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Now through March 26, technology solutions providers should be laser focused on opportunities within the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-rate program. As of Feb. 26, schools and libraries across the United States have initiated their E-rate funding requests, which include the technology they will need going forward. That gives them 28 days to find and try to sell that business. Do you know how to find out what schools and libraries want? Do you know what you can and cannot say to a potential customer? Navigating the E-rate program takes knowledge and expertise.

It should be a priority for you and your teams to understand the needs of schools and libraries in your targeted markets and to help them understand how your technology would be the best solution for them. If they choose your solution, they will submit your company’s name along with their request to the FCC for what they want to buy to upgrade their IT capabilities, who they plan to buy it from and how much they need to pay for it.

The approach we endorse is to look at the sale from the market’s perspective, not from what products we have to sell. For example, when you sit down with an elementary school and find that they use students to hand-deliver attendance notes from each teacher to the main office, you can help them do the math on making it a more efficient and cost-effective process. If the school makes tracking attendance an online process, they can free up staff in the office and eliminate the need to have hundreds of children walking through the halls unescorted on a daily basis. By showing the school how to eliminate the need for unescorted attendance “monitors,” you also can help them lower their insurance premium rates. Now, you have become a consultant rather than just a salesperson.

Another example is knowing that when a student is suspended or expelled, school systems still are required to educate that student. That can cost as much as $68,000 every year, but a school can cut that cost by more than half if they can offer and support online learning solutions. Again, you are approaching the sale as a consultant, not just a tech salesperson.

In addition, we understand that while the universe of schools, libraries, fire departments and/or police departments is a large one, it also is a finite one. We add value to our partners by researching the correct contacts for IT equipment purchases in their targeted selling areas. We consider ourselves brokers of information for our partners on how to intellectually attack the market.

Comstor partners have access to an abundance of information and training to help create success. First, we make sure our partners know how to access the FCC’s maps that show each school district and library in the United States and the type of Internet coverage they have now. This helps our partners proactively try to initiate sales. In parallel, we have created a lead system for our partners. We interview the VAR, ask them which geography they want to sell into and what products and solutions they carry. We subscribe to several government purchasing tracking services, and every week we provide these partners with the current E-rate leads that meet their search criteria.

To support it, we asked those select partners to identify an account manager and trained that person on all the pertinent E-rate information and guidelines they need. We then provide them with the leads in their selling territories, and we monitor their activities against the leads to help identify future training opportunities for them. We find that this closed loop ROI system is incredibly effective, and, in fact, we have found that the partners who have participated in our lead program have increased sales year over year at a significant and faster rate. In our last comparison, we discovered that our public sector partners were increasing business at a 27-percent rate year-over-year.

Another area of vital importance is that there are very strict parameters in place around how you can sell and even talk about E-rate with a potential customer. The government has worked hard to ensure that the market focuses on describing features and benefits and not solely about products. As an E-rate salesperson, you need to be able to articulate what a new or different router can do for a school, for example, not just try to sell them on the product itself.

We do all we can and then some to help our dedicated partners navigate the E-rate system, understand the market opportunities and understand the rules. Now, all they have to do is take that information and make the sale!