Schools in the UK rely on a huge number of suppliers to deliver vital services and solutions to ensure they operate efficiently and deliver the best education possible to their pupils.

Historically, when schools largely operated under local authorities, buying decisions were controlled by a central budget – from the purchase of big-ticket items, such as computers, to everyday supplies like stationary. This provided limited opportunities for businesses, especially SMEs, who wanted to sell into schools, as the market was dominated by just a select number of big players.

However, in the early 2000s, the first wave of academies was launched. As independent, non-selective, state-funded schools that fall outside the control of local authorities, academies were able to make their own buying decisions. As of today, there are 1,170 multi-academy trusts (MATs) in England, managing at least two schools. With the Department for Education (DfE) targeting that all schools become academies by 2030, this will open the market wider to businesses of all sizes who want to supply schools.

Whether you develop e-learning tools for students, manufacture classroom furniture or school sports equipment, provide cleaning and security services on school premises, design school uniforms, or build software to manage a teacher’s workload, you will need to understand how best to market to schools.

Here are our top tips on how to market to schools and academies:

Understand pain points affecting schools

Schools are faced with constant challenges throughout the school year. This could be related to changes to education policy, skills shortages across different departments, resourcing, or funding. Take the time to fully understand the pain points of the school and adapt your messaging to state how you can solve these problems. Typically, schools will only have the money to spend on services and solutions that will offer clear value – so invest time to ensure your marketing messages are fit for purpose.

Understand the role of headteachers and school business professionals

Whilst teachers will have input about classroom-related products, many suppliers will need to speak with non-teaching staff, or members of the senior leadership team, such as the headteacher of the school. Furthermore, the roles and responsibilities of a school business professional will vary across different schools and academies, however, it can incorporate procurement, marketing, finance, HR, and infrastructure. Make sure you talk to the right people.

Timing is key when marketing to schools

We are all jealous of our teacher friends that receive 13 weeks off each year, including six long weeks during the summer. It is important to factor this in when you’re mapping out your marketing campaign start and end dates. In addition to the summer holidays, Christmas and Easter are best avoided. Research suggests teachers and school business professionals are more likely to make buying decisions in the summer term too.

Remember your audience when marketing to schools

Yes, they might get 13 weeks off a year – but teachers work incredibly hard. Each day is fast-paced, moving from one class, or even classroom, to another. There is very little downtime for most teachers to reply to emails or take calls, so it is important to keep this in mind when marketing your products. If you need to call them, you are far more likely to speak with the correct member of staff from 3.30 pm. Headteachers and school business professionals will spend more time behind their desks but will also be equally as busy during term times. Keep this in mind when sending follow-up correspondence and proposals.

Prioritise an exceptional customer experience

Word of mouth and referrals is a key part of the armoury of every marketer. If you deliver a professional service or valuable product to a school and supplement this with a first-class experience, the teacher or department heads holding the purse strings are more likely to keep coming back throughout their tenure. They are also likely to share their experiences with fellow teachers at industry networking events (they are not stereotypical competitors after all).

Invest in inbound marketing to attract schools

We understand that selling to schools is an incredibly time-consuming process that requires bundles of effort and patience – so how would you like schools to directly come to you? Strategically investing in inbound marketing can ensure you have a ready-made pipeline of warm leads wanting to know more about the value you can add to their school.

HubSpot has done a lot of work defining inbound marketing, describing it as a “method of growing your organisation by building meaningful, lasting relationships with consumers, prospects, and customers. It’s about valuing and empowering these people to reach their goals at any stage in their journey with you”.

Your inbound marketing strategies should be designed to attract schools and education professionals. This will typically be achieved by publishing high-value content – such as blogs, articles, content offers and social media. You should also optimise this content as part of a wider SEO strategy, to attract potential customers through search engine page results (SERPs).

Join the social conversation

When posting on social media, don’t publish continuous messages that simply outline your services. Instead, try to add value and insight when engaging with your followers. You will find many interesting conversations by monitoring the relevant industry hashtags, such as #ukedchat #sltchat #uksbmchat. Follow key industry authorities and news sources, such as Tes, The Schools & Academies Show, Schools Week, Inside Government, Education Technology and more. They provide a vital source of information for you to learn from and share.

A website that ticks the boxes

If you’re using inbound marketing effectively, you will be driving a lot of relevant traffic back to your website – therefore, it must look the part. School leaders and business professionals will want to see clear and concise messaging regarding your services and the value you deliver. Steer clear of jargon and huge blocks of text – the key is to make the information as digestible as possible.

Positive reviews can be vital to buyers at schools

If you have delivered a brilliant service, why not ask your existing school customers to write a review for your website. You can also add these recommendations to Google, Trustpilot or education-focused supplier directories. This is a highly effective form of social proof that helps to build trust and authority.

Create compelling case studies

If one of your customers is happy to write a review, chances are they would be perfect for a case study. These can be published on your website, as well as used as key sales literature that can be sent to prospects and leads.

Outline the brief/challenge you faced, what solution you put in place, and the results, before including testimonials and soundbites. This doesn’t just have to be in written form – the technology enthusiasts amongst us could also create a video case study.

Don’t be afraid to use Google AdWords

Whilst inbound marketing methodology is highly effective, it can take time to generate results – especially in competitive sectors such as education. Many suppliers may choose to initially roll out a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign to generate immediate results, as well as use it to complement other activities over time.

How to sell to private schools?

There are currently around 2,600 independent schools and colleges in the UK, which educate approximately 7% of all British children. As you’d expect, private schools are more cash-rich than state-funded schools and they will have more money to invest in industry-leading services and solutions as they compete with fellow schools. The process of selling to schools becomes more aligned to typical business sales, and you will need to identify the most appropriate contact to speak to.

Get in front of schools at trade shows

Trade shows and conferences offer the perfect opportunity for suppliers to the education sector to get in front of a large proportion of their target market. By exhibiting at industry events, you will be able to engage in conversation with school leaders and build those all-important face-to-face relationships – which can make all the difference when it comes to pitching later down the line. Event organisers will also work closely with you to ensure you can maximise your return on investment.

At GovNet, we continue to build a strong portfolio of specialist exhibitions and conferences dedicated to the education sector, including The Schools and Academies Show, The EdTech Summit, The Higher Education Conference, Skills & Employability Summit, The Independent Schools Conference, and many more, including hundreds of training courses through Inside Government.

Download our education brochure or request a meeting with the team today