Creating Evangelists

Walking around the floor of any big conference is my “fun time.”  This year at ISTE was no exception.  First, I learned that I can watch 3D printers all day long.  I still believe they are magic.  Secondly, the proliferation of K-12 LMSs has really hit a fever pitch.  Having spent a lot of my working life in Higher Ed, it is always refreshing to see something (and a lot of somethings) other than Bb.  But what really got my attention was the huge growth in “Certified Educators” of all sorts of digital products.  Sure, I knew about Google-certified educators (a burgeoning cottage industry in and of itself) and Microsoft-certified educators, but now you can be certified from BrainPop or Waggle or (fill name of product in here). 

Before the age of “certified educators,” companies did training.  They brought in their marketing team, their product team, and a few academics that knew how to use their product to train the newbies.  Trainings lasted a day, sometimes two, and then teachers went back to their classrooms and used  the product (or didn’t) as they were taught.  Company teams were usually front and center with the teacher demonstrating some “actual lessons” after the obligatory “click here” walk-through of features and benefits.  Sometimes it was effective; sometimes it wasn’t.   But what all of these companies have learned is that trainingof this type, no matter how good it is (and there are books to be written about that), does not result in additional sales.  However, creating an army of evangelists does. 

Enter “Certified Educators.”  These savvy teachers know more than how to use the products; they know how to use them within the workflow of the day, the week, the term.  They know where they are most effective, where they might not quite live up to the hype, and how to tweak the fidelity to better match individual teaching styles.  But these teachers don’t just talk about these things when they are training.   They talk about it all of the time.  They sport their pins, their sashes, their special lanyards and make room for their certificates on their wall.   They attend special workshops and webinars, putting them together with others who share their enthusiasm.  They work to improve their outcomes in their classes with the product so that they have more information to share at the next training.  Which, of course, the company happily pays them do. There are no better sales reps in the country. 

In last year’s Bill and Melinda Gates publication “Teachers Know Best: What Educators Want from Digital Tools,” 59% of teachers reported that they relied on recommendations from administrators and 47% said they rely on recommendations from other teachers when making digital product decisions: In other words, one out of every two educators are relying on word of mouth from another educator.  So, why are certified educators so effective?  Because they are not product trainers: they are educators and they believe in products they have seen, first hand, make a difference.  They are not selling out to a company—they are preaching to their choirs.

So, maybe you have created the best product out there.  But if you do not have a plan to create your evangelists too, you’ll have to rely on traditional sales and marketing channels.  Keep in mind that 50% of your customers are learning about your products from other teachers.  Are you spending 53% of your resources creating evangelists?