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Ed Tech Sales
November 9, 2011 - 7:57pm

Do you work in ed tech higher ed sales?  My goal in this post is to start a discussion, with the result of the larger IHE community gaining a better understanding of the world of an ed tech sales professional. I'll describe what I think I know about the life of sales professional in education technology, and you tell us where I get it wrong or right.

The Job: Ed tech sales people are most often "inside" or "outside" reps. Outside reps are the people I know best. They often (usually?) work out of their homes and cover a geographic territory. Sales engagements cover a wide range of interactions. At the high end is an enterprise campus agreement, for instance a university signing a contract for a learning management system or lecture capture system that is available to every student, faculty and staff person (with pricing based on FTE's or servers or something). These enterprise sales have annual subscriptions, with extras for installation, integration, consulting, and support.   Higher ed sales below the enterprise level might be subscriptions for parts of campus -  a division or school or even a department. At the other end of ed tech sales are people selling "shrink wrapped" software, applications that are priced per user or client machine.  Licensing deals might be for a certain number of "seats", where the institution or division or department pays for a certain number of licenses that can be distributed or utilized by clients.

The Compensation:  My understanding is that enterprise sales folks enjoy the highest compensation levels, and also must overcome the largest challenges.  A large percentage of compensation (over half and sometimes much more) is tied directly into sales.  If a new sales rep is hired she is given a "target number", say $150,000 a year, which the company thinks is a reasonable and possible compensation level if the sales person meets her target numbers.    The top sales people can earn considerably more, most earn considerably less.  (I'm betting that higher ed sales follows a Pareto distribution, with 80% of the compensation going to 20% of the sales folks). Sales reps selling shrink wrapped software make less money, but enjoy perhaps a more steady and predictable compensation levels. The best sales people could make much more money outside of the education sector, but in my experience they are equally as motivated by mission as dollars. They believe in the potential of the educational software and platforms that they sell to fundamentally improve learning.  And they would rather spend their time interacting with educators than corporate customers.

The Partners:  Ed tech sales reps work with a team of folks. They often partner with an "inside" sales colleague, someone who works at the main office (or also may work from home). The inside sales person handles the contracts and the coordination across the company to serve the client, and may also maintain the long-term relationship once a prospect becomes a customer. Other people on the sales team are sales engineers or product engineers or product specialists. These are the customer facing technical people that the lead sales rep will call on to work with potential customers and the academic/edu computing professionals who will run, install, run, maintain and support the applications if the school becomes a customer. The sales rep may also call on the product team managers to interact with potential clients - or clients that are up for renewal. A services or consulting division may also exist, in which the sales person can help connect the client with the consulting group to provide custom integration work.

The Relationships:  My interactions with sales reps have been all over the map. Many of the sales professionals I work with are consummate professionals, colleagues whose considerable success is built on establishing relationships and a high degree of trust.  They are focused first and foremost on serving the needs of us education clients, and will work with us to find the best solution and the best value for our needs.  These folks sometimes, although not always, have a higher ed background - but they all share a terrific understanding of academic culture.  These sales folks are trusted partner.  On the other end, I've worked worked with sales people who are forced to operate with unrealistic sales and revenue targets, and who do not get the proper support and resources from the company that they work.  They are under enormous and unfair pressure, the promised products or version don't ship on time, or the companies service and product teams don't deliver on what is promised.

The Challenges: I would imagine that selling to the higher ed market is incredibly challenging. Higher ed is famous for having many people who can veto a product, but only 1 or 2 people who can say "yes" (and write the check).  Our organization and reporting structures are not always transparent, and each campus is different in terms of how centralized or decentralized tech purchasing and contracts are negotiated. 

The Profession:  People go into ed tech sales jobs for many reasons.  A prime motivator is that sales directly rewards performance. People who are good at sales can make more money than people who work in marketing or the product groups. Sales people are the ones who actually bring in the dollars, they are ultimately the most important people in an ed tech company. Sales folks may choose to move up the ranks of management, as they are visible performers, although some people in sales have no desire to go "corporate." Sales also allows more lifestyle flexibility.  This includes the ability to make your own schedule and work at home. Less meetings. On the other hand, sales involves lots of airports, airplanes and hotels - work travel quickly loses any romance. 

Can you add to this description?  Where is this description wrong and incomplete? 

Can you tell us about your job?


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