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November 2021 - Delving Into the Public Sector

A focus on selling to Education as a Vertical Market.

When we talk about selling to Public Sector that usually includes State, Local, Federal and Education. Since this issue is about Education, we are going to focus on selling to Education as a Vertical Market. Unfortunately, The Education segment was hit hard with the pandemic due to the shutdown with students no longer attending class and the switch to remote learning at all levels. According to Deltek’s State and Local Procurement Snapshot Q3 2020, this vertical was still down from prior to COVID, but there was noticeable improvement in growth rate from last quarter seen in education government (-30.7% to -19.2%) Fortunately, with the recent provisions made to keep faculty and students safe, schools for the most part are all open and once again students are back in classrooms which hopefully means a return to normal spending coming soon.

So, how do you approach this vertical if you are new to it?

1. Identify which segment of Education you want to focus on.

The 2 major categories here are K-12 or Higher Education. You could argue the private vs public school options and the medical school/healthcare as well, but for our purposes we will look at the 2 major categories. There are differences in selling to K-12 vs Higher Education including the obvious different product offerings and different procurement vehicles.

Do you have a seller who understands K-12 and have products and contracts to support that? Or is it Higher Education that is the better fit for your team/products and market?

2. Focus on which segment but then focus further to determine which schools in your segment are spending money and the time frame for that spending.

Follow the money and timeline!! There was a swing to community colleges during the pandemic and they were spending because they were growing...will that continue, or will things swing back to the way it was? Who has received board approval/department

approval for budget? Who has received grants for large building projects? Endowments? All of this is public information you just need to spend the time to do the research.

3. What is the legal avenue for them to procure? Private schools have autonomy and can buy where and how they want with board approval, but public schools must abide by the state procurement laws so take the time to research and find out how your target accounts purchase. Capital projects will need approval. Do they have their own furniture contract? Many Colleges & Universities do, but others belong to Cooperatives or buy off State or Local contracts. In some states furniture procurement is mandated or it is “highly recommend-

ed” that they purchase furniture from Correctional Industries which will make it much harder for you to try to sell to these schools. Every state is unique so do your homework.

4. Where will the specifications be coming from? Who are the General Contractors and A&D firms that work with your target schools? Will they be involved in your projects and, if so, to what degree? General Contractors are not often the ones who procure the furniture but in some instances such as fixed seating, outside seating, library, lab equipment they may be. The A&D firms may have specialist in education you want to get to know. Take the time to build those relationships and educate them on not only who you are and your product offering, but on contracts so they understand that when you are working with them you understand how the company purchases and you will show them products on the

contract vehicle the end user wants to use.

5. Put together the strategy. By this point you have your segment focus, have determined which schools in the segment have money and are planning to spend it on FF&E, you know

how they prefer to procure, and you have identified the GC and A&D firm. Your last step is to put the puzzle together. If you are a dealer you want to identify which manufacturers have the products you need and the procurement vehicles necessary for your targets. If you are a manufacturer you need to identify the dealers that support education in your target markets (hopefully you did this in your due diligence step).

Some other things to explore for selling to education would be associations, trade shows and lead/data resources. I would look at the Association of School Business Officials (ASBO) for K-12 and the National Association of Educational Procurement (NAEP) for Higher Education. Each of these organizations have chapters and trade shows throughout the US. For a furniture specific trade show, I would look at EdSpaces . As for lead/data re- sources since you have already done the research to determine your targets, I would focus on the websites of the target schools. On these sites you can find information on upcoming Campus projects and the source of the money to pay for the projects.

Just like with any other vertical, get to know your market and network with the GCs, Architects, Designers and Facilities team. If you plan to introduce the use of a Cooperative, reach out to the sales team at the cooperative as they can be great resources with intel about the current spend at this College or University.

Lastly, consider networking with people in complimentary industries that call on education. Linked in can be a great resource for this but you can also just ask around to see who locally does a lot with education in these different areas. Higher Education Institutes, especially, run at high speed with the constant projects that are going on continuously. They also prefer building a relationship with one main furniture dealership they can rely on for all their furniture needs, offering not just product choices but ideas and solutions. One that will be there to help them in “pop up” requests such as: storage, rental furniture, loaner furniture etc. Like any relationship, building this one will take time, but if you stick with it, it can very rewarding. Selling to education is not for the transactional salesperson!

Special thanks this issue to my friends Karen Mencarelli and John Hunsche with OMNIA for sharing their wisdom and insight into this vertical.

About Michelle Warren

Michelle Warren is President of Catalyst Consulting Group, a firm specializing in providing strategic solutions to the commercial furniture industry to enhance companies' sales and positioning within their industry and distribution. Michelle has been in the commercial furniture industry for over 25 years with experience on both the dealer and manufacturer side of the industry. She has experience at the EVP, VP and National Sales Manager level for large and small manufacturers.


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