Take note, a growing trend at top schools around South Africa is to employ chartered accountants of large corporations as school business managers. How does this affect your sales to schools? 

This article was written by the CEO of SchoolAdvisor, Peter Morgan. Peter has plenty of experience selling to schools. He explains why schools are appointing business managers, who they are, how they differ from ‘bursars’, how to deal with them, and why you should still deal with the principal.

Why schools are appointing business managers

There are a few reasons schools are appointing business managers. I will highlight the top two reasons: 1. bigger budgets and 2. principals being overwhelmed.

1. Average ‘model c’ schools now easily have a budget of between R10mil and R40mil. Private school’s budgets can easily be north of R50m. A few of the top private schools sit with budgets of over R100m.

With budgets like these, schools need people with the expertise to manage them.

2. Principals traditionally manage the teachers, pupils, parents, and the school’s finances (procurement, renewing contracts, dealing with suppliers, etc.). By having a senior person handle the finances it allows them to focus on their core area – educating our children. 

For these reasons, it’s a no-brainer for schools to employ people with corporate experience.

Who the business managers are

From our experience, we can see a common theme as to who these business managers are. It seems a large portion of these business managers are chartered accountants with senior-level corporate experience.

Schools offer a less stressful environment than a ‘big corporate’ while still offering business managers the opportunity to make a difference.

Please note: this is a massive generalisation based on our personal experience.

How business managers differ from ‘bursars’

Within a school’s finance team, you will commonly find a finance manager, bursar, and credit controller. Traditionally, bursars handle all financial aspects. From school fees and budgets to managing suppliers and signing off on quotes, etc.

The difference between a bursar and a business manager comes down to authority.

Bursars report to the principal, who then reports to the school governing body. Business managers, on the other hand, are often seen as being on the ‘same level’ as the principal. They work alongside the principal and often report directly to the school governing body.

A business manager takes more control and ownership of the school’s finances. They essentially handle everything a bursar does and normally have a bursar/team working for them. The business manager essentially removes financial pressure from the principal, granting the principal the ability to focus more on parents, pupils, and the educational side of the school.

Please note: Some business mangers might still have the title ‘bursar’ but operate as a financial manager. 

How to deal with business managers

If a school has a business manager, your job (as a school supplier) has just become the little bit easier. Why? Because part of their focus is on you (the school supplier). In contrast, the principal is trying to juggle a hundred balls at once and often doesn’t have any time left in the day to focus on suppliers.

If your product/service does not have an ‘education’ focus (think edtech products, textbooks, cultural tours) but is focused on the business side of the school (think new fences, IT systems, hardware, security, maintenance, copiers, buildings), then, the business manager is your go-to.

Your ultimate goal is face-time with the business manager. So, when trying to achieve this, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • It is usually easier to get an appointment with a business manager than with a principal.
  • When dealing with business managers, you need your facts in order. Remember, you are dealing with a person with years of procurement experience.
  • Be prepared for them to negotiate on pricing, etc.
  • They will often ask for an email before they meet. Remember: emails are often overlooked or not seen, so, do what needs to be done to arrange a meeting.

Should you still deal with the principal?

Yes. Even if your product/service fits easier into a business manager’s profile, it still makes sense to see the principal. They have a huge influence in running the school. Even if your product/service isn’t related to education, remember, schools will only use a product/service to help improve the quality of education for the learners.

Effectively Selling to Schools Workshop

We trust that this info was of great benefit to you and your sales team!

You can find tips similar to this one and so much more at our annual “Effectively Selling to School Workshop”. This one-day exclusive event will unveil strategies from speakers with real success stories of cracking open one of the toughest markets – the school market.

To find out more info and how to register, click here.