How not to sell things to me and my school

Maybe it was just a matter of time. As I enter my third year in the same school, it seems that both my name and email address have made it onto sales lists in various places… and I’m not pleased about it. More to the point, I’m not pleased with the time it’s taking up. Not only mine – in deleting and unsubscribing to emails – but more importantly to colleagues in my school office who are now faced with phone calls asking for me by name.

Worse, some of those phone calls are made pretending that we have some sort of prior relationship. I deal with a lot of people, and don’t always recall every detail, so I am highly frustrated when I take such a call only to find it is a generic sales call. The same result is achieved when I open another email trying to sell me something that I have never showed any interest in.

Now, I realise this is futile, but my frustration has no other outlet, so from today I’m going to keep a record of those companies who have somehow got hold of my name/school/email address and use it to “spam” me or my school office.I will tell them each that it is not a good way to sell to me, but worse, that it actually puts me off buying from them at all – and maybe now I’ll put a few more people off too.

Buying my email address to send spam mail isn’t acceptable, and wasting the time of busy office staff in my school isn’t either. And these companies are to blame for it (this week alone so far!):

  • National Schools Partnership
  • ParentPay
  • GL Assessment
  • Eureka for Schools
  • eCadets
  • National Schools Training
  • Think Global Schools




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31 thoughts on “How not to sell things to me and my school

  1. claris2012 5 October 2016 at 9:25 pm Reply

    I totally agree. As a headteacher, companies know that they just replace office for headteacher in the email address and they’re in. Nothing annoys me more than answering the phone to Rick from IT Whatever, who says, “Hi, Claire, you having a good day?” I want to reply that I was until I just heard his audacious comment. And then, oblivious to the less-than-friendly tone in my voice, he asks me if he can make an hour long appointment with him so he can show me his wares. As if I EVER have two minutes spare!
    And, as our local authorities lose more and more schools, and consequently reduce their capacity to provide the services we need, the private company vultures fly in and bombard us with cheeky phone calls and presumptuous emails by the hundreds.
    This has become one of the most stressful, waste of time, irritating aspects of my job. If I could redirect them all to the DfE, I would.

  2. Saz the Biz Manager 5 October 2016 at 10:29 pm Reply

    I’ve had two of those companies this week too.
    Can we add to that educational supplies companies that send the same catalogue to the previous business manager, the bursar before them, the previous head teacher, the previous headteacher’ name (but addressed to him as deputy head), the head teacher before that, the head teacher of the other primary in town and me.
    And then triple it – We know that you sell exactly the same stuff under three different brand names.
    I will not buy from you if you send so many catalogues that the site manager has to get his sack barrow to put them in the skip.

  3. BT 6 October 2016 at 8:53 am Reply

    Fair points by irritated teachers / headteachers, which I find myself quite sympathetic with – but NO suggestion of how companies, who presumably believe they are doing things the best way – SHOULD ‘sell’ to you to get at least a reasonable reception.
    Do bear in mind that it’s not realistic to say “I will find you” if / when I need something, because realistically this doesn’t happen, and companies who waited for this to happen would not stay in business very long!

    Would be genuinely glad of comments / advice from the author and other commentators here.

    • Michael Tidd 6 October 2016 at 8:57 am Reply

      A fair point. Feel free to send your materials to the published email address or postal address on our website, but not to my personal address that’s been harvested without my intended pension, and not by misleading our admin team about the purpose of your call.

      • BT 6 October 2016 at 2:00 pm Reply

        Hello Michael – sorry, only just noticed this reply just now, i.e. since my new reply lower down to headswapboy.

        Thanks for your reply. As stated in my newer post, often it’s really teachers that businesses need to get through to – although they can’t always be sure that it’s the right teacher until they actually talk to them / exchange emails; or that this teacher has the same needs as the last one, just because his/her role and school size etc. appear to be identical.

        I’m not unsympathetic to your problem, as I guess all of us are on the receiving end of that (I certainly am, whether it’s worse in business than in schools I don’t know). I just wonder if people who’ve never been in the opposite role trying to get through to relevant people to make a living, know what it’s like. We’re not all as stubborn and useless as some of the big national brands with their call centre type approaches, but are still capable of inadvertently causing the irritation outlined by yourself and others through doing our job (either by mass mail or personalised mail / phone calls, both of which have a place in most school supply businesses I would think).


