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How education services leaders can get a seat at the executive table

Written by Bill Cushard

Published on December 10, 2020

Education services leaders want a seat at the executive table—we want to be recognized for the value we bring to the company, and want the ability to influence and impact important decisions and discussions. 

And yet, education services leaders have so much trouble getting this seat. We have to keep justifying our existence in the company, and nobody sees the real value we bring. How can we convince management of the importance we bring to the table and the value we bring to the company as a whole?

There is sufficient research that shows that executive leadership wants and needs a business partner that adds value to the organization and the bottom line—and many executive teams don’t think education services are delivering. 

One thing education services leaders can do to prove their value is to create a good business case for customer education. When building a strong business case for customer education, there are many factors that go into it. ROI is certainly the most obvious and objective measure, but there are other less objective returns that an investment will earn—including increased customer satisfaction, improved product use, and better customer retention. 

When you design any business case, you are making a prediction that if you make a certain investment of time or money, you will realize some improvement to the business that will exceed the time and money invested in the first place—but it’s rarely that simple. 

Getting a business case approved is complicated—even excellent business cases risk not getting approved. Let me tell you a story from a real head of customer education at a fast-growing, open source database software company.

This customer education executive made a business case to buy LMS technology that would help manage the sale, delivery, and tracking of training credits to enterprise customers. The case that the education executive made to the CFO was that he would invest $60,000 for learning technology, and with it will deliver $1 million in training credits sales during the next 12 months. This sounds pretty good—but the CFO of this company didn’t approve it. 

Fast forward one year—the CFO leaves and a new CFO comes in. The customer education executive meets with the new CFO and makes the same exact case: "I want to invest $60,000 in this learning technology to sell, deliver, and track training credits, and I know we can do $1 million in sales this year." It was approved immediately. 

The problem is, the evaluation of business cases is entirely subjective. Let’s talk about materiality—in financial accounting, numbers that are material are significant enough that they should be reported in financial statements. If numbers are immaterial, they do not need to be reported on financial statements. What one CFO might classify as material, another might not. For example, you might be doing $1,000,000 in training revenue but your company as a whole is doing $4 billion in total revenue. One CFO might consider your $1,000,000 immaterial.

When building a good business case for customer education, you need to know what your finance team cares about. Ask them! Different teams evaluate these cases differently, so it’s useful to learn what they want and to tailor your pitch to their needs. For example, if a CFO considers your forecast level of training sales material, you want to make a business case more focused on the numbers, accuracy of the numbers and tracking of the numbers. If your CFO does not consider your level of forecasted revenue material, you might want to focus your business case on customer satisfaction, product use, and customer onboarding efficiency metrics.

If you are able to create an excellent business case tailored to the needs of your finance team, you are able to prove your importance in the company. They will be pleased with the value you’re projected to bring into the company. 

But if you have the type of CFO or management team that just doesn’t get it, it might be time to move on and find someplace that does. 

Beyond creating a tailored business case, education services leaders can earn their seat at the table by driving results. Create a forecast listing your goals and how you plan to achieve them. For education services, some of all of the following elements will be part of your plan: 

  • Training course sales
  • Training credits sales
  • Training subscription sales
  • Number of live courses delivered
  • Number of enrollments per live course
  • Number of new live courses developed
  • Number of enrollments per eLearning course
  • Number of new eLearning courses developed

You’ll then need to map out the resources you need to deliver on this plan—this could include instructional designers, instructors, authoring software, LMS, marketing, and sales. 

If you want a seat at the table, this might be the way to get it. If you create a detailed forecast, your CEO or head of the department may be so impressed, she will question why other teams (your peer leaders) aren’t doing the same thing and send them all back to rework their plans.

Going forward, you’ll need to deliver on this plan—but perfection is not required. Progress is. Progress is more important than the actual results, because it shows that your team is making the right decisions and continually moving forward. 

It’s hard to get a seat at the executive table, and education services teams are often undervalued. But by creating a good business case or by executing a detailed forecast, you can prove your worth and convince management of the importance of what you bring to the table.

Get the recording: We ran a webinar on this

We ran a webinar to walk you through how to create your 20201 education services plan. It was hands-on and practical. By hands-on, I mean you will be able to start on your plan during the recording. Bring a pencil. If you want to WOW your management team, this is it.



Originally published Dec 10, 2020 1:15:00 PM, updated Dec 10, 2020