At Skilljar, we often work with customer success teams that are seeking to launch and grow their customer education programs. Whether you’re a software company selling your product or a training company that’s selling content, your prospects can choose from an increasing number of options and are able to switch vendors more easily than ever before.
Providing successful customer onboarding and quality ongoing education are therefore critical to demonstrating product value, improving retention, and fighting customer churn at scale. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the 3 keys to running a successful customer education program.
- Customer marketing
- Customer training
- Customer communication
1. Customer marketing
In B2B sales, 57% percent of the purchasing decision is now made before ever talking to a sales rep.1 Traditional product marketing includes producing materials like eBooks, webinars, and case studies. Innovative companies are now pursuing two new strategies for developing leads – customer education as marketing, and turning customers into advocates.
- Customer education as marketing. Many industries require professional continuing education to recertify for a license, or need to enable a new industry ecosystem trained on a particular technology. Offering education services gives your company the opportunity to nurture potential customer relationships and to establish yourself as an industry thought leader, all without a hard ‘sell.’
- Turning customers into advocates. Referrals from happy customers are one of the most powerful sales tools available. You’re probably already working with your top customers on case studies and testimonials – but how do you activate the bulk of your customer base? One strategy we’re seeing is launching a social customer certification program. Once your customer is certified on your product, they can share their status on social networks like LinkedIn. This helps the customer showcase their achievements while also building brand awareness for your product. To encourage customer adoption, consider promoting certification during new customer onboarding, jumpstarting the ecosystem with your employees and existing customers, and providing bonus incentives for certified customers.
2. Customer training
Customer training includes education throughout the customer lifecycle, from initial onboarding to ongoing success and refresher training. Salesforce.com reports that “training is the core of customer success,” and “customers who invest in training consistently report >80% higher ROI on their Salesforce investment.”2
There are many options to consider when launching a customer training program, including instructional design, location, target audience, business model, customization, and staffing. Training may be a combination of:
- Instructional design: on-demand (self-paced eLearning), blended/hybrid, virtual instructor-led, or classroom
- Location: online, at your HQ, at your client’s site, at other locations, at conferences, domestic, international
- Target audience: end user, administrator, role-based, train-the-trainer, channel partners
- Business model: free, a-la-carte, subscription, wrapped into a premium support plan
- Customization: public, private, custom
- Staffing: in-house, outsourced, partners
When choosing your customer training strategy, understand your desired business goals and success metrics in order to design the appropriate program. For example, if you are seeking to deliver low-touch training to as many customers as possible (like many software/SaaS companies), start with free on-demand training that’s easily accessible to customers 24/7 around the world. Over time, you can expand your training options to include more delivery models to meet the needs of additional customers.
3. Customer communication
Customer communication is traditionally done via a well-optimized set of lifecycle emails. When signing up for a new service, you’ll typically receive a welcome email, product newsletters, and various drip emails based on your activity. Some companies even offer email-based “courses” that provide useful onboarding tips at key decision points.
As email becomes less and less effective as a general communication tool, companies are trying different approaches, including:
- Live chat
- In-app messaging
- In-person events (industry and product conferences)
- Public webinars
- 1:1 calls with a customer success manager
Many customer education programs include a mix of structured training and proactive customer communications. Like in any other context, customers have different learning preferences, and offering a variety of options provides more complete coverage and thus higher likelihood of adoption.
Customer education is a critical new tool for companies that are seeking to improve customer success. The 3 keys are customer marketing, customer training, and customer communication. When starting a new program, consider your business goals and what’s most relevant to your company and industry to get started.