  4. Sarah 6 October 2016 at 9:11 am Reply

    I agree with BT. As someone who has to try and reach decision makers in schools, it is very hard to do. I like to think we are an ethical company (and perhaps less successful at times because of it). We do not buy mailing lists, but do use marketing companies that have up-to-date and authorised email addresses. Every single email we send includes an unsubscribe option and whereas I appreciate it takes time to do, that does mean we will never contact that person again. We will also never cold call and generally only send one or two emails per term. So, please don’t tar us all with the same brush!

    I would also be glad for some guidance as to the best approach to take to get our services known without irritating email recipients.

    • Michael Tidd 6 October 2016 at 11:23 am Reply

      The problem with the unsubscribe option is that it unsubscribes me from your email, but never let’s me know who it is passing my email address on or how to stop it being sold. It’s fine for you to say you use authorised lists, but if I have no way of scrutinising that authorisation then I have no control. As I’ve said above, I hadn’t no objection to emails and post via the school’s published email address. My personal address is not for your use.

      • Sarah 6 October 2016 at 12:36 pm Reply

        I think it maybe depends on the system. Every email we say does have a section at the end that says why you have received the email (such as because you subscribed for information). That’s probably why we very rarely have any of our emails marked as spam. I agree that the buying and selling of email addresses is unethical and this is not something we have ever done.

        Personally, I reckon around 30% of the emails I receive could be considered spam, but I have noticed that by marking the obvious spam ones as such and unsubscribing from lists, this gradually reduces. Unfortunately, having an email address will eventually result in someone getting hold of it for profit.

  5. headswapboy 6 October 2016 at 12:11 pm Reply

    And bloody Dane Cave constantly sending me emails asking if I want to go to the next academy conference.
    As to companies who want to sell us stuff, try coming to conferences, put on demos for groups of schools when we are at our most receptive or even try sky writing however there is no point emailing, it won’t work. My school is in Devon, one of the poorest funded authorities in the country which is likely to cut our funding again next year by more than £50 a child, a 10K or so cut in my case. Whatever your wonderful product is I am simply not interested, the Teaching Assistant I get to keep by not spending money on such things will have a far greater impact on the children. It may sound harsh but there isn’t a best approach to selling us stuff. We are no longer a lucrative market for you. If that’s a problem don’t bring it to me, take it to Mrs May, Mrs Greening and Mr Hammond.
    I didn’t realise I was so angry today; I though I was having a nice day. Just goes to show!

    • Sarah 6 October 2016 at 12:39 pm Reply

      Thank you for your suggestions. Unfortunately, exhibiting at conferences is prohibitively expensive when our system costs schools £3 per week, per pupil. We would need to sell vast quantities to even cover our exhibition costs! Email is relatively inexpensive and, whereas I agree a blunt tool, one of the most affordable for small businesses trying to market their service. I am sorry your school is struggling for funding and that you are obviously having a bad day!

    • BT 6 October 2016 at 1:53 pm Reply

      Let me assure you my friend that if the Schools market were no longer ‘lucrative’ (your word not mine), then you would not be receiving these emails (etc.) that are such a nuisance to you! Furthermore, you may not feel like it day-to-day, but education is far better funded and insulated from the woes that have beset many companies’ private sector customers since the GFC.

      It will be a bit disappointing to the likes of Sarah and myself (although I don’t actually sell directly to schools) if no-one who has posted on here about what they dislike, including Michael Tidd the author, is able to come up with a response as to how marketers and salespeople (a dirty word, but actually just human beings doing their job) SHOULD market schools, and TEACHERS in particular – as many products and services are specifically aimed for teachers, and receptionists (or even school Bursars) cannot be relied on to pass on information accurately every time (hardly fair to expect them to, I guess).

      So I await with interest what responses our overworked and underappreciated teachers (I assure you I mean that genuinely) come up with over the next couple of evenings when they are not teaching our nation’s future. (Unfortunately this is not a question that I believe Mrs May, Ms Greening or Mr Hammond will be able to give me a good answer to :).)

      The answer to this question has a particular bearing on what our company does in its major new projects over the next 12-24 months and I neither a) want to get it wrong for our business’s sake; nor b) wish to add to the irritation of teachers needlessly if there are better and more effective ways to reach them (verbally,even if not actually face-to-face, by email and by social media – I guess all are needed for different things).

      Many thanks in anticipation.

      BT (not British Telecoms!)

