Customer-related Decisions
Faculty vs. Institution Sales Approach
Where should I focus our sales attention, on the faculty or administrators?
There’s a balancing act between making rapid, single sales and slowly building long-term customer relationships.

While it may be tempting to do the former, it is also vital to long-term sustainability that you match your courseware product to customers who realize its unique value over time. Consider how your approach can best leverage this tension to create immediate champions of your products in faculty members, while simultaneously pursuing institutional relationships that will scale product uptake and ensure sustainability.

There’s a case to be made for both the faculty and institution sales approaches. Analysis of the Next Generation Courseware Challenge (NGCC) program cohort indicates that efforts to scale courseware through institutional adoptions may sacrifice user numbers in the short term. But this approach may have advantages in the longer term and offer a stronger path to success at scale. The institutional sales approach proved beneficial for the NGCC grantees because they were primarily emerging companies with little to no sales force. Large publishers, on the other hand, benefit from intel on course redesigns and established purchase history data.

Faculty Sales
  • Individual sales offer easier, faster jumping-off point for increasing awareness and quickly opening doors
  • You can build close relationships with faculty customers by aligning incentives and getting them invested as product advocates
  • Invested faculty become influencers, recruiting other instructors and pushing adoption of your product through institutional red tape
  • Many professors have freedom to teach the way they prefer, and they maintain decision-making authority in the adoption of new products
  • Faculty must deal with institutional considerations, such as IT and administrative oversight, by themselves
  • Limited product penetration and scaling
  • Must adapt courseware to individual instruction preferences, which is costly
  • Faculty have limited access to student-level data (e.g., Pell eligibility, GPA, ethnicity) that would benefit courseware design and research
  • Institutional sales enable broader adoption and scaling capability among many faculty and classes within an institution
  • Adapting courseware to fit an institutional vision is easier than adapting it for individual faculty with different pedagogic preferences
  • Implementation and integration are easier to address at a high level. Adopting a new technology in a school requires LMS integration, IT support, and so on
  • You can capture more student learning data from a variety of departments and classrooms
  • Institutional involvement in purchase decisions is trending, demonstrated by the rise in publishers such as Pearson, Cengage and McGraw-Hill offering inclusive access models
  • Relatively slower conversion rates and slow adoption process because courseware provider must be able to support institutional criteria
  • Faculty might not be receptive to administrators’ choices in the adoption of new teaching materials

During the NGCC grant, many courseware providers tried both methods to see which one worked better for them. The instances of grantees achieving sales success at institutions with just one approach were statistically rare to nonexistent. Courseware providers had to make faculty into product champions while nurturing institutional relationships that allowed them to scale product uptake over the long term.


What is the decision-making model for adopting courseware at your institution–centralized or decentralized? How can these processes be made more efficient without compromising academic rigor?

“Whether you take the top-down or bottom-up approach, you have to get faculty to endorse it and management to agree.”

Dror Ben-Naim, CEO of Smart Sparrow

Chemistry Faculty at the University of Mississippi

Best Practices
Faculty vs. Institutional Sales Approach

Develop a rubric to screen potential institutions so your sales team can be efficient. Finding institutions that are serious and ready to work with you is challenging, especially for venture-backed companies that need to scale quickly

Support faculty experimentation as they learn a new product or tool by offering stipends, resources, and/or recognition to promote and manage adoption

Pursue partnerships with bigger publishers and distributors to scale your product in institutions

Target departmental course redesign initiatives that create an opportunity for new teaching approaches and course material

Establish deep ties with a single institutional partner whose students fit your target demographic before spreading resources across many partners. Focus on that one institution’s success and develop insights to better understand how to scale adoption

Focus your pitch on easing faculty pain points. Consider pedagogic factors that affect attitudes toward technology, such as student assessment requirements and professional core competencies

Differentiate your product for your audience. Faculty are frequently pitched with learning materials; they need to understand product value intuitively and quickly

Show them comparable implementation cases. Seeing peers or a similar organization adopt the product successfully is a good motivator

Understand how to engage faculty. Generally, faculty are subject matter experts in their domains—not learning scientists. Give them appropriately calibrated information so they feel comfortable having meaningful conversations about your product. Avoid education technology market buzzwords

Case Study
Lumen Learning and Follett

Lumen Learning is an open educational resources (OER) based courseware provider. Guided by mutual interests in providing affordability and access to increase student success, it partnered with Follett, a leading distributor of educational technology to schools throughout the U.S. The partnership allowed Follett to offer Lumen’s OER course materials to more than 1,200 colleges.