer to push a product that is not necessarily a good fit just because you want to sell and your trainer friend would like a spiff. However, if there is someone who specializes in training in an area directly related to your service, there is no harm in compensating someone who may already be an advocate of what you have to offer.

Education Platforms

There are a number of education platforms that may be able to assist you with your sales. EdSurge has categorized several categories of curators or aggregators of education offerings. Education app curators, and content resource curators are two examples. Edmodo is a social education platform with millions of teacher users and has both a content marketplace and an invitation for education company partners. Google has the Play store. Apple has the App store. And in the future we can probably expect to see the front running free platforms like Class Dojo, Clever, and Remind opening possibilities for vendor partnerships.

The education platform channel is nascent. Experiment where you can and then commit where you have success. You may find one platform to be a ghost town for your type of product, and then discover another to be the bustling bazaar that takes you to your next level of sales.

The Channel Commitment

You don’t go into channel sales without some infrastructure development and a commitment to relationship management. A half-hearted commitment to channel sales will frustrate all parties and is unlikely to help you meet your goal of growing company revenue. You will know when you are ready – and when you are, be sure to jump in with both feet. 

photo credit: tableatny, CC 2.0

About Jack West

Consultant, writer, analyst, teacher, coach, maker.

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