  6. Tom 6 October 2016 at 2:54 pm Reply

    I’m pretty sure I only started getting all my junk email when I subscribed for blog updates from you

    • Michael Tidd 6 October 2016 at 2:55 pm Reply

      Aha! Maybe I’m the source of the problem! 🙂

  7. Jan 6 October 2016 at 7:01 pm Reply

    As a headteacher I have a brilliant administrator who doesn’t let most telephone calls get past her! Emails are a different matter. I get over 150 a day and I just delete without reading them BUT I do have to look at the sender to see if it’s important – such a waste of time:(

  8. Barbara Wootton 6 October 2016 at 8:23 pm Reply

    Your interesting article raised several questions for me. How does a therapist with a really excellent service to offer a school make contact? Letters and leaflets appear to be shredded, emails are unread or deleted, and phoning rarely gets past the receptionist /secretarial firewall. What should I do to get to pitch a proposal?

  9. designatedsafeguardinglead 7 October 2016 at 12:54 am Reply

    I think the first thing is to make sure that you are pitching to the right person. Its the emails from companies who obviously have no idea what my job title means that drives me mad. I don’t have any say on what photocopies we use, nor on the playground equipment ( I teach in a secondary school!) nor on the trips to Africa.

    • BT 7 October 2016 at 7:14 am Reply

      “I think the first thing is to make sure that you are pitching to the right person.”

      And how does one do that, without a higher level of engagement than teachers / heads on here appear willing to offer?

  10. Joel 7 October 2016 at 1:00 am Reply

    I have to say, all this hand-wringing by companies in the comments section (BT and Sarah, with the sentiment echoed by Barbara) misses the point and is shifting blame.

    No doubt every company out there thinks theirs is the One True Good Product all schools should purchase, rightly or not. Email is cheap and easy, so of course everyone is going to use it. “Everyone sends emails, what *should* we be doing to get in touch?” is the wrong question to ask. You’re suffering because the bad apples make too much noise, not because time-poor head teachers and principals have better things to do than sift the good from the garbage.

    This is the tragedy of the commons in effect – *your* one little email or one quick cold call is no big deal, but in the masses of every comany and their dog the difference in scale quickly adds up to a difference in kind – marketing becomes spam.

    Company marketing needs self-management or regulaion, but good luck with that.

    • BT 7 October 2016 at 7:19 am Reply


      You seem to have missed the genuine concerns completely that have been raised. I don’t think any of us that you have referenced have suggested that the complaint is invalid, or that things should continue as they are. We have simply asked what IS effective / the right way, bearing in mind BOTH sides of the coin – whilst I for one appreciate that the answer to this will be different for different people.

      By merely expounding further on the same complaint, I’m afraid you haven’t left us any further enlightened.

      But no worries, we can continue to attempt to work out what seems to be most appropriate / effective without input from the recipients :).

  11. Rob Butler 7 October 2016 at 6:37 am Reply

    I find that the emails from companies selling products pale into insignificance compared to the volume of emails and calls that come through from supply agencies. Every year there seems to be more of them and the names of people at agencies rotate on a regular basis (taking your contact details from agency to agency). Arrgghh! 😬😬😬

  12. Jodie Lopez 7 October 2016 at 4:20 pm Reply

    I have a lovely filter set up on my emails “If the body contains “unsubscribe” then move to folder “Unsubscribe”.” I then go through at my leisure to see if anything interests me, without it getting in the way of my day to day. If any companies filter into my inbox as they do not have the unsubscribe in the email that is very bad practice.
    Companies of course try and sell, and I am all for the good ones finding a way through (that’s pretty much how I make my living!), but my daily life also needs to be manageable so the unsubscribe folder is my little tip!

    • Sarah 7 October 2016 at 4:31 pm Reply

      I love that idea!

  13. David 7 October 2016 at 5:08 pm Reply

    Companies could offer a useful web based service that showcases their product while being genuinely useful to the school. On the website, offer an email update service that schools can subscribe to if they are sufficiently interested in your line of business. Keep the emails relevant and become a reliable source of trusted information. Schools will beat a path to your door.

    • Alfie 17 October 2016 at 2:15 pm Reply

      Hi David,

      Could you (and others possibly elaborate more on what information teachers are looking for? I am in the process of creating a new website for our company and this is one area we are struggling with.
      I have spoken to several teachers and most agree that teachers are not looking for long waffly articles but tips and tricks for the classroom and things to make their, lives easier. Would others agree with this?


