Register now for our next webinar on January 25, 2023, “How to Analyze Education Program Metrics.” Have you attended a Skilljar webinar yet? See what customer education professionals are saying about the experience!
In our recent webinar, Skilljar’s Director of Demand Generation, Carolyn Bradley, hosted a conversation with Smartsheet’s Sr. Manager, Customer Training, Stephanie Barbee, and Sr. Learning Experience Designer, Damani Musgrave, to learn about their customer education team’s journey creating and launching their monetization strategy.
Smartsheet is the enterprise platform for dynamic work—aligning people and technology to help organizations move faster. Smartsheet University’s bundled, self-paced training was the starting point while a scalable, revenue-generating course catalog was the end goal. So they ventured into what was once the uncharted territory of scalable, monetized training to make their vision a reality.
In this webinar, Stephanie and Damani shared their wins and challenges along the path to monetizing customer training and offered some tips for anyone interested in using education as a revenue driver.
We’re so happy to be part of the team that gets to deliver Skilljar to educate customers.–Stephanie Barbee and Damani Musgrave
Why monetize your customer training?
Being revenue-generating allows you to fund your own growth.–Maria Manning Chapman, Distinguished VP Education Services Research, TSIA
Stephanie began the discussion with a great question, why monetize? She highlighted a few reasons, particularly in light of the macroeconomic climate of work today.
First, moving toward a break-even approach (sales cover your program costs) or a profitability approach (sales exceed program costs), puts you in control of the growth and evolution of your customer education program.
Additionally, in today’s environment, it’s even more crucial for customer education to be seen as a contributor to your organization’s financial health and less as a cost center.
The early days of Smartsheet training
Stephanie provided context for where Smarthseet was with their training circa 2019, prior to their monetization strategy.
At that time, they used Skilljar for their self-paced eLearning option, which was either free or bundled into another product or service. Their sales organization didn’t see the full value in training just yet, so they regularly offered eLearning as a one-off or concession during sales negotiations.
In addition, their instructor-led training (ILT) program was primarily used for custom or 1:1 training engagements delivered primarily on-site. The demand for ILT wasn’t huge at that time and if they were to consider steps to increase it, their execution plan wasn’t scalable.
There were only so many trainers on the team and only so many days in the month. So at some point there would have been a tip into a lesser customer experience if the volume of training we were doing had increased.–Stephanie Barbee
That all changed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Making the shift to virtual instructor-led training
Every company—and Customer Education program—had their world flipped upside down when the pandemic hit. Like many companies, Smartsheet’s team had to quickly develop new standard operating procedures. On-site training had to be completely replaced with virtual instructor-led training (VILT).
VILT, something we had only begun to see more traction with at that time, became the primary and only mechanism for educating customers once the pandemic hit.–Stephanie Barbee
Smartsheet found that many learners weren’t interested in classes that required too much time in Zoom. So, a few months into the pandemic, they adapted that content into more consumable timeframes (no more than two hours per course) and focused the objectives of each learning experience on singular features or functions within their software.
These sessions were conducted as live virtual instructor-led events so customers could continue to get the benefits of engaging with the team and have a sense of “human contact.” They followed these sessions up with a recording, available for 30 days, so all attendees could review the content.
They also added the new VILT courses and a curated learning path into their existing Skilljar instance to take advantage of shopping cart functionality. The first course they offered covered their end-to-end software features and functions, with each course available to purchase individually or as a learning path using a credit card.
We were already familiar with the Skilljar LMS. We knew it could enable integrations for purchasing courses. It was a natural addition to incorporate the VILT catalog as a paid experience.–Stephanie Barbee
VILT also worked as a complement to their eLearning catalog. As Smartsheet began centralizing all of their customer-facing education options, essentially the ground was laid for the launch of Smartsheet University.
Smartsheet University today
In July 2020 Smartsheet went live with their newly revamped training options for customers. Their self-paced, eLearning catalog stayed the same, but their paid custom training was delivered fully remotely and largely targeted at onboarding new users of the software in groups of 25 or less. In addition, they added a new VILT catalog to the mix. The simple, topic-focused agenda provided a way to quickly bring in more trainers to help support the program as it shifted to virtual delivery.
A benefit of this shift was that Smartsheet found opportunities to quickly deliver higher-level or solutions-specific training as the need arose.
The addition of a virtual instructor-led training catalog to our portfolio, which was designed for individual users who wanted to learn how to use Smartsheet in sessions that fit their schedule and skill set, was a game changer.–Stephanie Barbee
Users select the date and time for each course and have 90 days to complete the experience before they have to refresh that purchase. Smartsheet initially scheduled dozens of sessions each month that provided options for different dates and times for all courses that customers could choose from. They quickly added additional role-based learning paths to the catalog so customers had even more reason to come back and buy more training.
Smartsheet launches a subscription-based model with SmartU
In the summer of 2021, Smartsheet launched a subscription plan for their virtual instructor-led catalog and rebranded the program as Smartsheet University (SmartU).
Customers could add unlimited access to the SmartU eLearning and VILT catalogs for all users within their account. So for every Smartsheet license a customer had, they could add access to the SmartU content for education purposes by purchasing a subscription.
This approach enabled our sales organization to start adding training to more opportunities with significantly less friction. We sold just shy of about a million dollars in subscriptions in the first nine months of that program launching.–Stephanie Barbee
Today, Smartsheet University consists of a more current and regularly updated eLearning catalog as well as 25 virtual instructor-led training courses and seven learning paths.
