School Districts Purchasing Cycle
It’s essential for education vendors to understand when school districts make their product and services purchases. That’s because providers must time their marketing efforts to get the best return on investment. Essentially, it’s not worthwhile to advertise offerings after budgets have already been drawn up and schools have bought what they need.
So, businesses in this sector must craft and distribute their marketing content at the times that are most likely to eventually result in purchases. When are those periods? At what point in the year is it most beneficial to go all out on marketing, and when is it advantageous to push less or not at all? This article will explore the different phases of the purchasing cycle and the best (and worst) periods to advertise.
Education Budgets and Spending by Numbers
It may be helpful to get a sense of finances and statistics before we dive into the purchasing cycle. According to information aggregated by Education Data, the public education system services more than 50 million K-12 students. In doing so, schools spend almost $670 billion, which works out to just over $13,000 per student every year.
Local, state, and federal bodies give schools a little over $15,000 per pupil, coming to a total of just under $765 billion. Of this, federal government allocations come to shy of 8% of the total budget, which is a little below $1,200 per learner. That’s less than 0.4% of taxpayer income. The rest of the funds come from state and local governments, with state governments spending only a few hundred dollars more than local ones. New York schools spend the most per K-12 student, while Idaho spends the least.
Interestingly, governments at all levels combined allocate more budget than schools spend. In fact, schools spend $1,900 less per student than the government allocates them. That said, North Carolina makes the most of its funding, having the least leftover money after spending its government budget.
Be that as it may, American schools do have budgets they must spend on educational materials and services provided by third-party vendors. These providers need to use their marketing spend carefully to capitalize on their opportunities to sell to schools throughout the K-12 buying cycle.
The Planning Phase: May to July or August
Also called the “goals setting” or “needs assessment” phase, this is when most schools begin and then finalize their purchasing plans for the next academic year. Teachers assess their needs and do their research on which companies can best meet their requirements. More than half of educational institutions finalize their budget between April and June, so it’s essential to do most marketing before this period.
In terms of marketing, the ship has mostly sailed by this time, but vendors can put a little bit of the budget behind doing one last push before the summer. However, after that, it’s advisable to wait until the new calendar year before spending more time and effort on advertising.
The Awareness Phase: August to December
This stage typically takes place after the summer vacation. At this point, summer has come and gone, and most purchases for the new year have been made. In short, there’s no reason to do any sort of intense marketing. Rather, efforts should be focused on slowly introducing products to educators for the following year. But, don’t use too many resources just yet: hold out for the new calendar year.
Rather, product and service providers should direct their focus toward supporting educators who have already purchased and implemented offerings. Word of mouth travels fast, and sometimes, a brand’s reputation is what can garner the most sales (or the least). Giving buyers a good experience to ensure success is some of the best marketing vendors can do, especially during this period.
That said, it’s worth investing some effort into marketing during late November and December, as this is an opportune time to lay the groundwork before going all out on marketing in the first quarter of the following year. Think of it as a period in which to slowly begin influencing educators’ decisions.
The Consideration and Trial Phase: January to April
Sometimes known as the “information gathering” or “research” stage, this is the period when teachers will be assessing the previous year, as ARCCD explains. They’ll decide whether the products or services they’ve used the previous year have worked for them or not. As such, they’ll decide if they want to make repeat purchases in the summer or look for new providers.
Regarding districts and school boards, most set their priorities and begin budget planning in January. They’ll provide allocations the following month and complete all school and department budgets in March. So, now is the most ideal (and critical) time to invest in marketing, as this is when educators are “shopping around” and can make their case to their superiors.
Vendors should begin marketing heavily as soon as schools reopen in January after the holidays, rather than waiting for the tail-end of this four-month period. That way, they have a sufficiently lengthy period to connect with and raise brand awareness among the educators to whom they’re offering their products and services.
It’s critical to generate and follow up on new leads, as well as nurture relationships with existing clients or customers. It’s equally vital to touch base with this second group to get their feedback and encourage repeat sales. Using client support as a mechanism to build a good reputation within schools is critical because high rates of education personnel turnover mean that the educators vendors speak to one year may be gone the next. So, a generally trustworthy business name among schools at large is essential.
Districts and boards review budgets and make final revisions over April and May, and vote on final budgets in June. So, vendors must market as much as possible before that period because once budgets are set and purchasing decisions have been finalized, the window of opportunity is largely gone. At that point, providers should hold off on marketing for a little while.
The Purchasing Phase: Summer
60-70% of schools make most of their purchases during the summer months when students are on vacation during May or June and August or September, depending on who you ask. Purchasing decisions are done and dusted by now, so, realistically, there’s no point in marketing too much once schools have already closed for the summer. Rather direct your energy toward reaching out to customers who have already made purchases for the new academic year. Also, remind them you’ll be there for support when students go back to class.
In sum, it’s paramount for education companies to be aware of the best times to spend their time, money, and effort on marketing for maximum ROI. The first quarter of the new calendar year (January to April) is essential for brand awareness as that’s when educators reflect on the previous year, and boards and districts set budgets. The tail-end of that period is essential for final pushes before June. Vendors would do well to curtail advertising during the summer months.
Despite this information, it can still be tough and perhaps a little confusing to make the right marketing decisions. Compound purchasing cycle timing with a near constant change of school contacts, and it becomes clear that education providers have a lot to contend with when it comes to marketing.
Fortunately, Agile Education Marketing can lend vendors a helping hand. With our extensive education data repository and easy-to-use list building tools, like Data Explorer, we can assist you while you navigate the education world. Ready to get the best results from your education marketing? Contact us today.