Saturday, 26 October 2013

One Small Click for a Digital Immigrant… A Giant Leap into a New Online Universe?

Its not just educators that need to consider how they should be adapting in a connected world... many suppliers working with EdTech also need to wake up and smell the java script (See what I did there?). 

I have detailed some of the changes I've noticed in The Death of an EdTech Salesman, but getting to this point with these observations sure has been a bit of a journey... a journey into an alien environment where I wasn't sure of the terrain to start with.

People told me I was leaving a digital footprint but I didn't feel the ground under my feet... it was as if there was no gravity at times... it also appeared to be a cold, dark place to start with. That was until I got connected...then the lights came on!

In November 2010 I had no digital presence at all... The reason? Because I couldn't care less what anyone had for breakfast; and didn't see any reason why people would be interested in what I had either - And that pretty much summed up my view of social media.

How much research had I done prior to forming this evaluation of the various online platforms? Zero, none... didn't even check out their website or any videos about social media!

My (rather strong) opinions on the topic were formed from negative press coverage that appeared in the news from time to time. Not once did I consider that this negative coverage might be a way of the mainstream media to fend off this digital threat, which was affecting their circulation figures.

I can't wait til the next school reunion to give my teachers a lecture about critical thinking! 

So what changed my view on all this? You know what they say about necessity being the mother of invention...

Social Media... Goes with the Job!

My employer at the time had taken the decision to relocate the business so, for the first time in almost 10 years, I found myself in the market for a new job.

One of the short term goals that I set myself with was to get an interview with one of the top 3 tech companies. 

I managed to have a discussion with the head of Edu at a company that many people in EdTech dreams of working at, we had a brief discussion about my experience and achievements, then I was given the following advice;

"You tell me all these things that you've done, but why can't I find you on any social media channels? If you want to work at a major tech company, it's expected that you have an online presence today."

"Oh great!" I thought "I have to learn how to tell people what I had for breakfast before I can even get an interview!"

After this discussion I marched over to the youngest member of our IT team and said; 

"Social media... what's it all about? What's the point? I don't get it? But it would appear that I need to!" (Followed by a huge "Humph," slumped shoulders and petted lip that would rival many a toddler when in full tantrum mode)

The response I got had me hooked immediately, which was something like;

"I have a tech idea that I'm working on, and have 4,000 followers who I am discussing the idea with. I get their input and some help with beta tests... Not only will these guys tell me when the product is ready, but if 10% of my followers become customers, then I'll have enough sales to launch the business and have revenue for the first 3-6 months"

"HANG ON A MINUTE!" I screamed "Are you telling me there is a business argument for being on Twitter?"

Getting Plugged In...

I opened my LinkedIn account later that day and started to connect with people I knew. I didn't have any kind of social media plan, but I do recall deciding to work on one social media platform at a time, getting to grips with it before opening any other accounts.

After a couple of months I opened my first Twitter account, but didn't start Tweeting immediately. I pulled together lists of organisations and people in Further Education and observed how they were using Twitter. 

I also read a book that would change the trajectory of my entire career, the book was Social Nation which I found to be fantastic introduction to social media. The author was Barry Libert and he was extremely generous with his time, gives excellent advice... and has the patience of a saint! My first Tweet was; 

...And Being Sociable
I got a reply from Barry, and did not realise at the time, but my very first tweet would also be my first experience of online engagement leading to offline collaboration.

After reading Social Nation I attended an edu communications conference. A common complaint during the workshops and discussions was;

"Our comms department is facing all these budget cuts, and the one thing that might be able to help is social media... but our SMT/admins won't let us fully explore this due to the perceived risks" 

I thought "I know exactly where the senior managers are coming from... because I was there a couple of months ago, I've got a list of industry Twitter accounts and have just read a great book full of useful ideas"

I contacted Barry and asked if he would allow me to use material from his book, and if he'd like to get involved. He agreed.

I cannot convery the debt of gratitude I owe Barry, he was so generous with his time in assisting with the structure of the report which, after umpteen drafts over a few months, finally took shape and ended up looking like this - "Twitter in FE."

Barry's input was instrumental in providing me with the experience and confidence for my other reports and projects.  

Inbound Marketing - Out of this world!
While researching this Twitter report I attended a course that also rocked my world! The course was on "Inbound Marketing" by MIT's Bill Aulet.

This course crystalised some of the observations I had, as my sales calls were becoming more and more unwelcome. This course explained why this was happening, what the changes were... and what to do about it.

