The education sector is embracing technology like never before, but the traditional vendors selling into this market are taking their time to catch up.
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McGraw-Hill Education is known across the US as the name behind textbooks. In recent years, it has had to grow and expand as paperback learning tools are becoming increasingly obsolete next to tablet-sized versions and mobile applications.
However, despite managing this transition well, it struggled to convince institutions it was selling to.
“Back in the day, a sales rep would typically have a trunk full of textbooks and be walking into the instructor offices with a book, presenting the item to them for their consideration,” said Greg Graham, vice-president of sales operations at McGraw-Hill Education. “This process was critical to reps for a number of years.”
“Lately we have started to wean ourselves off of that and move much more aggressively into digital in the classroom, yet at the same time we didn’t have anything to replace that old method with. This left reps walking in without anything compelling to demonstrate our digital technology.”
Three years ago the organisation adopted tools from cloud computing firm Salesforce in a bid to keep better track of their customer relationships and try to take advantage of more opportunities presented when more data is collected and analysed.
Each of its 240 sales reps were given a laptop to enable them to record every interaction they had with customers and to keep a record of everything they needed in one place. However, laptops turned out not to be a suitable technology.
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“Our reps needed to do things quickly on campus,” said Graham. “Imagine an institution with cinderblock walls. The Wi-Fi signals are limited and it’s impossible to chase down an instructor, pop open a laptop, get a connection, get into the programme and show them what you have before you see their back walking down the hall going to class again.”
This meant laptops were staying in the car and reps were making notes on the move to update the system when they got home, if they did at all.
“Consequently, we didn’t have strong faith in all of our forecasts we made through Salesforce as although we had a good tool to do them, the quality of the information wasn’t good enough,” added Graham. “We needed to bring everything much closer together and get the reps to use the system in a compelling way.”
The company decided to look to mobile and particularly embrace tablets – something a number of their reps were already using but without the capability to access the Salesforce system.
It used the platform to build its own mobile application called Artemis, hoping to bring all the necessary functionality a rep needs on the move to their fingertips while ensuring reliable data was being sent back.
“There is so much capability in Salesforce and over the past couple of years it had become unwieldy with so many requests for different functionality from selling teams,” said Graham. “We came back and said, what is the critical stuff? If we could just have the basics what would that be? Then we focused on that.”
Graham was keen the reps were involved from the get go to ensure all the functionality they needed was included in the app, so he called on reps and managers from the company’s central region of Chicago to join in the process.
The project was all about being simple and making this thing as intuitive as we possibly could with no fluff
Greg Graham, vice-president of sales operations at McGraw-Hill Education
Then, after just 18 weeks the project was complete. From a daily plan showing the office hours of prospective customers and where they need to go, through to tracking each customer interaction, keeping digital records and having a catalogue to glide through on a touchscreen tablet, the simple design of the application was quickly embraced and more than 90% of the staff were using it on the first day it went live.
“We have been absolutely thrilled with what this has done for our reps,” said Graham. “After just a couple of weeks of using it into the selling season, we are seeing more accurate pipeline, with reps engaging with Salesforce and updating as they do it, not at night but during the visit at a campus.”
“Our CFO is pleased with forecasts we are getting and we are seeing other attributes improved that allow us to do us more creative analyses which we hadn’t had much faith in before. Business analysts can now take information, look at the sell-through of these opportunities as the sales are coming in and can access what is driving the sales.”
Graham is so confident in the data, he is now working on integrating the sales and inventory pipeline so McGraw-Hill can use the data to predict the stock it will need.
“The project was all about being simple and making this thing as intuitive as we possibly could with no fluff,” said Graham. “We only wanted the information we really needed and the key functions, and we stayed very true to that throughout the project.”
“We launched on 16 August and, as of that Monday morning, they were out on campus using Artemis. We have never looked back.”