      • David 18 October 2016 at 9:03 pm Reply

        Hi Alfie,

        My areas of expertise is in SIMS Assessment Manager so, yes, I try to provide a website that is full of quick tips and (hopefully) some expert insight. I’m happy to share what I know with as wide an audience as possible even though in some ways I’m giving away skills and knowledge that some schools might pay for otherwise.

        The upside for me is that it helps to build trust in my personal ‘brand’ and encourages school staff to share my website with others. Of course my website has prominent links to my email newsletter and I encourage website visitors to subscribe. In the emails I send (no more than twice a term) I try to provide more value to schools by offering updates when I publish new information.

        I make sure that my email newsletters are also packed with as much useful information as I can muster. At the same time I make sure that teachers are aware that I offer services that can help them. My website and emails have ‘contact me’ pages so that schools are aware that my services are available. Its a very ‘soft sell’ approach but it works. I also actively encourage schools to unsubscribe if they no longer need updates and regularly prune the list to remove email addresses that no longer get opened.

        By the way, if you want to get insight into the problems schools face, try volunteering as a school governor. I’ve been a chair of governors for 10+ years and it really does help me understand the pressure points in schools that I can help with.


        • Michael Tidd 19 October 2016 at 8:15 am

          An excellent response that explains a positive approach very well!

        • Alfie 20 October 2016 at 1:04 pm

          Thanks David,
          That is useful information.
          So useful tips go a long way for teachers I guess, and this is what I will be working on with our team of teachers to help create and share online.

  14. claris2012 8 October 2016 at 12:29 pm Reply

    It’s been really interesting reading everyone’s response to this post of Michael’s, and good to hear voices from the other side of the fence.
    First of all, sales people need to gain a greater understanding of the rapid and seismic changes in education, and the impact these changes have had on the day to day management in schools. The demise of local authority provision of services for schools – caused by changes to central government policy (and while we’re thinking about the difficulties faced by private companies struggling to sell their wares, let’s spare a thought for 1000s of people who’ve lost their local authority jobs or, due to budget cuts, are working ridiculously and stressful hours doing the jobs of two or more people) has opened up a whole new opportunity for private companies to sell directly to schools. However, not all schools are the same. This is the important distinction private companies need to make.
    Mine is a relatively small, grant maintained primary school of 185 pupils. We are the worst type of schools for you because we still have a chunk of our budgets held by the LA and therefore don’t have the financial capacity to employ business managers to run our schools as businesses. We have also experienced significant budget cuts – capital funding was cut for all schools by 80% the evening of the day the Tories got into power in 2010; we also have to pay for LA services that used to be free (for a school like mine, traded services cost around £30,000; and, as for everyone, despite rising costs, school budgets haven’t risen in years. Add to this the extra workload on all school staff caused by the biggest DfE changes to the curriculum and assessment education has seen in decades, and you have a situation that is pretty hopeless for private educational providers. There is some great stuff out there that would enhance teaching and learning in my school, but I’m working 60 hours a week as it is – not just in term time but during the holidays too (I’m not moaning and I’m not complaining; I’m stating a fact), and my secretary and teachers and teaching assistants are working flat out every single day and all take work home because it’s impossible to keep on top of it all. Now add the pressure of our well overdue Ofsted hanging over us every day, and you might begin to understand why I delete all 120 emails a day I receive into my junk mailbox and instruct my secretary to not put phone calls from salespeople through to me. And you need to believe that I’m not on my own here.
    Now it might be different in big secondary schools and it’ll surely be different in academies, many of which will have their own businesses managers actively seeking good deals for their schools.
    So my advice to private educational providers would be to leave LA maintained schools alone at the moment, unless you can get to them through secondary feeder schools who could organise pitches at cluster meetings (where Headteachers will be far more receptive to you), and concentrate your efforts on selling to academies.

    Good luck.

  15. Kate Cameron 12 October 2016 at 8:30 pm Reply

    If you use outlook 365, use the clutter feature. Every now and again I loose an important email, but not all that often and usually if its really important they will ring to see why I haven’t responded. It has revolutionised my inbox 🙂

  16. Andrew 13 October 2016 at 4:32 pm Reply

    Rather than than unsubscribing, one way is to create a rule sending messages from that sender directly to junk. It means more clicking than just deleting messages but once you know the path in your email program it becomes second nature. It means you don’t have to open the mail and scroll to find the unsubscribe link. I now have 100+ such rules created in the last two weeks and it is beginning to slow the tide. It doesn’t stop new addresses but it permanently cuts out repeat offenders.

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