Experience at the largest technology companies in the world helps you know your way around a boardroom – but what about the classroom? As we’ve both come from two of the giants, Amazon (Steve) and Microsoft (Cheryl), we can definitively say that big tech experience has its benefits – and its place – in innovating the EdTech arena.

Thinking back on our careers, we’ve come up with four best practices that can drive success at any tech company, especially educational technology. We’re leveraging them to deliver must-have solutions to the 21st century classroom. Let’s explore how they can work for your company, too.


Work backwards from the customer’s point of view

When you meet with a potential customer, it’s vitally important to look beyond your products to get a clear picture of what they want. Listen with an open mind to find out what’s most important and what pain points they face. This is a key first step to determining how technology can help solve those problems. 

If you go into a meeting ready to iterate on products without establishing the voice of the customer and knowing your persona, you’ll likely fail. Get to know teachers, principals, the IT administrator and the curriculum director. Maybe you’ll find out that they need more-collaborative classroom experiences or ways to reach – and teach –challenging students. Without asking insightful questions, you might not even know where the real challenges are. Don’t forget to consider user experience, as you’ll undoubtedly find that teachers need products with minimal training so they can spend as much time in the classroom as possible.

Timing is important, and it’s best for K-12 educators to adopt changes in functionality during summer break. The IT staff can work on getting new technology in place without having security issues or privacy concerns that come with having students in the classroom. So, keep that in mind when approaching new functionality such as product launches or new software releases, and work backward according to what educators need and when.


Formalize customer voice with advisory boards, surveys

Many successful tech organizations, large and small, get a deeper understanding of their customers by forming customer advisory boards or conducting surveys. These methods allow for an inside look into customers’ minds and to gather opinions about their products or services. These insights can help EdTech providers shed light on ways educators are using their products and ways they aren’t – but could be.  

At its most basic level, an advisory board of educators is a sounding board for EdTech providers. But companies can (and should) utilize this strategy on an ongoing basis in order to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships with members that have years of education-industry expertise and even gain insights on what educators want that EdTech isn’t yet providing.

Surveys are also extremely helpful in knowing how a company is or isn’t meeting the needs of the audience – if you can get participants to take them. SurveyGizmo reports that external surveys generate an average 10 percent to 15 percent response rate, so if you choose to conduct a survey, think about how you can incentivize key audiences to take it.

Unlike other tech verticals, gifting and ethics laws prohibit vendors from offering educators incentives to participate in surveys. However, you can motivate educators to answer a survey by offering them the results. For instance, “Here’s what other groups of educators had to say about the same questions you answered.” For educators, knowledge in and of itself can be a motivator.


Provide professional development and training

Another key to becoming a tech industry giant is acknowledging that there’s a direct correlation between educating customers about their products and successful product adoption. When you make the experience interactive, fun and free, you’re more likely to attract a bigger crowd. Look at Today at Apple, for instance, which offers hands-on, in-store educational sessions – using Apple products – from basics and how-to lessons to professional-level programs.

EdTech providers should take a note from this initiative and go beyond the sale and the installation of your products. Help teachers understand not only the basics of your technology but the tricks, shortcuts and special features as well. Consider hosting live demos at the schools you serve and sponsoring events to engage the education community. Because if your teachers aren’t up-to-speed with what your technology provides, they won’t use it. Conversely, if you guide them through your technology’s competencies, you’re inspiring confidence. And confidence increases the likelihood of adoption and ideally the product or service becomes something they can’t live without.

Look, too, at the “network effect” and apply this commercial business model to EdTech. Also known as demand-side economies of scale, the network effect affirms that a good or service becomes more valuable when more people use it.  Therefore, as more and more educators use and benefit from your products, the better chance they’ll be adopted school-wide and even system-wide. 


Consider strategic partnerships to deliver more comprehensive solutions

In order to disrupt the status quo, innovative companies must think outside their four walls. They acquire or partner with other companies to increase their capabilities or formed strategic partnerships to leverage new products and services. In short, they looked beyond their current offerings and envisioned something more.

If you continue to think that every problem and solution is a vendor stack, you’re limiting potential growth and preventing new opportunities. Rather, consider creating a new, broader ecosystem. What can be combined with your current offerings to create a stronger client solution that provides more features, more integrations, less headaches and less cost? How can you add to your solutions to help make your company – and the schools you serve – more competitive? If you can provide schools with technology that can bring their costs down in one area so they can use the savings in another, you’ll win every time.


Think big – like the Big Tech

At the end of the day, the world’s largest tech companies achieved success by incorporating best business practices with innovation. They know their customers intimately and offer solutions that solve their problems. They engage with their customers through surveys and advisory boards and provide the foundations of learning  from the basics to in-depth discoveries. They go beyond the current box they’ve been thinking in and form strategic partnerships that provide growth in new areas.

Investments in the EdTech industry continues to grow, with no signs of slowing down. By incorporating some of Big Tech’s best business practices into your organization, you’ll set up your company up to grow market share in the EdTech arena.


About the Authors

Steve Halliwell is Chief Product Officer, Executive Vice President at Promethean. Prior to joining Promethean, Steve most recently held Executive Leadership roles at Amazon Web Services (AWS) since 2011. Steve started the Education and the Healthcare/Life Sciences verticals in addition to running the West Area commercial business. Prior to Amazon, Steve held progressive sales leadership roles in the technology sector with both Hewlett Packard and Microsoft.

Cheryl Miller is Chief Marketing Officer at Promethean. Cheryl has over 20 years in the tech industry and joined Promethean from Microsoft where she was the GM of the One Commercial Partner Team, leading the worldwide go-to-market efforts. Prior to Microsoft, Cheryl was VP of Marketing at F5 Networks and also spent 11 years at Symantec in various product teams including four years leading the Huawei Symantec Joint Venture program office and investment.