How AppFolio Uses Integrations to Scale Customer Training [Webinar Recap Pt. 2]

How AppFolio Uses Integrations to Scale Customer Training [Webinar Recap Pt. 2]

Jami Kelmenson
November 10, 2023
Online Certification and Badges
Webinars & Events

In our recent webinar, Skilljar’s Sr. Solutions Engineer, Tyler Larson, hosted a conversation with Jen Atzenhoffer, Sr. Manager, Training and Enablement for AppFolio, on how her team uses Skilljar integrations to uplevel their training program.

AppFolio is a provider of cloud-based property management software, services, and data analytics to the real estate industry. Jen’s team oversees customer and third-party partner certification programs as well as internal and training and enablement needs for their client services teams.

Our goal with Skilljar has always been to create training opportunities at scale for our customer base. Our trained customers have 26% greater product adoption, with higher retention rates and account spend as well.–Jen Atzenhoffer

How Appfolio uses integrations for monetization, certification, CRM, and demand generation

Simply put, an integration is a mechanism for two systems or technologies to talk to each other.–Tyler Larson

Here are some insights Jen shared on how they leverage Skilljar integrations to uplevel their Customer Education platform.

1. Integrations for monetization

Jen knew they had a gap to fill for AppFolio’s smaller customers who needed a deeper training offering. Serving this group in a way that was going to be scalable for the business has become their North Star when thinking about monetization and certifications.

Historically, they offered a few free training options including AppFolio Academy, and hands-on, custom training, called Academy Trainer, for larger customers. But they kept hearing from their smaller customers that they needed more. So Jen’s team maximized the engagement in Academy Trainer by converting that to a paid service for all segments over the last year. Now, accounts of all sizes that desired that hands-on experience could access it.

As the number of learners grew, they needed an option that would truly unlock scale while providing a similar level of depth to the hands-on experiences being offered. This is what led them to Academy Certifications.

AppFolio offers a mix of free and paid training to its customers, something for everyone.

AppFolio offers a mix of free and paid training to its customers, something for every part of the customer journey.

They launched a pilot program for certification with 80 customers, including external partners. The goal was for learners to master a challenging platform workflow from end to end. They wanted to start with something that would be impactful and generate revenue, but also create scale and depth that didn’t exist in their current Academy courses. It was also important to create a psychological benefit in valuing something from purchasing it rather than it being free.

They learned through this process how to gauge the amount of content to provide in a certification. They ended up breaking the offering into two separate certifications.

People have different needs when it comes to training. And customers will need to train new people as they grow their businesses, and also add staff to replace employee turnover. Further, Jen’s team knew the company would be releasing new features that required additional training. As a result of this experience, AppFolio now has a holistic approach to training that meets their customers where they are in their journey.

Jen offered the following advice to webinar attendees:

Evaluate the problems and the training needs that exist within your business. How can you solve them in a way that’s going to provide a well-balanced set of offerings to meet a variety of training needs for your customer base?–Jen Atzenhoffer

AppFolio uses a Skilljar to Salesforce integration to send data to their monetization app, Zuora.

AppFolio used a Skilljar to Salesforce to Zuora integration to handle payments for their certifications.

AppFolio was using Zuora as their payment processor for invoices and they didn’t want to have to change it when they offered certifications. They passed the registration date and path ID information from Salesforce to Zuora so that customers could see charges for their certification on their next regular invoice with AppFolio. This will ensure that AppFolio won’t need an additional payment processor to manage, or deal with the chargebacks and additional credit card fees this would present to the company.

2. Integrations for certification

Many Skilljar customers see great value in pursuing a credentialing program for their customers. AppFolio’s program offers certification, which is an official credential that holds weight and validates that the user has demonstrated their knowledge on the topic, usually through an exam or task that requires administrative review. Certifications can be useful for validating knowledge of a certain product as well as industry-related expertise.

