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15 common questions about selling to Multi-Academy Trust

Earlier this month, I hosted a webinar on "How to Sell to Multi-Academy Trusts" and took questions from the audience. I've written up these questions, as well as the most common ones I get asked by EdTech companies looking to develop their own Multi-Academy Trust strategy.


I've split this article up into 4 sections, grouping the relevant questions into each.

 

How big is the multi-academy trust market?



1. How many Academies are there in England?


As of 2021, there are 8,909 Academies in England, out of a total of 21,659 state funded schools (this number excludes Independent schools).


As a percentage, 41% of schools are now Academies. Broken down by phase, 78% of Secondary schools and 37% of Primary schools have 'academised.'


By pupil numbers, because most Secondary schools have 'academised,' 53% of all pupils in England go to an Academy.


2. How many Multi-Academy Trusts are there?


As of March 2022, the Department for Education lists a total of 1,460 total Multi-Academy Trusts in England.


3. What percentage of schools are part of a Trust?


This one is a little trickier to work out because the Department for Education doesn't make this information easily accessible (that I can find), however the National Governors Association states that 84% of all Academies are part of a Multi-Academy Trust. Using the figures from 2021, this means that 7,484 schools are part of a Trust which represents 35% of all schools in England.


An interesting side note is that 53% of governors at the Multi-Academy Trust level report that growing their Trust is a top priority. With 1,424 'unattached' Academies, there is significant potential for Trusts to grow rapidly in the coming year.


 

how can i sell to Multi-Academy Trusts?



4. What's the best way to reach Multi-Academy Trusts?


This ultimately depends on what your product is - Trust teams are most interested in administration, finance, and data systems typically, although with central teams now subject to summary evaluations by Ofsted (started September 2021), there is likely to be a greater focus on curriculum and learning alignment across their schools.


Regardless of your product, there are some general rules that you can follow to improve your chances with reaching central stakeholders.


Trust staff are very busy and getting them to take time to learn about your product should be the first focus. Cold outreach where you're inviting staff to 'book a time' in your calendar or sending general sales material should be avoided at all costs. Not only is this a really bad first impression, but it's also a sure fire way to get blocked or tagged as spam.


Ensure any outreach always provides value, either in the form of insightful content that you've produced, or by inviting them to an event where they can learn / gain insight.


The other route is to focus on introductions. It's unlikely that you'll get an introduction from one Trust CEO to another, but it is quite straightforward to get an introduction from a school that is already your customer into the Trust team.


5. Are events a good way to reach Multi-Academy Trusts?


Yes and no. If you're thinking about paying to exhibit at a trade show , you'll need to undertake a lot of pre-event marketing to ensure that any Trust staff member stops by your stand. Generally, central team members don't go to trade shows to look for new solutions as they usually already have an idea of who they want to meet.


Increasingly, there are events that cater specifically to Trust staff members only which you can sponsor and exhibit at. I'm not sure how successful these might be as central team members go to these events to learn and listen to the speakers, not necessarily look for new solutions.


If you're able to pull together some interesting speakers and you've got a good marketing department, you might want to think about running your own events and aiming them at the key stakeholders in the Multi-Academy Trust central team.


6. Is there a checklist of things to know / do when approaching Multi-Academy Trusts?


Position your product for Trusts. Always lead with value. Have your evidence ready. All common sense points but you would be surprised by how often EdTech providers break these rules. The key is to have first hand knowledge / experience of Trusts in your team. Another good option is to become a governor at a local Trust so that you can experience the inner workings first hand.


 

How do I improve my Multi-Academy Trusts sales process?



7. Do Multi-Academy Trusts respond well to multi-year contracts?


Multi-year contracts, as well as discounts, won't be enough to convince a Trust to purchase your solution across their whole estate out of the blue. Trusts need to know that your product really delivers before they will commit to it for a number of years so it is important to have evidence of impact more than anything.


8. Is there a way to find out which Multi-Academy Trusts are GAG pooling?


This information isn't listed publicly, so it's not possible to focus on Trusts who have already GAG pooled. It's not regarded as a secret by Trust central teams, so if you're in conversation with a Trust, do ask them if they've GAG pooled as part of your qualification criteria.


