3 Steps to Using Customer Education to Fuel Product-Led Growth [Webinar Recap]

3 Steps to Using Customer Education to Fuel Product-Led Growth [Webinar Recap]

Jami Kelmenson
October 11, 2022
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In our recent webinar, Skilljar’s VP of Marketing, Michael Freeman, hosted a conversation with our VP of Customer Success, Sara Barnes, and Manager of Customer Implementation, Mike Komadina, to uncover their secrets to leveraging customer education to fuel product-led growth (PLG).

Some companies with a low entry price use the “freemium” model to help the product sell itself – think Zoom offering 45 minutes of free virtual meetings to get users to try their platform and hopefully upgrade to paid features. This idea of focusing on the app or software itself to attract and retain customers is central to a PLG strategy.

Many of the concepts about customer education discussed in this webinar apply to any company that’s looking to scale. But since Skilljar has many customers that use a PLG strategy to scale their businesses, we thought we’d draw on the best practices gleaned from our experiences helping them reach their goals.

Scaling is one of the hardest things for any company to do. In this webinar, Sara and Mike covered the key challenges that PLG companies face as they are scaling and introduced a three-step framework to combat these challenges, along with tips on how to leverage tools and resources that are probably already available to you.

View the on-demand webinar or read the recap below.

Can you relate to the “scaling scaries”?

Sara Barnes opened up the discussion with a scenario that many attendees working at PLG companies probably relate to.

Some companies come to Skilljar and say, we’re so excited to be seeing all this success, but we’re a small team of implementation managers – how can we possibly onboard all of these new customers at the same time? And the product team is thinking – how are we going to make sure all of these new customers are adopting the new functionality we’re launching? And the support team is thinking – how are we going to support all of the ticket requests that will be coming in from all of these new customers that we’re signing?

Welcome to the scaling scaries. They are real and if you’ve ever experienced them, you’re not alone. But there are ways to tackle and overcome them through customer education.

Sometimes we address scaling challenges and then growth skyrockets, and that same challenge pops up again, just in a slightly different frame.— Sara Barnes

Where are you in your scaling journey?

First, consider where you are in your scaling journey before designing your plan for growth. The reality is, most companies go through various evolutions of what scaling means at different points in time. Be honest with yourself. Where are you from a product perspective? From a customer perspective? Be willing to embrace iteration as you navigate this.

The key to any successful scaling journey is to eliminate repetitive tasks. Customer education can help with this crucial process as well as enable you to successfully move throughout each stage of your scaling journey.

Challenges of Successful Scaling for PLG companies

If you’re able to get people to see value quicker, there’s a stronger likelihood that they’re not only going to stay with your organization, but grow in the long run.— Mike Komadina

In this webinar, Mike and Sara highlighted four critical areas that customers are looking to address through education.

  • Long time to value: Education helps ensure people understand how to get value from your product as quickly as possible.
  • Low product adoption: Surfacing the right content to the individuals that’s most relevant to them can help them understand how to use your product more.
  • High support costs: Self-serve customer education can be used to deflect tickets that would have gone through the support team.
  • Driving overall revenue growth: Greater product understanding leads to greater usage which drives revenue.

Three steps to accelerate PLG

3 Steps to Accelerate Product-Led Growth

Mike and Sara offered a three-step plan for fueling product-led growth starting with a detailed explanation of how customer education can help with each challenge identified above.

Step 1: Define the problem and how self-serve education can help.

Take a step back to identify – what is the biggest challenge you’re navigating right now?

Challenges of product-led growth and how self-service education can help

Challenge #1: Long time to value

As an implementation manager at Skilljar, Mike is tasked with helping customers see value as quickly as possible from our product. Here is how he defined the challenge of long time to value at Skilljar and how customer education helps our own platform.

“When I originally started with Skilljar, we didn’t have a dedicated implementation team like we do today. We were very focused on getting customers to value as quickly as possible versus a long implementation timeline, as this impacts retention. Like many early-stage companies, we used CSMs to train our customers one-on-one throughout the implementation process.

“We soon realized, not only were we having a lot of repetitive conversations, but we were inundating customers with too much information. We wanted them to know everything, but we realized they didn’t have to know everything on day one. And since we’re a customer education platform, we stood up Skilljar Academy, which still exists today.

Skilljar Academy for customer education
Skilljar Academy enabled us to decrease our onboarding time by 30 days, simply by removing those repetitive conversations from the CSMs’ daily tasks and allowing customers to take training when it made the most sense for them.— Mike Komadina

“Making self-serve training available sped up implementation and significantly shortened our time to value. More than that, it improved the customer experience significantly as well as the experience of our internal teams.”