There probably is not a day that goes by where I don't use principles and ideas based on this course. Aulet's book "Disciplined Entrepreneurshipcovers much of the workshop and the core message is;
Sales and marketing today are all about your existing customers 

If your customers are not happy then your org will struggle with securing new business

You get happy customers by really getting to know them, understanding the issues they face... and having a commitment to finding solutions to the challenges they face to add value to the org

Tweet Success - Blast Off
When the Twitter report was circulated the response was really positive... so positive that there was a significantly different experience when making sales calls. I would call people that I had never spoken to before and instead of being greeted with "Who are you" and "Is this a sales call?" in a terse tone of voice, I was met with a cheery "Hey William how are you?" like they were speaking to a trusted partner.

I don't know if you've ever considered how challenging it can be to introduce new services to educators, but it's pretty tough! Usually this involves liaising with a number of departments, all of  whom have different priorities and responsibilities, so can tend to have slightly different buying criteria when assessing products.

So it helps if a number of departments know who you are. Therefore I decided to try find content and reports that would demonstrate to different stakeholders that I had some understanding of the issues they were facing.

We're in Business
With the success of this initial project I thought about other groups that I wanted to engage in an ethical, welcome, "inbound" manner. I wanted to engage SMT/admins so thought about the issues that they were facing, what was keeping them up at night? 

Colleges were starting to feel the effects of some budget cuts, so I got to work on thinking of ways to generate income for colleges.

I looked at some of the companies that were thriving despite the economic downturn, identified the practices that were helping them to buck the trend, then thought of ways that these could be applied to Further Education. 

But increasing income was only part of the story, I kept Stanford's Fredrick Terman example in mind and that he encouraged his staff to "go out and get acquainted with local industry and those who were doing interesting and creative things." This resulted in producing this "Business Development Ideas for FE" report.

A lot of the ideas from this report was taken from "Inbound Marketing"  and was written in collaboration with Hubspot's Higher Ed Specialist, Brooke Freedman.* Hubspot sure is an organisation who knows a thing or two about permission based marketing and business development!

*Why don't you give Brooke a call to see how she can help your school or college with your marketing objectives?

To Infinity... And Beyond
The next project was great fun... I'm talking out of this world fun! Kid's play even!

The annual British Education Training & Technology (BETT) Conference was coming up and I had just read the fantastic "Made to Stick," which advocates how telling compelling stories makes ideas and concepts "Stick"  (Every educator should have a copy of this book!). 

I then read an interview with John Lasseter for our very own Pixar Boy, and came across a comment that he felt all good movies need; 

“You have to tell a compelling story that keeps people on the edge of their seat... [and to do that] you populate that story with really memorable and appealing characters.”

We then watched Toy Story, I had this comment bouncing around my head. I put an outline together which became "Tech Story - What Education can Learn from Pixar's Toy Story

Various college departments enjoyed reading this as much as we did writing it... especially the techies.

Culture! Culture! Culture!
A lot of my reports and blog posts referenced Google, Apple, Microsoft and other organisations that have great cultures, so decided to make this the focus of my next project.

This is one of my faviourite reports as it highlights just how complex some of the issues are, I hope it also highlights how ridiculous it is to attempt to lay all the blame on educators! Or expect them to shoulder all the responsibility for fixing these many and complex issues.

But, at the same time, there there are some impressive results that KIPP and other institutions have achieved. From what I can see one of (if not THE) key differentials here appears to be around the issue of organisational culture.

NB Regardless of politics and/or what you're view on charter schools are, or some of the negative stories in the press... none of this changes the fact that KIPP have a system that is getting entire classes of under privileged kids to college. Previously these kids had more chance of ending up in jail than college. Therefore, as far as I'm concerned, Kudos to KIPP! They are among my list of Education Heroes.

The only regret I have about this report is that I wish I had read "Tribal Leadership(Another book that every edu leader should have on their bookshelf) before writing Culture in Education, but I will have plenty of blog posts referencing David Logan and CultureSync's amazing book. 

Technology in Education
When looking for my next project I decided to develop Tech Story further by turning attention to the different cultures that exist between the various EdTech suppliers and their education partners.

When I started researching this project I was not aware of EdSurge, when I did find out about their work I realised that my ideas were heading in the right direction... because the EdTech Startup guru that is EdSurge, was already implementing them! 

I'm a huge fan of what EdSurge and US EdTech incubators like Imagine K12 etc are doing. They sure do seem to turn out some innovative companies who have great relationships with educators. I hope that initiatives like Invent-ed will enjoy similar results in the UK.

This Technology report can be found here - Technology in Education (And check out Bill Aulet's comment on P4... How cool is that?!)

Time & Content
All of these reports were done in my free time, as my managers at the orgs I worked at "didn't get" what I was doing, or how it was helping with sales. This is ironic as these out of hours projects were more welcome and had more of an impact than interrupting people with sales calls.

