Thursday, April 23, 2009

Independent MPS and OEM's that want to find big markets and reinvent textbooks: It's time to focus on education

Oce and Ricoh/IBM and HP, check out the last three paragraphs of the post, then read from the top.

I'm in the middle of an interesting discussion with Greg Walters over at his the Death of Copier blog. You can check it out here to get the full flavor of the back story.

The problem with selling into the education space is that everyone is too busy being busy to make better decisions. So the issue, as usual, is to get someone to apply the pressure to get them to focus on doing something new. No new thing gets sold into a formal organization without the application of power. Just the way it is.

Applying the appropriate pressure to get the right people to focus
The best way to apply appropriate pressure is from outside of the organization. Boards of Directors are focused on the actions of other Boards of Directors. CEOs focus on other CEOs. Marketers focus on other other marketers. It's just the "people like us, do X" syndrome.

The outside power in the ed system is the government and the teacher unions. So don't worry about getting on the school's radar. Your MPS is not a school system, so no one is going to listen. Since the same condition exists in every school system, until you get your one in a row that's not going to work.

No doubt, big X owns "the one in a row" contest. They've been doing this the longest. They probably do it the best. That's why I keep saying they should be the Learning company. But based on their recent announcements about what they're doing in Europe, it might turn out that they will help in addition to being the 800lb gorilla. They don't have enough feet on the ground to go after a market this size.

Yes, I know about Global Services and ComDoc, but how many of those sales people know enough to sell a school? My bet is not enough. Of course if they retrained people instead of firing them they probably would have more than they need, but that's a different story.

So . . . consider that every school district superintendent is faced with some really hard decisions they don't want to make. The common wisdom about "cutting costs" is to fire people. The people in question - the teachers - don't want to get fired. If you give the unions talking points as to why it would be much better for everyone if they did the kind of thing that Xerox did in Canada they will most likely provide all the necessary pressure while you keep helping your present customers.

Nobody wants to fire people because the blablabla is going to make their day filled up with stress producing stuff. Nobody wants stress. But since people who don't know what to do, do what they know, they go to default common wisdom. If you give them an realistic option that can be implemented with their minimum time investment and keeps everyone off their backs, it passes the "why wouldn't I do that?" test.

Once you get to "why wouldn't I do that?" then you can have a rational conversation where you're talking about price, service levels and upgrade path. Once you get into a grown up conversation then it's up to you.

Sell Reinvented Textbooks instead of Document Mangement
Everyone hates textbooks. Everyone hates documents. If you tell people you can replace textbooks, they will love it, because they don't have to do anything. If you tell people you want to replace their documents, no one is going to believe you. Plus it means they have to do something new. And then you get back to the problem outlined above.

Meanwhile, if you want to bundle hardware into an educational program that gets paid out of Special Ed, instead of Supplies, check out It is sites similar to them that are going to supply the content for Wiki Books and Wiki Newspapers. You can probably find alot of them with the right Google search.

And for our versioned newspaper audience, here's the kind of site that will supply the content for wikinewspapers. It's called

Oce is in the newspaper space, has experience in refurbished equipment and is also try to figure out how to break into the education space, and lead in books, this might be just right for you.

Ricoh/IBM InfoPrint has a huge presence on the ground. Lots of neat new equipment and all those Ikon people need something more to do. Plus I assume you have the big boxes. And given that you have lots of people in Canada, who can make a quick decision, you've got a good shot.

HP, you're the other big fish in MPS. Plus I recently saw your MFP's at Costco selling for really cheap. I know you do a nice business at Staples. If you have people on the ground this should work pretty well for you too. Of course, your top guns will have to stop focusing on fixing the Compaq purchase and at least take a glance at the middle of the pyramid instead of the top and the bottom, but you never know, it could happen.

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