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Marketing to customer education: Where have you been all my life?

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on September 3, 2019

Customer education can be a competitive advantage and help your sales team win deals against your most direct competitor. Don't believe me? Just ask your head of marketing. She'll tell you.

How do I know? It happened last week, when I met with a head of customer education. We were talking about her one, three, and five year goals, when I asked whether and how her sales team was attaching training to larger deals.

Then she told me the head of marketing at her company came to her and said (allow me to paraphrase): "Our training services is a competitive advantage. Our direct competitor does not have visible training on their website like we do, and our sales team is winning deals against them because of it. I want to brand our training and promote it like crazy."

How's that for competitive advantage? 

I bring this topic up for two reasons.

First, it is a real story showing how customer education can help a company grow. This is the kind of stuff that allows a CEO to get at least one good night sleep.

Second, there is an epidemic of customer education leaders begging for time with functional peers and executives teams to make the case that education is important. I hear it all the time, "How can I get a seat at the table?"

This story above is how. 

This head of education has the marketing team coming to her, saying “Where have you been all my life?”

If that is not getting a seat at the table, I don't know what is.

Put your training on your website

Too many software companies hide and / or gate their training content. There are two main arguments.

First, they just plain believe customer education is for customers, and they are just going offer it to customers after they buy and get their access.

The second argument goes like this: our training cannot be public. Our competitors might see it. 

For the first argument, consider this. Of your total addressable market, 90% have not yet bought your product. They could buy your product. Your sales and marketing teams are trying like crazy to convince more of that 90% to buy, and you are getting in their way by hiding one of the most in-depth and intimate ways a potential customer can experience working with your company: a training course. Don't hide training. Promote it. Scream from the rooftop: "We can help you learn this, that, and the other thing."

For the second argument about competitors, it's not like you are making public a course explaining how your code works. Just ignore your competitors and focus on your customers. If you make a consistent and genuine effort to help prospects and customers, you will earn their trust, and they will more likely buy from you and not from your competitors. 

Successful software companies are not hiding their training. They are doing the opposite. 

You should put a link to your training offerings on the first or second level navigation. Right across the top of your website. Depending on how strategic you want to make training, it should be a main tab. Then, as in the example at the beginning of this blog, your training should have its own website that can stand alone. <Your Company> University, for example. Over time it can become a brand in itself. 

Make it discoverable on Google

It's 2019. Before anyone does anything, they do a Google search. Find a restaurant. Learn to play a song on the guitar. Look up the latitude of Stockholm. How to seal a deck made of western red cedar in one day. And learn how to integrate your <software> with Salesforce. If people cannot find your training through a Google search, they are finding your competitors' training. 

People don't even search software help sites and knowledge bases anymore. Sorry to break it to you. But they are actually finding way better "how to" content on other people's blogs, forums, and YouTube. Why? Because it's better and it's discoverable. 

If you don't have time to make your training better, start with making it discoverable. 

After you ungate your training (because your took my advice above) you should write your course descriptions using language your customers might use to search for it. You don’t have to be an SEO expert. Just ask yourself what questions your customers might ask when they search for training on your product. Make sure your LMS or course description landing pages put the names of courses, locations, and dates in the URL of the course description page, too. Google counts that.  

Publish testimonials

Remember all those level one surveys that us, customer education professionals, obsess about but never actually take any action on? You know what I'm talking about. You might as well not do smile sheets at all. Unless. You take the comments and publish them on your training site. You should treat each of these comments as a testimonial and put them all over your customer education catalog. 

It is best if you can get people's names, titles, and company names, of course. But even anonymous comments are good. I know. Getting testimonials is hard. Most customers are afraid to ask their companies for permission for their testimonials to be used. The solution is to ask a lot of people, which means you need to ask every single customer (or prospect) who takes your training.  

Every post-training survey should have a question about willingness to use a testimonial on the site and a check box saying you can use their name and company. In fact, I suggest this might be your only question. Most people will not do it. But. If you ask after every course, over time, you will have a few customers who do volunteer a testimonial, and then the flow will be steady. Over the course of a year you could have a dozen or so people who gave a testimonial about your training, which you can them publish on your site. And on LinkedIn. And on banners at your conference. Your head of marketing will start requesting meetings with you. 

Slow down to speed up: Assess your current maturity stage

You may be an innovator or an early adopter and want to go all in. I understand your impulse. However, I urge you to go through the process of understanding the education services maturity model and assessing your current maturity level. That alone, will help make execution the easy part. Click on the button below to download our guide. 


Originally published Sep 3, 2019 4:53:34 PM, updated Sep 28, 2020