6 Paths for Leading You Education Business to Blue Ocean, Part III

BY Jeff Cobb

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In my previous two posts on the 6 paths (from Blue Ocean Strategy), I discussed looking across alternative industries and looking across strategic groups. In this post, I consider looking across the chain of buyers. If you would like a convenient PDF with all six parts of this series, just click the button below. Otherwise, read on.

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Assessing Your Buyer Chain

While it is typical to target a specific buyer when selling pretty much any type of product or service – education included – in most sales there is actually a range of people, a “chain” of buyers who can impact the buying decision. As Kim and Maubourgne write in Blue Ocean Strategy,

The purchasers who pay for the product or service may differ from the actual users, and in some cases there are important influencers as well. Although these three groups may overlap, they often differ. When they do, they frequently hold different definitions of value. A corporate purchasing agent, for example, may be more concerned with costs than the corporate user, who is likely to be far more concerned with ease of use. Similarly, a retailer may value a manufacturer’s just-in-time stock replenishment and innovative financing.

There can, of course, be overlap among the links in the buyer chain. For educational products, for example, the user and purchaser are very often one and the same. I think there are ample opportunities, however, to target influencers and perhaps even to break the purchaser/user into separate links.

Targeting influencers, in particular, can be a powerful way to solidify a position that competitors will find it hard to touch. Organizations that offer some form of credential – a certification or assessment-based certificate, for example – have an edge here. Most people go through the trouble of earning a credential not just for their personal satisfaction but because somebody else – potential employers, potential customers, etc. – cares about it. Those “somebody elses” are potential influencers.

The Project Management Institute (PMI), for example, has done a good job over the years of cultivating influencer demand for its credential – employers value a PMI certification, and prospective employees know it. Similarly, the CFP Board currently has a campaign under way to dramatically boost general public awareness of and demand for its credential (see http://www.letsmakeaplan.org/). CFP Board is going after the influencers.

Shifting the purchaser involves some of the same dynamics as targeting influencers – you have to make someone beside your usual target buyer care enough about whatever you offer to pick up the bill. If you can tell a convincing story about the value your education provides to employers, for example. they are going to be much more likely to pick up some or all of the bill – or not stop doing it when times get tough.

I think CAI, an organization I highlight in Leading the Learning Revolution, has made significant steps in this direction by developing The Management Advantage™ program over the past few years. By creating a clear path, and essentially, a compelling story about the value created through its educational programs, CAI has made its offering much more attractive to – and more likely to be funded by – executives at the companies it serves.

As you may have gathered, targeting influencers and shifting purchasers both tend to be long-term approaches. They are reliant upon strong positioning and on consistent brand building. Organizations that employ them successfully, however, can become practically unassailable in their target markets.

So, as you are planning that next seminar or conference, think about all of the links in your chain of buyers, and think long term. How could you strengthen the pull of your products in parts of the chain you may not have focused on before? There may be breakthrough opportunities there.


P.S. – Here are links to all six parts of this series:

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