9. Should we offer free trials to Multi-Academy Trusts?


In my experience the products that Trusts care most about are administration / back-office systems and these can't easily be trialled as they require setting up or they deal with confidential data.


When it comes to trials, I believe schools are the best focus.


 


How can I get referrals into Multi-Academy Trusts?



10. What's the best way to get more referrals from schools and Trusts?


The first thing is to have a great product! This might seem like common sense but founders / salespeople suffer from hubris when it comes to their product. Having founded 2 EdTech companies, hubris is a necessity to get things off the ground because there are periods when your product doesn't deliver everything that you want it to. However, it is critical that you measure just how impactful your product actually is and get regular customer feedback. The easiest way to do this is to setup a programme that will measure NPS or CSAT for you. Next it is important to have a strong customer success team. Referrals are borne out of personal relationships, and if you rarely speak to your customers, they're not likely to make referrals for you.


11. Can we incentivise our existing schools to make a referral into the Trust central team?


If you have a good Customer Success department and philosophy, then you'll hopefully already have good relationships with your existing schools. Getting an introduction to the Trust central team can be as simple as picking the phone up and asking for one, you won't need to incentivise anyone.


12. do Trusts look to their peers / other Trusts, in order to understand best practice?


Trusts have only been in existence since 2010 and the whole sector is still very much evolving and seeking best practice is a priority for ambitious Trusts. There isn't a lot of guidance or advice in this sector on the whole, and the Department for Education are very much hands off when it comes to Multi-Academy Trusts.


It's important to remember that the majority of Trust CEOs are former headteachers and will have little, if any experience, with centralising systems or undertaking multi-site rollouts. Headteachers have the authority to make quick decisions in their own schools but that changes for the Trust CEO who must ensure their headteachers buy in and come along on the journey they want to set. Building the case for change and managing school buy-in become critical skills for the Trust central team.


As a supplier, you have the opportunity to take the thought leadership position and create or curate best practice in the sector. If you're able to do this, then you can be seen as a leader in the Trust space.


 

What do Multi-Academy Trusts look for when buying EdTech products?


13. is single sign-on important to multi-academy trusts?


It ultimately depends on the product. If you're a system that is only used by a handful of staff, then single sign-on isn't going to a key factor. If you're a system that is used by hundreds (or thousands) of pupils it has the potential to alleviate the untold headache of password reset requests so it'll be a much bigger deal.



14. Are Multi-Academy Trusts buying physical EdTech / hardware devices?


The key to this question is to understand how Trusts rollout any product, not just hardware. Other than financial and MIS systems, no Trust has the political capital to undertake a successful rollout of any product across all of their schools before they have considerable school buy-in.


Typically, Trusts will undertake a pilot of any product in a select number of schools before they look to rollout it out across more of their schools. It also makes a difference what type of product you're selling. Trust central teams rarely influence curriculum resources as these decisions are devolved to each school. This will likely start to change now that Ofsted will be evaluating Trusts, but the rate of change is unknown.


For infrastructure hardware (Wifi, classroom displays, computers), Trusts are increasingly taking over more of these responsibilities as they can buy larger quantities and gain cost saving advantages which means schools are happy to cede these type of decisions.


 

Other Multi-Academy Trust Questions


15. We sell to the Trust, but we have trouble getting individual schools to renew


This issue relates to stakeholder engagement and is common when Trusts buy on behalf of their schools before the schools themselves are fully committed to adopting the product. In extreme examples, the Trust may have bought products without ever engaging the schools before forcibly trying to roll it out. This generally doesn't end well.


As a supplier, you want to avoid this at all costs because you can quickly get caught in the middle of School vs Trust politics. The best way to avoid this scenario is to engage the school stakeholders in the buying process - make sure they're present in the sales meeting, and if they're not, see whether you can reach out to them direct. You want them bought in to your product before the contracts are signed.


Unfortunately, if you're midway through a contract where the schools weren't engaged, it can be hard to save these type of renewals as you're fighting against emotions more than logic.


 

If you would like help developing a Multi-Academy Trust sales strategy of your own, drop me an email on jay@theedtechforum.com.


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