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The first step in your education services marketing plan

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on May 7, 2020

Learndot education services marketing planThe job of an education services team at an enterprise software company is to develop and deliver education programs to help customers learn how to use the software they’ve purchased from your company. There are many angles one can take with that purpose statement, but that’s the gist. The core skills of that team are to analyze learning needs, designing learning opportunities that address those needs, and then deliver on those needs. 

What is not a perceived core skill is marketing….or otherwise the capability to communicate why the training exists, what it is, and how someone should find it and buy it. 

How do I know this? 

First, our most popular blog post by far in the past two years is a blog about how to promote customer training. Second, we regularly get asked for help with developing marketing plans for training programs. It’s a capability most education services teams don’t have and want to build.

Now more than ever we need to get good at marketing. 


Because customers have invested big money in your software. In a time (Covid-19 era) of reduced demand and tightening budgets, software companies need to double down on customer success and education services to rapidly accelerate customer value realization. Or frankly….your customers won’t renew.

That’s bad news.

Education services teams need to start communicating to customers that training exists and what will improve if they buy it.

The best way to do this is to take a step back and create really good ideal customers profiles and craft well-defined value propositions. 

I know. I know.

It sounds like marketing-speak, mumbo jumbo. It’s really not. It’s really a skill most education services professionals are already good at. What do you think happens during the “analyze” phase of any credible instructional design methodology? It’s to figure out who your audience is (ideal customer profiles) and what they need to learn (value proposition)? 

That is all I am talking about here, except I am going to show you a different (better) way.  

This “analyze” methodology will help think differently about understanding who your audience is and why they should buy your training. 

It’s called the value proposition canvas.

Value proposition design

The value proposition canvas was created by Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Bernarda, and Alan Smith and described in their book, Value Proposition Design: How to create produces and services customers want

You may have heard of it. 

The purpose of the canvas is to help you in two ways. First, it helps you create the right service (customer training) in the first place because you understand your ideal customer profile(s), and you understand the specific value you can deliver to those ideal customer profile. Second, it helps you create the right messaging so you can communicate why your ideal customer profile needs your training and how they will be better off if they buy it from you. 

I argue in this blog that the first step in your marketing plan is to create a value proposition canvas. Any and all marketing ideas, plans, campaigns, flow from your canvas. And I do mean everything: 

  • Course names

  • Course descriptions

  • Learning objectives

  • Learning pathway bundling

  • Messaging for customer newsletters

  • Role (buyer persona) descriptions

  • Promotions

Plus, you can give your value proposition canvas to your marketing team, and they will know exactly what campaigns to run. In fact, from now on, I declare, you are not allowed to talk to your marketing team about promoting training unless you bring a value proposition canvas with you. 

There. I said it.

The value proposition canvas is that important. 

Enough convincing. Let’s go through an overview of what the value proposition canvas is so you can see why I make such a bold claim.

The value proposition canvas overview

Let’s describe the value proposition canvas at a high level so you know what this is all about. There are two parts:

  1. Customer segment: Who you will create training for.

  2. Value proposition: Why they will buy from you.

    Part 1: Customer segment

    The first part of the value proposition canvas is called customer segment. This is the part in which you identify the customer segment to whom you will offer your training. 

You must start here.

You cannot do anything until you know who you will serve. 

Most of us don’t really think about this too much. We either automatically trust our assumptions about who we serve or frankly, because our customer is often thrust upon us. After all, our company sells project management software, and a team of project managers just bought our product and needs to learn how to use it. Simple. Our customer segment is project managers, right?

Quote: Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. - Malvolio Act 2 Scene 5 Twelfth Night


But it’s more than that. 

Think of a customer segment is a group of “people” who can be separated by a set of buying criteria. People have different reasons to buy. Each different set of reasons forms a segment. On the value proposition canvas, these reasons can be broken down into three elements:

  1. Customer jobs: A customer segment has certain jobs they have to get done. 

  2. Gains: Specific things will get better if a customer segment does its jobs well. 

  3. Pains: If a customer segment does not do its job well, some things will get worse.

These three elements give a customer segment reasons for buying something. In our case, buying our customer training. 

Let’s look briefly at three example customer segments to whom we might design and sell training.

Customer segment 1: A vice president of a business unit

A vice president might want to buy training because she just invested $100,000 in project management software and doesn’t want to waste that money (a pain). She wants to get her entire team skilled up and using the new software (a customer job or two). And more importantly, she probably wants better visibility into project statuses and ultimately wants to deliver better projects or faster projects (two gains). These are reasons a VP buys project management software training. 

Customer segment 2: A project manager

An individual project manager might have other reasons for buying (even if it’s free) training. An individual project manager might want to build up his skills so he doesn’t fall behind (falling behind is a pain). Or maybe just to put in on his resume that he has the advanced certified project manager credential (a gain). The project manager has a big project to kick off next month (a customer job) and wants to be prepared to do that in the new software. These are reasons an individual project manager might buy project management software training. 

Customer segment 3: A software administrator

Just to complete the point on customer segments, an administrator of project management software has still other reasons for buying training. It might be as simple as learning the new software. It might be something more specific. “I need to set up our users for the launch next month, and I need to learn how provisioning works” (A job). The reasons might be more personal. “I want to look good to the VP when she asks for what’s possible.”

VP: “Can we set up the software to do this thing?” The administrator wants to answer, “I can do that.” Looking capable in front of bosses and peers is a reason to learn something new (a gain).

The administrators might be frustrated administering its current system because the processes are manual and time consuming (a pain). These are all reasons an administrator would want to learn new project management software.

In just these simple examples, we have identified three customer segments: VPs, project managers, administrators. Each has its own reasons (customer jobs, gains, and pains) for buying training. 

Part 2: The value proposition overview

The second part of the value proposition canvas is the value proposition, which lists those things we do with our training that deliver value to each customer segment. You might say it lists those specific benefits that address those specific reasons each customer segment buys our training. 

Think of it this way:

  1. A customer segment has reasons for buying something. 

  2. A value proposition addresses those reasons. 

This is how we link the two sides of the canvas.

The customer segment side lists the customer jobs, gains, and pains. The value proposition side lists items that create the gain (gain creator), relieve the pain (pain reliever), and the training courses you offer that address these gains and pains.

Think of it this way. For the VP, a customer job is to launch new software into the organization. A gain might be a successful launch. A gain creator would be to offer a process or methodology for launching project management software successfully. The product you might offer would be a course called “How to Launch Our Software Successfully: An Implementation methodology.”

So let’s recap: 

Gain: Successful software launch

Gain reliever: Implementation methodology

Product: Course: How to launch our software successfully 

When we start any marketing or product development plan, it must begin with who you are serving and how you will serve them. The value proposition canvas helps you identify who you will create training for (customer segment) and why they will buy from you (value proposition). 

It all begins with the value proposition canvas

I hope I have convinced you “why” you need to start with the value proposition canvas. For those of you who are convinced, but want to learn more about how to apply this to education services, look for our next few blog posts to discuss each part of the canvas in more detail. 

And make sure to watch the video embedded about describing the canvas and how to use it. While you want it, get your mindset shifted to, “My products are training courses and my customers are my students.” That will help you absorb the video. 

Here are three practical marketing ideas

While you work on your value proposition canvas, here are three practical marketing ideas you can put in place to move the needle. This is our most popular blog in the past 2 years.


Originally published May 7, 2020 5:37:38 PM, updated May 14, 2020