When you talk to most people about their college experiences, you will often hear them reminisce of wild parties, last minute attempts to cram a whole semester worth of information into one gruesome all nighter, and rolling out of bed still in pajamas to head off to class.  I have been fortunate enough to revisit this area in a much different way through teleprospecting. Prospecting into the education space brings a set of unique challenges. Below are some tips that I have found helpful.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm:

If you want to catch your decision maker live while prospecting in this space, train yourself to be a morning person. Most business offices in education close at 4:30 pm. If you try around this time or after, your C-Level or Director level executive will most likely be gone hours before or too swamped with meetings to talk. The best connect rate times I have experienced are between 8 am and 10 am after my exec has had a first cup of coffee, or between 1pm to 2:30pm right after my exec has had lunch but before being tossed into a slew of afternoon meetings. If you’re used to procrastinating on that project until the last minute or learning the entire Chinese language the night before a final, this space may not be for you.

What’s in a name? Avoiding Procurement and the IT Help Desk:

One of the biggest differences in prospecting in the higher education space is the general IT number, the IT Help Desk. This is often manned by a student worker trained to answer easy questions about how students can connect to the internet, or transfer vendors to the procurement department. Neither leads to the information you need unless there is an RFP out for the specific kind of software you are calling about.

The best way to get around this is to find at least one name of someone in the organization close to the title you’re looking for. Fortunately, if you are stuck, there are organizational charts and staff directories listed on most University websites that give a brief description of different areas of IT. Information for the CIO’s office is typically listed if other staff members are not. This can also be a good way to get a referral from a trusted colleague and build credibility with your prospect.

The Elephant in the Room, Budget:

I often joke with my colleagues that finding a prospect with an appropriate budget for software in the higher education space is like finding a unicorn while walking in the woods. Budget is the number one objection I face while prospecting. It is always best to address this elephant in the room and find ways to work with them rather than avoid it.

Many schools start budgeting in July at the start of their fiscal year, and may budget out anywhere from one to five years in advance. Knowing how and when schools budget is crucial to success, and should play a key part in messaging to your prospects.  For example, if a prospect objects that they have no budget until the start of the fiscal year and you’re calling in April, ask your prospect if it would make sense to have a conversation now so that they can have an informed idea of how much your project will cost when they go to budget in July. They may be more open to an initial discussion to learn about your product once the pressure of an immediate close on a sale is taken off.

If you’re in a situation where your prospect says they will not have budget for another few years and it makes no sense to talk, ask them to educate you about the environment anyway. Your prospect could have a change of heart if they find a solution much better than what is currently being used, or that a few years may change to one year or six months with a change of administration.

Decisions… Decisions

Be aware that the decision making process is made differently in certain types of schools.  Groups of community colleges and technical or trade schools often consolidate IT resources into one data center to maximize use of tools. I find it useful to call into separate branches of these organizations first to get the end user prospective and then reach out to the central department.

State schools rely heavily on state funding, and the financial health of a state will play into how much those schools will be willing to spend. Similar to community colleges, states schools often belong to a university or college system. If so, it is important to ask what relationship those schools have with the rest of the system. If the relationship is autonomous or semi-autonomous, you may be looking into multiple opportunities.

The last and most important tip I have found useful is to have fun. The education space is challenging, but full of colorful characters. I have heard every response from prospects, from not interested but I can offer you a free kitten, to a comparison of current IT solutions to Romper Room on Ritalin. But those are stories for another day.