In June of 2022, Smartsheet was delighted to relaunch their one-to-many in-person learning offering, branded “SmartU Live Regionals,” and they’re actively working to build out that catalog as well as expand live events to more cities. They are looking primarily at core functionality usage and specific use cases within Smartsheet. Two new topics are scheduled to launch in January of 2023.
That said, there are many more changes to come for Smartsheet University to ensure the highest quality learning experience for customers.
We’re continuing to see higher volumes in our subscription plans sales, and our a la carte offerings remain a great way to test out new content and different learning experiences with our customers.–Stephanie Barbee
Damani Musgrave discussed how Smartsheet incorporates user feedback and shared some tips for anyone considering monetizing their learning platform.
The importance of user feedback
Today, everything on Smartsheet University is available for purchase. They use Skilljar’s course messaging to direct learners from one course to the next and users can learn in multiple ways—self-paced, virtually, or in person.
They recently implemented several improvements to the look and feel, and experience of Smartsheet University. They conduct course surveys to understand which improvements have the biggest impact on their learners. They also have a support queue where learners can email comments.
Lastly, they staffed a booth at their recent user conference to learn firsthand what users were looking for. They discovered that navigating Smartsheet University to find the most relevant piece of learning was an area that needed improvement.
User feedback is important so we can learn how they perceive our program and therefore the value of learning with us.–Damani Musgrave
Tips for monetizing your customer training
Damani shared some tips for companies looking to monetize their customer training program.
1. Treat your program like a business and measure its impact on the bottom line.
Track data such as monthly, quarterly, or annual recurring revenue (ARR), account or subscription renewals, and support ticket deflection. These kinds of metrics are not usually associated with customer education programs, but they’re going to help you measure what influences the bottom line.
Use correlated data as a starting point to test your assumptions. For example, if you see that classes tend to fill up at the same time of month or day, use this information to target promotions or special discounts. You don’t have to do a detailed analysis to understand why something is happening, just notice correlations that you could test to see if there is really something there to leverage. Another correlation example is tying course completion to product usage.
Consumption data, such as course completions or hours trained, is helpful for knowing program engagement, but it’s challenging to tie that kind of data back to ARR.
Additionally, use your trainers as a source of feedback. Involve them in content development. They have a good read on the impact your program is making on learners and it’s good to get insight from more people when you have a small team.
2. Create a sense of exclusivity—don’t lowball pricing.
If you’ve got two choices for pricing a session, $20 or $99, you might think that the lower price will entice more people to sign up. However, your learners may have higher expectations for a more expensive session and they may actually be more likely to register for the $99 session as a result.
You could always try pricing some things that are optional to gauge the interest level. As long as learners can opt out of something they’re not interested in, this gives you good information.
Damani admits Smartsheet is still seeking their sweet spot in pricing. They’re listening to their learners and creating new content to empower them while they improve the overall experience in Smartsheet University.
You will gradually solidify a pricing model that will work well for your learners. Don’t be shy about charging a fair value for the quality of your offering, just as you would with any other aspect of your business.–Damani Musgrave
Similarly, the team found that having too many offerings would lead to some sessions with only one or no learners in spite of the registration numbers.
It’s better to create a sense of exclusivity and use that demand to drive your own future behavior and what you offer learners.–Damani Musgrave
3. Test, don’t assume.
Damani shared that they originally limited their learning sessions to the middle of the week, making an assumption that this is when people preferred to learn. However, they discovered that Monday and Friday are just as popular for training as midweek. They also assumed that customers would be excited to learn about the topics that excited the training team.
The reality is that learners are trying to achieve their goals, not our goals for them as educators. We need to be sensitive to that.–Damani Musgrave
As another example, the team over-indexed on customer choice with their session schedule thinking that learners would want more options. The reality is that this diluted their audience.
Sometimes if you build it, they don’t come.–Damani Musgrave
Don’t be shy about testing different topics on different days of the week, different times of day, with different frequencies of delivery, among other things.
Try running internal pilots. You can get feedback from peers, the learning community, and colleagues to inform those assumptions.
4. Smart small and iterate.
You don’t have to wait until you have all the components in place to start selling training. For example, you can offer a paid webinar to see how interested your learners are in that content and how willing they are to pay. If you already have the material, it’s not going to take months of planning to test this and see how it lands.
The same holds true for improvements to your catalog. You don’t have to make every improvement in a day; you can roll things out gradually.
A lot of customer education programs get stuck in analysis paralysis trying to figure out what makes a best-in-class offering right from the start. That’s not going to serve you.–Damani Musgrave
In closing, Stephanie and Damani successfully made the case that bringing in revenue gives you the argument to grow the size of your team.
You could end up being a self-funding group by starting early adoption into monetization and growing the strategy from there.–Damani Musgrave
When you are a small team there is less program overhead which might actually be an advantage internally in making the case for monetizing your program sooner rather than later.–Stephanie Barbee
Have you attended a Skilljar webinar yet? Here’s what attendees are saying about this one:
“This has absolutely been the best webinar I’ve attended YTD—huge thank you to the Skilljar team facilitating and Stephanie+Damani, y’all are rockstars! Great insights! The amount of value packed into that webinar was well worth the time and re-watch.” – Jonathan Suchin, Qualia
“This has been my favorite and most beneficial webinar I have attended.”– Crystal Clark, Integra Connect
“Great session…so much resonates!” – Dave Brooks, NETSCOUT
“Thank you for the informative session Stephanie and Damani!” – Helen Yu, uPerform
“Thank you, this was very helpful!” “This was excellent!” “This has been great!” – Various attendees