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Customer education should not lead with product. Lead with this instead

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on March 1, 2021

We should not base our customer education mission on teaching product features to customers. We know this. Yet, expediency often wins the day and dictates that we have features that customers need to learn, so let’s just teach them that. Easy. And it’s not just expediency that drives this decision. Our instructional design process, by definition, asks the question, “What do we need to teach customers about our product?” Or “What do our customers need to learn?” These are self-centered questions. We should ask instead, “What results are our customers after?” Or “What is our customer trying to accomplish?” 
The second two questions are terrifying because of what the answers might be and where they might lead us: to designing customer training on topics beyond the product entirely; or worse (for us), to not creating any training at all.
Then, what do our companies need us for? 
Like I said, terrifying. 
The good news is that the answers almost never lead to the conclusion: “We don’t need training.”
Far from it. 
Designing customer training to help customers achieve results opens up a wide spectrum of possibilities that go way beyond our narrow focus on feature training. I argue that focusing on teaching the product first is doing our customers and our companies a disservice. 
I am not the only one saying this. 
Far from it. 

They ask different questions in customer success and product management

Professionals in fields from customer success to product management with far more expertise than I, are shouting from the rooftops, “Ask different questions!” 
Here are two examples. 
Just the other day, I was listening to the CELab podcast, hosted by Adam Avramescu, director of enterprise customer learning & enablement at Slack and Dave Derington, senior manager of customer education at Outreach. Lincoln Murphy of Sixteen Ventures, and customer success thought leader, was their guest.
I highly recommend this podcast.
As Murphy suggested, the mistake we make in customer education is leading with product training. Instead we should ask what result the customer is after, and then try to help the customer learn how to do that. 
The same phenomenon is found in product management. Melissa Perri calls it the build trap. We assume (wrongly) that we should build features that customers want. So we build, build, build and wonder why customers are never satisfied with what the product can do. Perri offers a strategy for “escaping” the build trap (the name of her book), which is to start with finding our what goals the customer is trying to achieve? Then help customers achieve those goals. That vastly changes how a product management team decides what to build. 
Note: I spoke to Melissa extensively about this on Helping Sells Radio. It’s worth a listen. 

Escape the instructional design trap with value proposition design 

Customer education teams have the same problem that Murphy and Perri talk about. We lead with product and ignore customer needs. 
We can relate. 
A product release comes out. We creating training on the product release. 
A new module is launched. So we create training for the new module. 
It’s the build trap applied to customer education. Maybe I’ll call it the instructional design trap. 
Instructional design, by definition, starts with the premise that we need to figure out what instruction the learner needs. So we build instruction on product features. This is expedient. You get training out there, but this perspective lacks a basic understanding of our customer needs. 
Just as Melissa Perri offers a solution to the product build trap, and Lincoln Murphy offers a solution to the customer success product adoption trap, customer education teams need a solution to the instructional design trap. 
Our customer needs go way beyond using our features. In fact, none of our customers have goals or OKRs set to use our product more. Our customers have jobs to do. Improvements to make. Risks to reduce or avoid. Instructional design does not address customer needs in the context of jobs, gains, and pains. 

Value proposition design asks the right questions

According to the creator of value proposition design, Alex Osterwalder, value proposition design "helps you tackle a core challenge of every business — creating compelling products and services customers want to buy.” Everyone reading this blog post wants to create “compelling customer training courses that customers want to buy.” So then why not add value proposition design to your instructional design process. 
In fact, we could replace both the “analyze” and “design” steps of the ADDIE instructional design model with value proposition design. Doing this will immediately help you become more customer focused because you still start thinking about creating value for customers, not instruction. 
This shift seems like a subtle difference, but I think it’s a massive transformation in a world in which you need to persuade customers that they can acquire value from your training products. 
My ask is that you learn more about value proposition design and then use it when you design your next customer training course. 

Learn how one eLearning design expert uses value proposition design

We ran a webinar with eLearning expert Holly MacDonald of Spark & Co. She uses value proposition design and other tools like game thinking, to create training for her customers. Get the recording of our webinar to learn more. 
Watch Recording

Originally published Mar 1, 2021 2:35:02 PM, updated Mar 1, 2021