I just spent the day with a software company in a private workshop to help them design their customer education strategy. I love facilitating these workshops for two reasons. First, I learn a ton about how different software companies think about educating customers. Second, I find it highly rewarding to help a team go through a journey of discovering what is possible in helping customers and making a direct contribution to the overall company goals. These “light bulb” moments build on each other, and by the end of the workshop, the teams I work with have a three to five year vision of where they are headed and a clear plan of action for what they need to accomplish in the next two quarters.
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It is very rewarding to help a team feel confident that they know where they are going and how they will make a valuable contribution to their organization. That is the value of strategic planning. And even if plans change, which they will, these teams know how to handle it because they went through the process of figuring out a strategy. According to Harvard Business Review, leaders should think of a strategic plan as a “guidance tool” and a "work in progress.” The plan itself becomes a tool for adapting. Someone in the workshop this week actually said that, “Well, if things change in two quarters, we’ll just adjust this roadmap and move things around, but at least we now know where we are going."
That is powerful stuff.
Most of us can relate to the value of planning. The problem is that we don't necessarily know what the strategy design process looks like. Below I describe a process for designing your customer education strategy.
Step 1: Find pain points
The first step is to analyze your customer journey and identify touch points where education might play a role in solving the problem. Maybe your sales team is explaining the same thing to prospects over and over. If only prospects knew certain concepts, the sales process would be much better. Many software companies offer education to prospects to help increase pipeline velocity and create leads. This is just one example where customer education could play a valuable role beyond product training after the sale.
Step 2: Set a target and a plan of action
Once pain points are identified, start setting goals for alleviating those pain points. Once a major goal is identified, an education team can start putting a roadmap together and that roadmap could go in into years three to five providing clarity over the long term.
To learn more about this process, listen to the talk I gave at Gainsight Pulse 2018.
Step 3: Create a measurement plan
Once you have goals, you need to define concrete KPIs. The KPIs have to be defined concretely so that you can actually run a report on it. For example, you cannot have a goal to increase product adoption by 25% and define that as "customers using the product more." You must be specific. What does product adoption mean? Logging in? Logging in once per day? Increase the number of employees logging in daily by 50%? "Number of log ins" is a good KPI because you can run a report on it and present the data. It is better than not having a data point you can run a report on. You might say that is not good enough. OK. Fine. You might define product adoption as "using more features." Fine. Which features? And how do you define feature use? Do I use the opportunity feature in Salesforce when I click on it or when I create an opportunity. That matters. And you have to pick a definition at that level.
Don't be vague. Be very specific. And pick a KPI that you know you can measure today. Otherwise, you will never get to it.
Step 4: Execute
Simply put. Go get your buy-in and start executing. There is no substitute for action.
You don't need it, but if you want help
You can go through this process yourself. Gather your team, walk through these steps, and use the resources provided in the links above. But don’t wait. While you sit on the sidelines thinking about it, your competition is designing their customer education strategy. Don’t let your competition out-teach you.
If you want to accelerate your customer education strategy, you can start on your plan in this workshop we are hosting at our headquarters in Palo Alto, CA on Thursday, August 2. In this workshop, you will be led through the customer strategy design process and actually start designing your strategy. You will walk away with a first draft, at least. What could be a better use of a day than that? After all, our bias towards urgency is killing our productivity. And strategic planning is the opposite of urgency.