Sharing credentials in the form of a badge or certificate helps companies generate organic program exposure as the credential provides a link back to the course that generated it. Potential users might see a badge or certificate on LinkedIn, click back, and discover your training program.

AppFolio certification for Customer Education, powered by Skilljar

We’d love for our certifications to grow to a point where earning one becomes a recruiting advantage for our customers, i.e., hiring someone who is AppFolio certified. – Jen Atzenhoffer

AppFolio’s customers can push their certification through to their LinkedIn profile using Skiljar’s integration. Jen’s team realized they could use their customer certification process to meet the training needs of third-party partners in supporting their customers as well.

Reuse content when you can help justify the effort you’re putting in for certifications in terms of learnings, go-to-market process, etc. Do a market validation process with your customers to understand their needs and determine where there is content overlap.–Jen Atzenhoffer

To do this, Jen suggests reviewing existing data to answer base-level questions about customer needs. For those questions you can’t answer through data, conduct calls with select customers to help understand their needs – what they’re looking for, and where they see gaps. Having some go-to slides based on the customer calls is helpful to have in conversations with your team to help them understand the reasons for bringing a new service to market.

Every customer who participated in a market validation call was included in their certificate pilot program as a thank you. These customers could send themselves and colleagues through the pilot for free, knowing it was going to become a paid service in the future.

She also suggested meeting with internal stakeholders, including sales, marketing, customer success, support, business systems, etc. to refine the approach, knowing that each group is going to be coming from a different perspective and offer different feedback.

Our pilot process was extremely helpful. We got a ton of useful information during that time and were able to refine the program before launching certifications to the masses.–Jen Atzenhoffer

AppFolio also used emails to engage internal stakeholders in the pilot process and got some good learnings about why some people were excited to go through the process and why others didn’t progress after they had access. This gave them ways to further tweak their program before launch.

3. Integrations for CRM

Typically in Skilljar, your CSMs, sales reps, and support teams can easily see training taken by a company (account) or individual (contact). When Skilljar’s Salesforce integration (a managed package in the Salesforce app exchange) is installed, they can also access additional information in near real-time such as students’ information, their course progress and completions, any group memberships they may belong to, and purchases.

Skilljar works in the Salesforce Lightning interface delivering 39+ custom objects for understanding user interactions with education.

There are really no limits to how much data the Skilljar/Salesforce integration can generate. Our package is easy to install, but the key part is how we link your Skilljar data to your existing Salesforce data.–Tyler Larson

How AppFolio integrates with Skilljar and Salesforce

Jen described how they push several items to the Salesforce contact record, including registration dates, path IDs, lesson completion counts, and completion dates. They also push certification registration data to Zuora, their monetization platform.

Dashboards built by AppFolio for their Salesforce instance, pulling data from Skilljar Academy

Dashboards built by AppFolio for their Salesforce instance, pulling data from Skilljar Academy

AppFolio’s largest customers were struggling to hold their employees accountable for training before going live with AppFolio’s software. An integration with Xappex allows Jen’s team to push course data through to a Google sheet that can be shared with their largest customers. Xappex automatically pulls the training progress information daily from Salesforce on an email basis, but it could also be pulled on an account basis.

This solution between Skilljar, Xappex, and Google Sheets works well for us and gives our largest customers access to their training progress data.–Jen Atzenhoffer

4. Integrations for demand generation

Skilljar integrates with Marketo to deliver Customer Education data for marketing automation

Integrations for demand generation involve pushing data directly to marketing automation tools like Marketo to capture students’ data as they sign up, including sign-up fields and potential custom data, like their company. You can push their enrollment and completion events through from Skilljar and then mine that data over time to see if they become a customer or send emails (drip campaigns, nurture funnels, etc.) to encourage conversion.

Skilljar's integration with Intercom allows for messages to help users along their journey

Intercom, a chat widget tool is also supported in Skilljar. You can add this to your Theme in the Skilljar dashboard using JavaScript to customize a messaging bot that pops up to users.

