Software Training Should Focus on Outcomes, Not Features

Posted by Bill Cushard on June 05, 2015

by Bill Cushard (@billcush)

On May 22, 2015, I participated on an "Ask Me Anything (AMA)" on The topic was enterprise software training and customer success. One of the questions raised was: "What do you think are the top three things that every SaaS company should be doing with the training they provide?" I answered the question very quickly, but I found the question important enough to spend a bit more time on it here.

As fast as software is changing and as important as software is to our daily work lives, it is more important than ever to learn software well and quickly. The consequence to SaaS companies is that customers will blame the "complicated and difficult to use" software and switch to something else in search of the promise of easy-to-use software.

This alone should be motivation enough for SaaS companies to develop customer education programs that help customers learn, adopt, and achieve success in their work. Here are three things I believe enterprise software companies should be doing with their training programs to make them as successful as possible.

Focus on the Outcome (Not on Features)

The main objective of enterprise software training is to help people do their jobs better. It seems like an obvious statement, but if it is so obvious, why do so many software training courses seem to focus on helping people use the software better. It is a subtle difference, but think of it this way: How many software training courses have you attended in which the instructor spent the entire class walking you through each tab, one-by-one?

As SaaS training professionals, we need to start thinking about developing training that is focused on job outcomes rather than on features. By focusing on job tasks and outcomes, there is automatic context built into the course. This means that students immediately know what they are learning (and why) because the lesson is on the context of a work task they already perform every day. It just so happens, you are teaching them a new/better way to perform that task using your product.

More Live Training and Less Self-paced eLearning

I know it's 2015, and everything should be online and on-demand and on any device, but if your software product is as disruptive to the enterprise as you say it is, can you really trust that customers will learn your product watching a video on her iPad while waiting at the dentist?

I don't think so.

This is not to say self-paced eLearning doesn't have its place. It does. But if you really want people to adopt your product, live training is the way to go. Why do you think most open source software companies offer multi-day, onsite training courses as a primary training offering? You would think that in an open source world in which people are self-motivated to contribute or figure out on their own or otherwise ticker for hours and hours to configure some buggy open source software to accomplish some tasks that a model of self-paced learning would thrive.

But it doesn't.

The opposite is true.

Open source software companies run booming training businesses based almost entirely on live, onsite training because they know the best way to get people to adopt (and become indoctrinated to) their software is with live interactions with peers and with a knowledgable (and sometimes celebrity) instructor.

You should learn from this and offer more live training (virtual or in-person) to give your customers an opportunity to interact with a knowledgeable instructor. That is what most people want.

Offer Training Tiers

Just because I suggest live training should be the foundation of your training offerings, does not mean eLearning is not important. eLearning has an important place along the continuum of learning offerings. Enterprise SaaS companies should offer a wide range of training offerings and then price them according to 1) the value each method beings to the table; and 2) the buying behavior a software company wants to drive.

For example, at the extreme ends of the continuum eLearning would be free on one side, and custom, private, onsite training would be (let's say) $12,000 per day, plus $250 per hour to develop the custom content. In the middle would be offerings priced according to practical perceived value. For example, closest to the self-paced eLearning would be virtual live (webinar-style) training offered to the public that anyone could buy. Pricing these in the $99 to $499 range might be a reasonable price, and fairly easy for most people to expense. Further along, could be public, onsite training priced in the $499 to $2995 range depending on how long the training is. Finally, private training that is not customized could be priced slightly higher.

The point here is to give customers options in terms of method and price that should reflect the true value of the training, and, if priced properly, could drive customers to the very method you are most optimized to deliver.

Either way, most enterprise SaaS companies should offer various training methods at various prices.


There are many things we could do to improve our SaaS customer training programs, but I think if we focus on helping people do their jobs better, offer more opportunities with live instructors, and offer a variety of training options that reflect the value each brings to customers, we can improve how we help customers learn our software and improve outcomes in their work.

Call for comments

  1. Do you charge for training? Why/Why Not?
  2. What drives your decision to offer free training?
  3. Do you offer free training and are now considering charging for it? What strategy will you use to make that change?

Topics: Enterprise Software, Training, Enterprise Software Training Series

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