Ask Gee Kin: Do Email Solicitations Really Work?

Ask Gee Kin: Do Email Solicitations Really Work?


Editor's Note: This is part of an ongoing "Ask Gee Kin" column from Gee Kin Chou, former CTO of Oakland Public Schools. He's answering questions posed by edtech entrepreneurs about building relationships with and selling to districts. If you have questions for Gee Kin, submit them here.

An anonymous EdSurge reader asks:

According to a recent report from MDR, “Seventy percent of district administrators and more than half of both K-12 and college faculty purchased an educational product or service as a result of an email solicitation.”

Is this true? Have you ever bought edtech because of an email ad? What makes these work?

I can’t speak for anyone other than myself, but I have NEVER purchased anything in direct response to an unsolicited email. Dozens of unsolicited vendor emails made it through the spam filters to my inbox every day, fighting for attention among the back-and-forth conversations of daily business. I gave up good email hygiene long ago; I learned to ignore the “unread” number: 4000+ and growing! The only unsolicited email that might have gotten my attention would be one that had a subject line that just happened to encapsulate a solution to my crisis-of-the-day, which never happened. But even then, I would not have purchased anything without research, comparison shopping and seeking input from peers and colleagues. At best, the email that strikes at just the right moment might get you on the list of products to be evaluated, but not the sale.

Jillian Lubow (TeachBoost) asks:

Our primary users are school principals, and we’ve built our software to reflect their needs. When making a district-wide purchase, how much weight do district administrators ascribe to a principal’s experience and perceived value? Where does a principal’s opinion fall in the decision-making spectrum in relation to cost, district priorities etc?

The principal’s voice is important and heard, especially if she is the targeted user. I find educators meet and discuss nearly every decision, and principals and central office administrators do not live in separate universes. But the Chief Academic Officer (or a similar senior district executive) ultimately decides what instructional tools to buy for the district.

Most districts impose a limit on the size of a contract that can be approved by district executives without competitive bidding and board approval. All proposals in a competitive bid must be evaluated according to the same rubric which can include any factors in addition to cost. It is unlikely “principals’ voice” would be explicitly called out as one of the factors in the rubric; instead, principals would be included in the evaluation committee to score factors such as “ease-of-use” and “alignment to common core standards.”

But regardless of whether the district is deciding on the merits of purchasing a particular product, or deciding among several responses to a competitive bid, evaluations are not necessarily democratic or totally objective. Although the CAO may listen to her principals, she will inevitably hear her own voice the loudest since nearly everyone who holds this position was a teacher and a principal earlier in her career, and she bears ultimate responsibility for the educational performance of the district. This is why edtech companies must pursue a central office strategy in parallel to working with schools. You cannot depend solely on principals and teachers to sell on your behalf.

Products that do not address a district priority for the current year are unlikely to be considered for purchase before fiscal year end (June 30th). Companies should use the time to work with teachers and principals to create demand and loyalty, and with the central office to get your product budgeted for the following year.

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