Jen’s team is currently working on a new user nurture email campaign tied to Marketo, that’s automatically generated to new users, introducing them to all the training offerings available. They expect to use these campaigns as an ongoing marketing tool for certification enrollment and keeping AppFolio Academy front and center for their newest and future customers.

At the end of the day, tie your trained customers to overall business goals and success metrics. We know that a trained customer is your best customer, but how do you prove it? Integrations will certainly play a part in this area.–Tyler Larson

Webinar Q&A:

Q: How do you get buy-in from your analytics team to start proving out the ROI of your training program?
A: (Jen) Everybody’s analytics team is different in terms of what they’re able to prioritize and what their workload looks like, but for us it’s hard to get them to own a project on your behalf. I reached a point with both of our go-to-markets over the last year, paid training and certifications, where I realized I needed to own it. I was able to pull the data and see all the sources that I could get access to, some of which were from analytics – and they helped me even though they couldn’t own this data project themselves. This got me 80-90% of the way there and then I could pull them back in and say here’s what I found, do you see any red flags here?

It’s a good way of getting their approval during a 30-45 minute meeting without them having to be involved in the entire project. In this way, we discovered some data that was really insightful and they were excited to jump on board.

As you go through the process on your own, just being bold and asking for the data you need to make your go-to-market a success, whether you’re talking about monetizing or bringing something new to market, can be successful.–Jen Atzenhoffer

Q: I’m working on a certification program now. How did you determine which segment to start with?
A: (Jen) Our segments are workflow-based, so it’s less about the customer segment and more about the product overall. We started with the workflow that was the most challenging for our customers to get them to realize ROI even faster. Then we will prioritize other workflows from there.

A: (Tyler) With Skilljar, we wanted to validate our assumptions. I can assume that an account with a certified product expert will probably submit less support tickets, but how do I validate that? Don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis. Try one segment and see how it goes. And then optimize and iterate based on the data you collect. That’s the way I like to think about any initiative in the Customer Education space.

Q: Does the board need to be outside of the company, an external validation that lends weight to the credential?
A: (Tyler) It really depends on your initiatives and the space you’re working in. There are many vendors that can help with proctoring the exams you’re running to add that heavier weight validation on top of it. But it’s not one size fits all, which is really the message I’m trying to leave behind in this webinar. It’s going to depend on your initiative, the space you’re working in, and the stage you’re at in your Customer Education journey. That’s where I think you can really lean on your Skilljar resources as well. We’ve done hundreds of implementations and can share what other customers have done.

A: (Jen) With our certification, validation is accounting-based. The ACPA (Association of Certified Public Accountants) has to review it in order for it to be used for actual ongoing education credits. So depending on what the topic is, if there is that type of space that exists, that would be a really great way to incentivize people to take your certification, if it can go towards some other professional goal they are working toward.

Q: What is the time commitment and lesson count for your certifications?
A: (Jen) Our time commitment for a certification is six to eight hours. In terms of lesson count, we use Skilljar’s multi-session live training events, where you can add multiple training sessions to one lesson. For each course, there are six main topics we cover. Each topic takes about an hour to go through and then there’s a test at the end.

One thing we were really clear on with our pilot customers and in general when people sign up for certifications is that they can skip the parts of courses they already know how to do. We provide an end-to-end learning experience but there’s going to be a lot of people who already know some parts of each of these courses. We want them to know they can skip through those modules and get to the parts that are gonna be really meaningful to them sooner.

See more resources from Skilljar on how integrations can optimize and uplevel your Customer Education program:

4 Ways to Optimize and Uplevel Your Customer Education Program in 2024 [Webinar Recap]
Skilljar’s Salesforce Integration 101 (eBook)
Customer Education Integrations for Help Center, Certifications, and Community (Coffee Chat recap)
Skilljar Integrations for CRM, Marketing Automation, Content Management, eCommerce, Customer Experience, SSO, Badges & Certification, Business Intelligence

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