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Customer Education as Career Path to Other Roles

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on October 9, 2017

I am always surprised when I hear from customer education professionals that the customer education function does not get the respect it deserves. I believe it is quite the opposite. So much so, that I believe education is not only a vital and strategic operation at a technology company, but a function from which it's leaders can take a career path to many other functions in the business. 

The skills, capabilities, and experience one gains in customer education can be leveraged in customer success, marketing, and product management, to name only a few. This blog addresses each of those three career paths and how customer education is a foundational career track for those function. 

Let's begin with customer success.  

Career path to customer success

The ultimate goal of customer success is to help customers do some job and achieve some outcome using your software. Isn't this what customer education teams do? When you deliver training to customers, the job is to help customers learn how to use a product to do some job and achieve some outcome.

Customer education teams who do it right, are always thinking about how to help a customer use software to accomplishing something beyond just using certain features. If you can demonstrate that customers who completed training actually used the product to do some job and/or achieve some outcomes, you can easily make the case that you are in customer success. 

That is what Sarah Sproehnle did.

Sarah Sproehnle is the VP of Customer Success at Cloudera. She was the VP of Education Services at Cloudera. She made the career transition from education to customer success. Part of how she made this move was that customer education and customer success are so closely linked at Cloudera that the transition does not seem so much of a stretch. In fact, in a recent talk at the Gainsight Pulse Conference, Sarah says that at Cloudera customer education was their customer success. Cloudera used education as a primary means of helping customers be successful. 

At a minimum, if you build a customer education function that becomes a primary means of helping customers be successful, and you position yourself as a person concerned with enabling customers, you can make a career path from education to success. 

Career path to marketing

There is a career path from customer education to marketing. The bridge between the two is content marketing. According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

The phrase, create and distribute valuable, relevant, and consistent content is largely what education professionals do for a living. Content marketing is about creating content that educates a potential buyer about something, and then persuading them to buy that something. Thought of in those terms, it is not such a leap to think that someone who runs a customer education function can run a marketing function.

I took this career path from education to marketing by focusing on content marketing. 

One step a customer education leader can take right now on the path to marketing is to take what one knows about the product, service, customer needs, or the customer job-to-be-done, and create blog posts, eBooks, webinars, and/or events or workshops that can be used as a marketing tool, by the marketing team, to draw prospects. If you can help your marketing team regularly create education offerings that attract prospects who then become buyers, you are in marketing.  

And, any one in customer education, with the knowledge they have of 1) the product; 2) customer needs; 3) the job-to-be-done; 4) and instructional design, can produce all of those content pieces above, right now, and help marketing almost immediately. If you can do this repeatedly, show results (in the form of new opportunities and new deals), you will be very attractive to a marketing team.

Trust me.

Career path to product management

Yes, customer education can even be a career path to product management. Think about it this way. 

Product management is about conceiving, makeing and delivering products to customers. There are many product development methodologies, but they all boil downing to these main steps:

  • Determine a need
  • Define requirements for an offering
  • Design it
  • Develop it
  • Launch it
  • Measure the results
  • Loop back to make improvements and/or expand it

Isn't this what customer education teams do every day? We just do it with education products (courses). In other words, a training offering is a product. It could be a video, a live online course, a private onsite course, a knowledge base, or any combination of the former. If you can demonstrate that you have conceived of training offerings, developed them, and the delivered them to customers (go-to-market), you can make the case that you have proudct management experience.

Bonus points if you can do this at a profit. 

That is the what. This is the how!

OK. So now that I have told you what to do. You may want to know how to do it, especially since I did it myself. But there is no person better to tell you how to do it than Dorie Clark. Her work directly influenced me in my career transition, and I think you will find it useful. In particular, read her book, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future. In it, she describes a ten step process for reinventing your career (making a career transition). I just want to give you a taste of her method by listing four of the ten steps: 

  • Step 6: Leverage your points of difference
  • Step 7: Build your narrative 
  • Step 8: Reintroduce yourself 
  • Step 9: Prove your worth 

Just reading those steps, should give you an idea of how you can take your current experience in customer education and define your own career path. You don't have to wait for your boss or your company to define your career path. You can define it. Dorie will show you how. 

Enrollment Opened Until October 20 - Customer Education University

We just launched a new course called, How to Build and Run a Strategic Customer Education Operation. In it you will learn how to:

  • Design a customer education strategy
  • Develop your course offerings in multiple delivery forms
  • Create your go-to-market plan
  • Put the right processes and technology in place to make it all happen

The course starts the week of October 23. Visit our website to learn all about the course. And if you have questions, just reply to this email. We are here to help.

Extra incentive: CEU1750 gets you 50% off enrollment! This discount will end Friday, October 13, so take advantage of it soon. Talk to your boss about making this investment in your development, in your company and in your 2018 customer education plan.

Register Now

Originally published Oct 9, 2017 6:00:35 PM, updated Oct 9, 2017