How to Get Reluctant Classroom Customers to Buy Your Curricular Content?

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Sell Them on You Then Your Content 

You would probably agree that the main duty of teachers is to facilitate the process of learning, but does any of that involve selling? Is it not true that teachers have an inventory of solutions, strategies, skills, ideas, competencies, and knowledge that they continuously try to get the curricular consumers (i.e., students) to buy?  Ms. Klein tries different strategies to get her fourth graders to buy her ideas about quantity and patterns during math class. Mrs. Jones strives to sell her seventh graders skills for them to become competent readers and writers. Mr. King works to get his sophomores to purchase ideas about the production of goods and services and laws of supply and demand. If you would agree with the notion that teachers are salespeople, why is it often difficult to get curricular consumers to become repeat buyers?

Imagine going into a newly opened store that you knew nothing about and that you were unfamiliar with the store’s employees, products, and services as well. What are the chances that you would swipe your debit card before leaving that day? Thinking of the last big-ticket item (e.g., large screen LCD television set) you purchased, what were all of the things that happened before you actually completed the sale? Chances are you didn’t just make a blind purchase without knowing something about the reputation of the store, salesperson, or product. Someone probably referred you to them, you saw an ad lending credibility, or you dug up some information about them. At some point before making the payment, you probably had a strong feeling that you needed to purchase the product. It’s highly likely that in the places where you are a repeat customer, your customer loyalty springs from the presence of people you know, like, and trust.

The classroom is the marketplace where teachers work to meet their sales quotas. Teaching is composed of a series of sales situations that are sometimes successfully closed. However, many classrooms are full of reluctant customers who are mandated by state law to be there. While there, many disgruntled customers do everything possible to make the job of the curricular salesperson very difficult. In high-poverty classrooms with a preponderance of underprepared students, this is often the case.

First Make Deposits into Their Bank of Trust


When students are introduced to teachers for the first time, their reluctance to buy may stem from questioning who the salesperson (teacher) is and whether or not that person is reputable. Resistance to buy may lie in the fact that the salesperson has yet to earn their trust.  Hesitancy may also stem from past poor experience (e.g., lack of success) with the product itself (curricular content) or a related product. For instance, a high school freshman may have repeatedly been teased and embarrassed about being a poor reader for the last five school years. The chance that his ninth-grade English instructor will sell him on reading fluency ideas is small. Additionally, the sale may be nullified because the instructional salesperson hasn’t demonstrated adequate knowledge of the product. The confluence of these issues in the sales process precludes high sales volumes and promotes the frustrations of teachers.

The currencies used to transact buying and selling in the classroom are attention and emotion, which help procure interest, trust, and desire. They happen to be one of the most short-lived yet highly valuable classroom commodities. If you want students to pay you with their attention, impart their interest, and dole out desire, you’ve got to first give them compelling reasons to buy. Trying to grab and keep them before emotionally connecting is like the televangelist asking you to write the big check before hearing him or her preach the first sermon. You would be naïve to believe they will lend you their attention on credit before they know who you are, develop rapport with you, and know what the product will do for them. You have to first make deposits into their bank of trust. Everyone knows how important interest, trust, and desire are, but not as many strategically prepare and meticulously plan to pull out all stops to capture them. Other important considerations need be factored in to complete the sale.

When the challenge of engaging students is framed from the position of continuous buying and selling propositions, you are able to ferret out underlying reasons that help you close the sale. Reasons for refusal to buy are unearthed as well as ways to overcome sales objections and to negotiate student buy-in. Addressing engagement from this framework helps you build a wealth of achievement from the accumulation of attention, emotion, interest, trust, and desire.

Excerpted from Jabari (2013). Expecting Excellence in Urban Schools: 7 Steps to an Engaging Classroom Practice. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

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