Decoding the Difference Between Selling to Schools and Selling to Districts

In 2018 we saw a gradual shift in our business from selling to schools to selling to our first large districts.

This is a normal, healthy part of the startup journey. Start small and work up to larger sales. And it comes with a lot of learning. 

Listenwise is a supplemental listening-skills-building platform, so naturally our first sales were at the school level. Typically our sales process starts with teachers. They can sign up for free for Listenwise and experience a 30-day premium trial with all the built-out features.  When the free premium trial is over, their account will revert to the free features. We’ve seen that as teachers use Listenwise and see how adding non-fiction audio to their teaching helps students, they share it with other teachers and school administrators. This generates leads for our sales process to Listenwise Premium, which gives teachers access to student accounts, multiple choice quizzes, and supports for English language learners.

These free teachers have been critical in our success selling Listenwise Premium to schools. Principals and department heads want to buy products they know their teachers will use and that work. The typical school sales cycle is three to six months.

So what’s different about selling to districts? To start, the shift to district sales requires more time, planning and proving.

Show Districts the Results

We’ve seen that as our Listenwise Premium strategy has impact at the school level, teachers share their success with district leaders. In other cases, like California where students are tested on listening, the results attract district leaders.  

For example, a high school that had been a Listenwise Premium customer for three years saw a 26 percent increase in its students’ listening scores on the English/language arts portion of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, which California uses. This dramatic improvement, which outstripped other schools in the district by 15 percent, attracted attention at the district level.

Those results made outreach to district leaders easier, especially when we were able to tell them a data-driven story of success from one of their own schools. We know from various surveys that word of mouth is the most important factor in ed-tech purchases. And what could have more impact than hearing it from your own principals and teachers?

Put Pilot Projects to Good Use

Another way we approach a district sale is with paid pilots. We’ve learned that a district will seriously evaluate a product for purchase if they first put some money into the process and commit a group of teachers to review the offering.

In one district in California, we ran a pilot with ELA teachers in three schools. Our pilots include training, ongoing support, check-in calls, and teacher and student surveys. Students also take our listening quizzes on the platform, providing additional data. Districts need this level of feedback to make a big purchasing decision. We need to help them gather the feedback.

Be Patient: It Can Take a While

When the pilot goes well, the majority of the time we get a district sale. But this process takes longer. In some cases the district’s sale takes between six and nine months.

School success within a district and district pilots are the two ways we seen work to move from selling school by school to multiple schools within a district.

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