Digital Smiles logo

Digital Smiles

Marketing to schools with ideal buyer profiles and customer personas

Who are you selling to? For our clients, the standard answer is 'we sell to schools'. It's a reasonable answer. When all is said and done, the bank account that pays your bill is in the name of the school.

But who signs the requisition order? Who makes the decision that the school needs your product/service? Who presses the button that sends the payment to your bank account?

From a contract perspective, the school does all these things. In reality, it's the people that make up the staff of the school. The human beings who turn up every day and create the school culture that would benefit from working with you.

For any educational supplier, the truth is that you are working in a modified-B2B environment. We call it S2S (Selling to Schools) and it's a job made lots easier when you identify:

  • your ideal buyer profile
  • your customer personas

This allows you to define the type of school you're looking to sell to and the people who will be involved in the decision making process. With this knowledge, you will better understand the people you're selling to and the schools that they work in. That's a recipe for success!


Your ideal buyer profile when selling to schools

In short, your ideal buyer profile is the school that you are selling to. It's the organisation for which your customer personas work.

For educational suppliers, it's tempting to have an ideal buyer profile of 'schools' or 'primary schools'. But is that genuinely the ideal buyer for your business?

Ask yourself these questions before writing down (and training your team about) your ideal buyer profile:

  1. What size of school is your ideal buyer? By 'size' are you referring to the number of pupils, classes, teachers or support staff?
  2. Which phase of education is your product or service best suited to? Primary schools? Secondary schools? Further/higher education? Are all-through schools just as likely to benefit from your service as single-phase schools? Are special schools ideally suited to your services?
  3. Is there a type of school that would not benefit from your offer? Will local authority schools be better buyers than academies and free schools? Would faith schools be less likely to purchase?
  4. Is your business better suited to working with schools in a particular location? Is your product/service just as relevant to the English curriculum as it is to the Scottish one?
  5. Does your offer apply to a specific subject? If so, is it one that typically has a whole-school priority such as literacy and numeracy?
  6. Does a school have to be part of a multi-academy trust or other federation in order to benefit from your service?

Take the time to answer these questions and flesh out your ideal buyer profile. You might even want to turn this into a checklist that you can use when qualifying a prospective new client.

Knowing your ideal buyer profile allows you to spend less time with low-fit leads and, therefore, build better relationships with schools that will genuinely benefit from your offer. It's in no one's interest for you to spend time with a lead you can't help - qualifying a lead out of your sales process is good for you and good for them.

Your customer personas when selling to schools

Your customer personas represent the actual people that you will be talking to - the human beings that work in a school. The people who will consider, evaluate and purchase your product or service.

Many educational suppliers already have a rough idea of their customer personas. They probably know the job titles of the people that they will be selling to. When we run our customer persona workshops, we often hear variations of:

  • "We sell to headteachers"
  • "We are marketing to the school business manager"
  • "We need to speak to the head of maths"

This job-title-as-customer-persona model is definitely better than having no personas as all. It allows you to identify the decision makers.

The next step is to flesh out the human being behind the job title. When you know the persona, you can plan your marketing and sales activity to meet the goals and interests of the people most likely to purchase your product/service.

Many of our clients will refer to the personas by their made up name! e.g. "The lead that I just spoke to is clearly a Sandra Secondary Head". 

We've created a whole workbook that you can use in order to develop your personas but you can get started by asking yourself a few key questions about your existing customers.

Your sales, marketing and customer service teams are all valuable sources of information here. The most valuable source of information? Your existing customers. Don't be afraid to get in touch and ask them your questions outright.

Some of the core questions you can ask:

  1. What are your customers' goals?
  2. What values drive them to turn up at school each day?
  3. What pain points are they working to overcome?
  4. Where do they go to find solutions to their problem?
  5. What is their role in the buying process? Are they decision makers, internal influencers or best-value advocates?
  6. What makes them a great customer for your brand? What is it about their personality, outlook and experience that makes them a great fit?

How many customer personas should you have?

How big should your suitcase be? How much fuel should you put in your car? How much food should you cook for your dinner party?

As big as it needs to be to take everything with you. As much as it takes to reach your destination (and a margin for error). As much as you need to feed your guests.

The same answer applies to your customer personas. You should have as many customer personas as your business needs.

You should have a customer persona for everyone who will be involved in the buying process.

You'll also need to take into account the different types of customer you have. Eternally upbeat headteachers will need a different sales and marketing approach to sceptical ones. A new school business manager will be a different buyer to one with twenty years of experience.

Create the number of personas that you need in order to deliver effective sales and marketing resources. No more and no less.

School-based customer personas

We've put together a simple workbook that you can use to develop your own customer personas.

We've made sure that this document is focused on the English education market. We look at Ofsted grades, types of school and the phase of education that they work in. If you are marketing to schools outside of England, then get in touch for more advice.

Our content includes affiliate links. This means that we may receive a commission if you make a purchase through one of the links on our website. This will be at no cost to you and helps to fund the content creation work on our website.