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The Four Capabilities of High Performing Customer Education Leaders

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on October 2, 2017

The customer education function at a fast-growing software company is as varied, complex, and strategic as any other function. It can also be an under-appreciated operation depending on the culture of the company and on how it is run and led. How customer education is viewed is largely determined by how you run it. If you focus on answering the question, "How can we help customers learn?" and then proceed to develop the most instructionally sound courses possible, customer education will be undervalued. 

It is as simple as that.

If you focus on answering the question, "How can we help grow the company?" and then proceed to build a team that increases revenue, contributes to high customer retention rates, and improves product adoption, customer education will be seen as a strategic partner in the quest to grow an incredible company.

If YOU are the one leading that charge, YOU will be seen as strategic partner who also has potential to lead other strategic functions in the business (By the way, I am working on a blog post that talks about how customer education could be a career path to other function, if you do it correctly). 

There are a few key skills (actually, they are capabilities) you need to develop, if you want to build and lead a strategic customer education offering that is leaned on by the rest of the organization. These are certainly not the only skills you need, but they are strategic capabilities that successful customer education leaders have developed, and they are not the typical skills you find in instructional designers and trainers who go into customer education. 

I'd love to know whether you agree or disagree with these four capabilities and whether I missed anything. Comment below, email me, tweet me, mention be on Linkedin, where ever, your disagreements or other ideas. 

Strategy design

Strategy design is about figuring out what goal (or goals) to pursue and creating a plan of action to achieve the goal. The first part of this statement is more difficult than it looks because your probably have dozens of goals you could pursue with customer education initiatives, and you cannot do them all. The tricky part is to review all the possible goals and then make a decision about which goals to pursue based on a combination of customer priorities, company priorities, what resources and capabilities you have to work with.

The second part of the strategy design process is coming up with a plan. The plan defines how you will execute the strategy. Therefore, the plan needs to be actionable and short term enough so you can make visible daily and weekly progress towards your ultimate goal, while at the same time long term enough that is paints a picture (a vision) for where you are going.

If you want to be a leader in your organization, a leader who can solve problems, execute plans, and focus your teams energy on making the most effective and high value contributions to your company's success, you need to build the strategy design capability.  

Developing and packaging offerings

This capability goes way beyond instructional design skills. Yes. Your team needs instructional design skills so you can actually create effective learning experiences. At a broader level though, you need to develop the capability of deciding what courses are needed, creating those courses, and then assembling them in ways that customers understand and can consume in the context of what they are used to purchasing, that address their needs and reflects the value the customer find on the offerings (read: reflects what customers are willing, able, and expecting to pay). In other words, this capability is closer to product management than it is to instructional design.  

Taking your offerings to market

Once you have your offerings, you need to get them into your customers' hands. This does not mean putting these course offerings in your LMS and sending a link to customers. Taking your offerings to market means coming up with a pricing strategy, enabling your sales and services teams to sell (or giveaway) the right training to the right customers at the right time, and helping marketing understand how to market your offerings and even use your education offerings in product marketing itself. 

This capability is where an education leader crosses over into being a business leader first, education leader second. 

Getting your processes and technology stack in place

The fourth capability of high performing customer education leaders is to put processes and technology in place to make your plan happen. Every job needs processes and tools. You need to figure out what processes to put in place so that much of the work your team is doing follows a process or is as systematized as possible. Whether it is developing a course or canceling students, or keeping course offerings up to date with the product release schedule, you need processes in place to do those things as efficiently, repeatably, and predictably as possible. Sometimes this will involve buying and using technology other times not. Understanding the customer education technology landscape is vital, so you can make decisions about what technology you need today and tomorrow.

Think of capabilities as a team muscle

Certainly, these are not the only skills you need to become a high performing customer education leader. They are core capabilities that your team needs. We use the term capabilities intentionally because what's important to understand is that your team needs to have these capabilities, as a team. It is not really about individual skills. It is about you, as a leader, strengthening the muscles in each of these areas so your team can grow into a strategic function at your company. Your job is to build these capabilities in your team so that customer education can make a strategic impact at your company. 

Customer Education University

Enrollment Opened Until October 20 

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 won't last long, 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 2, 2017 8:22:47 PM, updated Oct 3, 2017