This is not a prediction. It is more of a description of trends that are already underway. Some of you early adopters are riding these customer education trends to high success. Others are missing out mostly because your education operations are new or are in a low maturity state. The good news is that a low maturity state is normal and temporary. You can grow your organization into higher maturity stages by increasing your capabilities over time. One way to know what capabilities to add to your team is to understand where there trends are headed. Below are four customer education trends that are happening right now, and it is not too late for you to get on board to ride them.
Just don't wait too long.
Customer education is marketing
Let's begin with a fundamental shift in how people find information. We search Google. For everything. Next question.
Actually, this is important, and intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer, that we use an internet search to find most things these days, which includes solutions to our challenges at work. This means potential buyers of your enterprise software are learning about solutions to their problems by searching for it. Are they finding you when they search? The Corporate Executive Board (CEB) has a statistic that shows B2B buyers are 57% through the purchasing process before they engage with a vendor. This number might be getting worse. On Tuesday, January 9, we recorded an episode of Helping Sells Radio. Our guest was Tom Gerace, the founder and CEO of Skyword, a content marketing product and services company. I mentioned this 57% number and he said he has seen some stats show that number is even higher.
Scary because if people don't find your company in their search, you may not have a chance to win a deal. It is too late.
There is a growing need to put our education out there so that the right people find it. There are examples of companies doing this including HubSpot, Rackspace, Cloudera, to name a few. According to Ashley Minogue, Market Strategist at OpenView VenturePartners, "Marketing in 2018 will be focused on storytelling and education all in an effort to build trust (and, of course, win deals)."
We will see more software companies, ungate their education and in other cases, design education specifically for non-customers, in an effort to build trust and influence the buyer journey.
The issue of whether to price customer education is almost as polarizing as arguments over iOS versus Android. On one end are open source software companies that, of course, sell education for big money because services is the major revenue source. But also because there is value in educating a workforce to use newly purchase software effectively. Renewals depend on it. On the other end of the spectrum are new SaaS companies that believe they should only charge for the software (and not for services) because, "-as-a-service" means everything should be included as part of the service of the software.
That sounds nice, but companies that continue to believe they will only charge for the product, and not for services, are going to quickly find that as their market matures, competition is going to shrink margins and force companies to seek additional revenue streams. The only way out is to be as close to 100% self service as possible. This attitude is more prevalent than you might think. OpenView Venture Partners says that only 14% of SaaS companies consider pricing before a new product is built. This doesn't even include services. Think of all the money left on the table by under pricing or not pricing for valuable services.
As SaaS markets mature and competition increases, shrinking margins will prompt a visit from the CFO, "We need to find additional revenue streams. We need to start charging for services."
Link to adoption
Customer education teams that do not show how trained customers use the product more, more often, and/or more effectively will soon come under scrutiny by management. The tools for collecting product use are becoming more mainstream. Just a few examples include Datadog, Segment, Gainsight, LearningLocker (see below) allow companies to collect data from customer use of SaaS products. Customer education teams will soon be asked to show how training courses impact product use by corelating learning completions with product use, by answering this question: "What is the relationship between training course completion and product use?"
Technology is not even an excuse any more. Maria Manning-Chapman of TSIA has helped her member clients with a simple process of just asking customers, who completed training, whether they are using the product more. The results are astounding. We did a webinar with her and she talked about that. Customer Education teams will need to figure out how to show the value of training, maybe even the way RedHat does it.
Rise of the learning record store (LRS)
It is one thing to track training completion on a roll sheet for live training and live online training. It is another to track that customer read your knowledge base article, watched your YouTube or Wisita explainer videos, or downloaded a PDF ebook from your website. Customers learn from all of these activities. Yet we still don't know who those influenced product use. As the needs to be scalable grow, the more education teams shift to a self serve model of eLearning, knowledge base, videos, and other resources to help customers learn. An LRS can track all of these events and make it possible to retrieve that activity so customer education leaders can correlation that activity with product use. Education teams will begin to collect learning data beyond formal live or eLearning completions to understand which customers are consuming learning and corelated that with product use.
[Course] How to Design Your Customer Education Strategy
As you can see, these trends may greatly impact how software companies help customers learn, buy, and adopt software products, and that there are many strategies a software company can take to ride these trends and stay ahead of fast changing customer demands. It is imperative customer education leader learn the skill of strategy design. A good strategy will help you align customer education goals with the company priorities, create an action plan to achieve those goals, and to communicate status of the action plan and progress towards you goals.
This is how we design our new Customer Education Strategy Course, "How to Design Your Customer Education Strategy." If you want to improve your strategy design, this course is for you. It is a live online course designed to help you start on your strategy. That's right. You will create a draft of your strategy in class. How's that for hands on? Early bird pricing is in place, so sign up before pricing go up. Click on the button below to learn more and to register.