Tips for Selling to Higher Ed

or: selling to any customer; or: a post where I get to use a large amount of GIFs

I had a vendor call me this week, hawking their CMS product.

That in itself is nothing new. I’ve always received vendor and sales calls in my role as running the web at several different institutions. When I got a promotion last year to manage our creative team, the calls increased tenfold. For the most part, I try to be polite and friendly, listening to at least a bit of the pitch and being honest.

If you want to sell to me and people like me in not just higher ed, but in any role, here are a few tips I’ve found to be helpful.

Don’t slag my current product

You know nothing, Jon Snow.

When this starts, I say “oh, I’ve got another call, can I call you back?”

We didn’t pick our current CMS by accident. We knew its pros and cons before we made a choice. We tested, reviewed and examined just about every CMS in the market. We made our choice, we built our sites. We’re committed. We obviously have figured out your perceived “scalability and security” concerns, otherwise we wouldn’t be using the product.


You’d also know from your notes that I told a different salesperson at your company months ago we had no intentions of switching when we’ve barely finished our conversion.

Tell, better yet, show me how your product will make my life easier.

I’m most likely to pay attention to your product when you show me how it will make my life easier or will solve a need I have.

AttentionFor example, I’m really interested in mobile products, and we need one, but a whole new platform that doesn’t connect with any of our existing content and will need all sorts of new content generation and content strategy isn’t high on my radar of things to tackle now.

You had my curiosity.

But if your product has lots of nice API backend tools that will plug into my existing content, like Kurogo, now, you have my attention.

Understand our business cycles

Understand there are times of year that are better for us to not only listen to your pitch but actually get funding approval to buy your product.

If you’re selling to admissions, avoid the Spring, especially the time from February 1 to May 1. We’re all laser-focused on getting students to come to our school.

The summer’s slightly slower in higher ed, but know there are fewer people around in general, and approvals, especially if any faculty members are part of the process, are going to take for. ev. er.

If you can, avoid August 1 to September 1. Back to school is nuts. Same goes for Thanksgiving to Christmas. Not only am I running the end of year gauntlet, I so badly want to survive to that holiday break in one piece.

To recap, the best time to reach me is September 1 to November 1. On Tuesdays. From 2-3 p.m.

We can make the government look efficient

Understand that higher education is a land of bureaucracy and red tape.

Take that amount of red tape, and add in some red duct tape and red masking tape, and you’ll start to understand the levels of nightmare we have to live in sometimes.

If we worked in a small digital agency, or a mom-and-pop brick and mortar shop, we would be able to make quick decisions and get something funded.

When it comes to selling to higher ed, it’s the exact opposite.

There’s paperwork and budget approvals. There are capital requests and depreciation and all sorts of things I don’t understand.

Basically, if I need an approval, assume I will need approval from everyone and then a few more people. If you’re product costs more than $100, assume it’s going to take three times longer than usual.

A quick equation:

CodeCogsEqn (2)



Selling products is hard. Don’t criticize my software choices to help you sell your software. Give me time to get all the approvals on my end. Know there are better times of year to sell me stuff.

4 thoughts on “Tips for Selling to Higher Ed”

  1. Right on, Mike. My standard answer is “email me your information and I’ll take a look at it. No promises.” They always seem grateful, leading me to believe that that they can go back to their supervisors and say they did their job.

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