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I want training to be free. My CFO wants to charge. What do I do?

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on August 12, 2019

In September, I gave a short talk at ClientSuccess's CS100 Summit about how to design a customer education strategy. I focused on stories about how different software companies design different strategies and achieve success through different means. The point of the exercise is not to think that because one software company does something, you should do it too. The point is to see that there are myriad ways to use education to help customers.  

That is the secret to designing a customer education strategy...that you will know how to determine you are different.

For the precise reason that I know people who watch my talk on this subject think to themselves, "How does this apply to me?", I finished my talk deliberately early to make time for questions. I don't think any other speaker did that. 

I did.

A stunned audience, that was not ready to ask questions, took a few moments. Then the hands started to rise. 


Here are three of their questions and a summary of the answers I gave. If you have other questions, put them in the comments, and I will answer them. If you have better answers than mine, put those in the comments, too. 

Question: If we have no training today, where do we start? What training course should we do first? 

Of course, the short answer I gave was to start with a strategy. But because part two of the question was "What training course should we do first?", I answered by urging the person to resist the urge to leap straight into product feature training. Of course, you need to help customers learn how to use your product, but features are fleeting.

Features are fickle.

Your product team loves to change features, and they have a knack for changing them the night before the onsite training you've had scheduled for a month with your largest customer. 

But I digress.

It is not that you shouldn't teach features, it's just that there are other methods to help customers learn your product in a scalable and effective way. In my answer, I suggested two places to start.

First, teach a course on your point of view. Hear me out. Your software was created to change the way people work. Teach them that new way. Whatever that point of view is about how people should work differently, teach that. If you take this idea a step further, teach your customers how to do their jobs better....of course, yes, by using your product. But the point is to lead with your point of view on the new way of working. 

Second, teach a course on your roll-out methodology. Help customers implement your software. For most software products, you cannot expect that customers will buy online and roll it out properly. It's one thing for individual teams to buy Slack with a credit card so they can send of bunch of direct messages to each other. It's an entirely different thing to roll out Slack company-wide. Help your customers do that.  

Question: I want training to be free. My CFO wants to charge for it. How do we decide?

Have you had this discussion? My answer was short, "Why decide? Do both." I elaborated. You must do both. You need to have free options for small customers and early adopters. You also need to have paid training options for large customers and late majority customers.

To make the process of creating all of these options a little easier, you can take one topic (or one product or one module in your product) and re-purpose that from a set a videos to a one to three hour virtual instructor-led course to a pre-conference workshop to a private, multi-day, onsite course. You can largely take the same content and create multiple versions of the course.

Then, you will say to customers, "Yes, these videos are free, the virtual delivered classes cost a little bit per person, and we have a private onsite option that costs A LOT."

Different customers have different needs.

Who knew!? 

Question: What stakeholders should be in the room for the lifecycle analysis? Who should own that?

This question needs some context. One of the steps of the customer education strategy design that I described in my talk, shows a process of examining your customer journey (I called it the customer success lifecycle) in search of opportunities where customer education could make a difference. This process includes journey steps in pre- and post-sales. 

The stakeholder list is broad.

You need to have marketing and sales people in the room to unpack their interactions with customers before they buy. You also need your post-sales teams in the discussion to talk about the handover from sales, onboarding, and ongoing support. You might also want the people in the room who own the renewal because the renewal process is also a journey step, isn't it?

That is a lot of stakeholders. 


To answer the second part of the question, I said, "Whoever owns this process, they must be a strong facilitator?" In a way, I guess I dodged the question by not saying that the person who should own this process is the VP of customer success or the VP of education services or the head of global services.

I think it matters less who owns it than someone should own it and that whoever does own it, needs to be a strong facilitator who can draw out insights from the people in the room.

That is a skill.  

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Originally published Aug 12, 2019 2:15:23 AM, updated Aug 12, 2019