Tips for overcoming the challenge of long time to value:

  • Only train customers on what’s relevant to them at that point in time, as too much content can be overwhelming. It prevents them from seeing the success within your product that you would expect them to see by a certain time.
  • Use emails and in-app tools to encourage engagement. Two great examples of this are Pendo and Intercom, both Skilljar customers. They use in-app campaigns to promote relevant information to the right customer. They leverage their own tools to promote additional content, and these tools link directly to Skilljar-powered courses to deliver the needed training at the right moment.

Challenge #2: Low Product Adoption

Customers that fully leverage your product see much more value and ultimately are much more successful. And this doesn’t just mean brand new customers accessing the product for the first time. We need to make sure that our existing customers are gaining the knowledge that helps them leverage all of the functionality available, especially if you’re making strong investments in your product.

Low product adoption is a symptom of people not understanding why they need to be investing in your product. The “what’s in it for me” isn’t always clear after users first purchase your product.

If you are trying to get someone to adopt a product, they need to understand how it’s going to benefit them.— Mike Komadina

Tips for overcoming the challenge of low product adoption:

  • Surface content specific to the persona. Make it relevant and explain how it’s going to benefit them on a day-to-day basis. If they’re able to solve one pain point, they’re going to go on to the next thing. And the more you can serve up based on their actions, the greater advocates they will become for your product.
  • Use data to understand where training is needed. Working with the product team, determine what activities lead to which outcomes to ensure you’re driving your education strategy in a way that ties to your goals.

Deep dive: Understanding and using product data

Knowing what areas of the product are not gaining adoption will help drive the content you create and how it gets communicated to learners. Asana, a Skilljar customer, relies heavily on data to inform the content they produce. They develop formulas such as:

Customers who do {Action A,B,C} within the first {X} days are {Y} times more likely to adopt the product.

Some of our customers have a specific “growth” team composed of multiple disciplines that is exclusively focused on how to drive product growth. If you have a growth team in your organization, establish a relationship with them because you, as an education professional, offer a lot. It’s all about delivering micro-learning to the right person at the right moment.

For example, if you’re combining an in-app experience with a digital adoption solution, you can track the first time a new user is seeing a certain interface. Then you can offer a paragraph of snackable information that guides them through the interface and includes a deep link to a Skilljar-powered course to take them through the specifics.

Another way to influence the new user experience is through a detailed email campaign. This could be powered by your marketing automation system (HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot) which can be programmed to key off of data that’s being instrumented in the product. Email content can link to courses and then use that course behavior activity to trigger new emails. For example, if they’ve taken this course and passed an exam, that’s a great time to suggest new functionality for them to level up. Using data to drive email content in this way, you can find new ways to drive product adoption.

For more on how the right data can help identify patterns, make evidence-based decisions, and adapt strategies to meet business goals, download our ebook, The Definitive Guide to Customer Education Metrics.

Challenge #3: High support costs

Especially in PLG companies, it’s all about getting customers to value as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible. There’s nothing that kills user momentum faster than having to stop and file a support ticket.

Just as it’s important to partner with your growth team, partnering with your support team is essential for learning the most frequent types of ticket requests. Then, you can create content to address those issues and train your support team on how to steer customers to that content in their conversations.

Making sure your support team is aware of what content is available is going to help drive support ticket deflection.— Sara Barnes

Tips for overcoming the challenge of high support costs:

  • Identify what the support team keeps hearing about. Create content to address these questions and use macros (automated message templates) to guide them to relevant training.
  • Embed training content within your knowledge base and community so that customers have the content they need when they need it, as well as access to future training that will continue to elevate their knowledge.

Customer Spotlight: Clever

Skilljar worked with several ed tech companies, such as Clever, that had to pivot to online learning quickly during the pandemic. When Clever trained their customers (school admins) on how to make this pivot, they saw a 25% decrease in overall support tickets for those admins who had completed the coursework.

For more on how to create content that reduces support tickets, download our ebook, How Customer Education and Support Can Solve Each Other’s Biggest Problems.

Challenge #4: Driving revenue growth

Often we think the only way to drive revenue growth is through account executives, account managers, or customer success managers – the individuals actually engaging with our customers. However, you can use self-serve education to drive revenue as well.

A lot of PLG organizations use a freemium model, offering some functionality for free in the hopes that users will like it so much they’ll be willing to pay for more capabilities. Education can be a great way to drive lead generation, improve free-to-paid conversions, and even help account expansion.

