In the business of K-12, it is not uncommon to encounter an “us vs. them” attitude when it comes to educator-vendor relationships. It’s easy to see why the relationship can seem adversarial; one is selling, one is being sold to. In reality, educators and vendors need each other to succeed for the other to thrive–and that is the real goal for their interactions.
I have a unique vantage point in the business of K-12, because I work for both educators and vendors. In my job at Noodle Markets, I facilitate quote requests, RFIs, RFPs, and general outreach between districts/school and companies. I make sure that district-approved vendors lists are loaded into our platform and help vendors create robust product and service profiles. I wrangle vendors to meet solicitation deadlines and I wrangle educators to provide details and answer vendor questions in a timely manner.
Along the way, I hear a lot of things about the other side. Here are some of the secret (and not-so-secret) complaints that vendors have for educators.
1. Why can’t they just say what they want?
This is a common one I see across correspondence. Vendors desperately desire clearly written requirements about what the district/school/educator is seeking. One furniture vendor complained about the barrage of emails that she receives that will list things like “How much for 30 chairs for a classroom?” That’s not exactly an easy question to answer, since typically vendors in the furniture space have many options in their catalog and at NoodleMarkets.com. If it’s just a quote request, at least the model number would be necessary. If it’s a request for recommendations, perhaps the educator should list factors like age of students using the chairs, delivery dates, and accessibility information.
2. Sometimes we need lead time, too.
Everyone can relate to waiting until the last minute on an essential task, but for complicated purchases, this can put vendors in a real pickle.
Educators tend to think of vendors as being able to just rattle off prices by looking at a price sheet (and sometimes they can), but sometimes there will be price and/or functionality differentiation, depending on a number of factors: state taxes/regulations, professional development requirements, delivery charges, location and type of building, etc. For certain items, the sales rep may even need to go through an approval process before even sending the quote.
As a rule of thumb, the first outreach should leave time for phone calls and meetings with the vendor, as appropriate.
3. Are you sure you need this?
It is also important for educators to leave time to collaborate with all the stakeholders within their organization on the purchase. Sometimes, teachers and other educators are left out of the purchasing process until items are delivered (physical goods, curriculum, software, etc.) If that purchase doesn’t address the need, that reduces the vendor’s chance of getting repeat business–or might even trigger a return.
More importantly, for educators, that is wasted dollars and a missed opportunity to accelerate student achievement.
4. You’re asking for a lot of information for one small purchase…
Proper solicitation type is key when it comes to outreach with vendors. Sometimes a purchase will require competitive bidding through a Request for Proposal process, but that is usually for very large purchases. Other times, an educator may need to perform a simplified acquisition method, gathering a few options and making a selection. Under $5,000, though, most states only require a “fair effort” to award business across a variety of vendors. That doesn’t mean that educators should not comparison shop; they should! But it does mean that vendors don’t expect to do a big lift when it comes to small dollar purchases. On Noodle Markets, it’s important to select the proper solicitation type, to save time for everyone. Perhaps it is only necessary to email a “Quick Quote” using our messaging feature. Other times, you might need to issue more formal solicitation, like a Request for Information.
5. So…do you like it?
Vendors are constantly on the lookout for testimonials and efficacy studies–especially for new curricular materials. It takes time to gather that feedback, which vendors use to improve their offerings and in marketing materials. All feedback, especially from end-users is welcome. That feedback can give the vendor time to revise and rebuild for the next purchasing cycle, and to improve what they do for other districts/schools. Without that feedback and stamp of approval, it can be very challenging to win business and continue to survive in the competitive K12 landscape.
6. Hey, where did you go?
A big struggle for vendors comes after a solicitation or series of correspondence is closed. Who was the winning bid? Who bidded? Why did you select the vendor that you selected? Did you even make a selection? Vendors need this transparency to become more competitive in the marketplace with future opportunities. Perhaps it will inspire new product enhancements or pricing changes in the future. For RFPs this information is typically publically available, but what about the simple quote requests? How can a vendor know what the market wants and needs when they don’t find out which products are chosen and why?
I don’t claim to be the educator or vendor “whisperer” here, but I do know that both sides are ready to revamp the ways they buy and sell in K-12. Both sides seek transparency, speed, and agency. And both sides are interested in making sure that students and staff have what they need to thrive.