In sales and sports the saying goes "You're only as good as your last sale/race," with social media I think its fair to say "You're only as good as your last post." 

I feel fortunate to have an eclectic set of books to refer to and hope that I have enough understanding of education to come up with some useful ideas and observations... but am always concerned about whether the way I structure the content do the ideas justice!

Writing style aside, something that is crazy is that I've always had these ideas, the books have sat on my bookshelf for 10+ years... But social media has given me a voice and ways to circulate my observations and ramblings.

Taking the time to consider the changes in education sales and putting together some good (or reasonable) content has provided a "random EdTech sales guy" with opportunities that are not usually available to sales people... but I'll take advantage of them, and continue to explore all things "connected."

But all I have done is follow Bill Aulet's advice and have got to know my potential customers. For people involved in education this has never been easier... you can get to know this audience 24/7... because they never stop chatting on social media platforms, so much so you might wonder if some educators ever spend any time in the classroom! There are some serious Twitter addicts in edu...  

Educators are from Earth... Connected Educators are from #EdChats
I started to see some strange # symbols attached to some of the Tweets educators were sending and found that they were part of a whole new online world - #EdChats.

I joined one of these chats and someone Tweeted "Hi William, I've seen some of your reports and like what you have to say..." I had to ask "Are you sure they are my reports?" They confirmed that they were. It appeared that some of my ramblings had preceded me, which is kinda cool!

I also found that there was a fledgling #ukfechat (Feel free to drop in and say "Hi" anytime... but esp on Thurs at 9pm GMT). I joined the discussion regularly and this led to me starting to post blogs regularly... both because participants encourage one another, and because the chat topics generate lots of ideas to blog about.

Something struck me about some of the rhetoric from the EdChat participants, the EdChat sessions were a real highlight of their week. I found this curious but discovered that the reason for this was because they were connecting with like minded "growth mindset," "Open-minded Educators," "Lifelong learners," "Early Adopters," groups that are capable of ringing in the changes. 

I was reading a book called Switch which highlighted why educators felt this way - any time reformers are given a free space to discuss ideas, without any negativity, but a real "can-do lets-do-it attitude," positive change becomes possible.

How much of an impact do these guys have? If you ask me these educators are to education what Steve Jobs "Let's be pirates" were to Apple - the innovators, the change agents, the reformers!

Need evidence of whether its #EdChat or Change? Just check out the traffic on the #ce13 hashtag, or their newsletters with the stats... and remember this is only the second year of Connected Educators Month!

Read the book... then
get the T-Shirt

Some of my blog posts have helped me to attract an international following which is great for cross-pollinating ideas (a euphemism for blatant plagiarism if ever there was one! Well what do you expect, didn't I just say these guys are the pirates, just ask Dave Burgess!) 

These international discussions also prevent you from getting lonely while you are waiting for your colleagues to get all plugged in and connected up.

E2E Sales - Coming Down to Earth... with a Bump!
One of the biggest things for me in this digital journey has been the realisation of how much things have changed... and that the skills that I had will be less
 in demand in a few years. 

In 2006/7 traditional sales methods were relevant but, by 2010 I noticed that outbound cold calling was a lot less welcome.

When following the discussions from #ISTE13 and #EdTechChat I discovered that not only were they unwelcome, they were on their way to becoming obsolete! I was astounded at how much educators were doing all the selling for EdTech suppliers who had great products. 

Not only were there almost 500 mentions of 40 companies in the first 5 weeks of #EdTechChat... there were whole discussions dedicated to suppliers who understood educators needs Google/Apple Apps and others.

How on earth is a sales guy supposed to compete with that? If this trend continues the only products that will need "sold" in a few years time are the bad ones... definitely NOT the kind of EdTech I want to be working on or associated with! 

Out Bound Sales... Out of a Job?

This is something that "Inbound marketing" experts agree with - that cold calls will be a thing of the past within 5 years time... but is something that people with traditional sales skills disagree with "There will always be a need for salespeople to cold call" they tell me, any time I discuss my journey with them.

I'm not sure what the future of unconnected educators will be, but when I consider;

  • The opportunities that have presented themselves 
  • The connections I've made 
  • The things I've learned 
And compare these experiences with the future of my colleagues who refuse to explore new methods of engagement, I sure am glad that I'm experimenting with being a "Connected Edu Supplier".  

One thing is for sure, the next time I speak to the head of education at a major Tech company... they shouldn't have any problems finding me online.

Another thing that I have learned from this journey is that I can never visit Boston. The reason? Because the number of drinks that I would owe Barry Libert, Bill Aulet and Brian Halligan for the ways they have assisted me would, quite probably, bankrupt me! Thank you! You Rock!

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