Besides driving direct product revenue through education, you can use learning to create new revenue streams such as offering paid certification courses. For example, a large SSO provider offers paid certifications that are only good for a fixed amount of time, so every six months to a year, learners have to recertify. (Check out this recent post about enabling recertification in Skilljar from our customer Duda). This ensures that the knowledge is always fresh in a rapidly-developing category.

Another benefit of certification is encouraging learners to post their certifications and badges on their LinkedIn profile. This is a great way to market certifications, elevate the value of these specific offerings, and raise the profile of your brand while also driving revenue.

Tips for overcoming the challenge of driving revenue growth:

  • Lead generation:
    • Offer free (preferably SEO-optimized) courses on a particular domain-level subject that relates to your product and your audience. (e.g. Project Management for Marketers)
    • Promote a free trial or entry-level offering of your product to consumers of your courses. (e.g. Get started with your account!)
  • Trial to paid conversion:
    • Identify where most free trial users get “stuck” or “stall” in their adoption of your product.
    • Try to determine the source of the blocker – a lack of product knowledge, a lack of practical experience, or missing subject matter expertise.
    • Develop learning materials in your new user onboarding flow (promoted in-app, via email, etc.) that will specifically address the learning needed to overcome those common blockers.
  • Expansion:
    • Create tiers of courses (basic, intermediate, and advanced) for users to continue to level-up their knowledge.
    • Beyond the basic training, be sure to call out advanced functionality that requires a higher level of subscription.
    • Use the completed course data to promote the next levels of learning to your user.
  • Certifications:
    • Encourage product certification to ensure your customers stay up to date on your product, while creating a potential revenue stream for your organization.
    • Make it easy for users to showcase their certifications by posting them to LinkedIn.
The fastest way to see revenue in a PLG company is to get people using the product. Companies spend a lot of money on new user acquisition. And every time they don’t get that user to adopt the product, that’s money that just went up in smoke.— Sara Barnes

Step 2: Identify key stakeholders and get buy-in

Identify key stakeholders to get buy-in for customer education
Great customer education grows and protects revenue, increases efficiency, and mitigates risk. These things appeal to every company executive. If you compare the relative cost of customer education to other investments they could be making, it’s a huge ROI.— Michael Freeman

Education cannot function in a silo. The first part of getting buy-in for your program is asking yourself what other teams need to be involved for this initiative to be successful. Then, focus on what’s in it for them. Be very clear how an investment in education is going to benefit their department and resources.

Take the Product team, for example. They invest a lot in new product functionality, so understanding the adoption rates of those new features and functionality is important to them. Demonstrate how customer education can drive product adoption by building and sharing content about the new features at the point of launch.

Similarly, for Customer Success, ask them about the most common information they send to customers. If you can put that information into a course, then those CSMs don’t have to send the same email to every single customer. If you can clarify the outcomes that education can drive, e.g., saving them repetitive tasks, you’re more likely to get that buy-in.

This is where the data comes in again. You need to bring the data to demonstrate – here’s what it costs to onboard someone today. And if we can improve our adoption by X%, we can reduce support tickets by Y%.

For more on how to get internal buy-in for customer education, watch our webinar, How to Build a Business Case for Customer Education or read the recap.

Step 3: Develop your education plan

Develop your customer education plan

To develop your education plan, first establish the baseline of where you are and where you want to be. Be very clear and honest about that problem and be prescriptive for that situation. From there, identify the gaps in the process that education can support. Find ways to engage your audience in the moment that they are stuck. Determine what you need to get there and how education can fix it.

If you understand the tools a customer needs to have at each point in time to be successful, then you can identify the information that will unlock the gaps and create that aha moment that allows them to move forward and be successful with your product.

We’ve learned a lot from the hundreds of organizations we’ve worked with to establish or grow an education program.

Here are some final tips from Sara and Mike:

  • Use what you already have. Creating education content is time-consuming. See what existing content exists with your CSMs and support team that you can use as a baseline to start and build your education program.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t inundate your customers with too much information at one time. We need to ensure we’re keeping it simple.
  • Be prescriptive. Ensure that they’re getting the content that they need when they need it. Make it a relevant, positive experience so they want to come back to consume more content.
  • Partner with your internal teams. Work with your marketers, CSMs, implementation managers, support reps, etc. to leverage their experiences and get educational content out to the right users again at the right time.
  • Embrace iteration. Customer education programs are constantly changing as your business evolves. Continue to iterate based on the data you’re gathering.

For more insights from our customers on the key trends that they are noticing within their own programs and the market that can help you build out your own program, download our 2022 Customer Education Benchmarks and Trends Report.

Don’t miss our next webinar on October 19, 2022, “A Customer-First Approach to Professional Certifications.”

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