When we think of customer education, lead generation and pipeline contribution are not tasks that immediately come to mind. After all, customer education is largely about helping existing customers learn our products so they can do their jobs better. Terms like lead generation and pipeline contribution are "marketing speak." Customer education teams should focus on helping customers learn and marketing should worry about generating leads and brining potential new business to the sales team, right?
Everyone in our companies should contribute to both serving customers AND growing the business. Ram Charan wrote a book about this called Profitable Growth is Everyone's Business: 10 Tools You Can Use Monday Morning, in which he makes the point that everyone in the organization has the responsibility to help grow the business. This certainly goes for the customer education team, because software training does not have to be only about existing customers. It can be used to educate prospective customers, who could then become customers. It is about using customer education as a means for helping grow your company by generating demand for your product.
Buyers of your product start with an internet search using keywords or phrases to help find a solution to their problem. People are searching for terms that describe your product, or at least the domain your product lives in. Terms like, SaaS project management tools, marketing automation products, top cloud storage solutions, etc. When customers use these terms, your company may come up in the results.
What if someone finds that your company offers free training or a set of free tutorials on how to use your product. Or better yet, that your company offers education on how to be a better project manager or cloud storage administrator. Some of these potential customers may watch your tutorials and think, "Hmmmm. This product might be worth investigating."
A call is made. A demo is set. And the training you created just created a new lead and added $50,000 to the pipeline number. Executive teams love that. And this kind of thing happens every day at fast growing software companies who use education as a means for generating new sales leads and contributing to pipeline revenue.
It is time for all customer education teams to think beyond educating existing customers, and start thinking about how to use training to help grow their business. In this post, I talk about four ways to do this and share a few examples of companies that are doing it.
It all begins with offering free training.
Free training is not just for customers
The best way to use training to generate potential new business for your product is to offer free training on your web site for anyone to take. Many software companies offer free training (especially SaaS companies) for customers only, as a service of the subscription to the product, and many others (especially open source software companies) offer paid training for customers and non-customers. In both cases, an argument can be made for not offering free training for non-customers. SaaS companies would argue that training is a valuable service that only customers should get as part of buying the product. Open source companies would argue that they need to make money on services like training because the software is free.
In both cases, there is a missed opportunity to offer free training to prospects with the goal of attracting them to buy something (paid training or the product).
Here are three examples of software companies offering free training. Puppet offers free training in the form of a Learning VM. Anyone can download a virtual machine with Puppet installed on it and an interactive guide to help people learn how to use Puppet Enterprise. Puppet also offers paid training, but the idea is to generate leads with this training. Anyone who downloads the Puppet Learning VM is likely interesting in buying Puppet services in the future. MuleSoft offers a free MOOC-style course called MuleSoft.U Developer Fundamentals. It is a free course, and anyone can sign up. You can bet that people who complete this course are serious about learning MuleSoft and are likely candidates for purchasing premium services. Another example is HubSpot. HubSpot offers a free Inbound Marketing Certification that anyone can take. HubSpot also offers customer only training, but the Inbound Certification is design to create an audience of Inbound Marketing certified professionals all spreading the word about HubSpot. You can bet that people with the HubSpot certification will likely be customers in the future.
These are just three example of using customer education to drive sales leads.
You have to ask yourself, "How can I offer free training to generate demand for our product, create new leads, and contribute to pipeline revenue.
Meetups and YouTube drive leads
Another way to use education to drive leads is to host a meetup. The idea is to create a meetup around your market niche and start hosting meetings to share ideas for how to be better at whatever job / skill your product performs. Marakana did this and build such an impressive business that Twitter acquired it. Step one in this technique is to develop an audience around the topic in the meetups. Step two is recording each meetup and putting them on YouTube. Marakana went from touching 30 or 40 or 50 people in a meetup to having thousands of people watching YouTube videos. The YouTube videos drove some people to purchasing training. You can do the same thing in your market space.
Educational blog posts
You can help your marketing team raise awareness of your product in the marketplace and create new leads by writing educational blog posts helping people learn how to do things in their job using your software. At the end of these blog posts, you can add a link to your free training. If people want to learn more they can access your free training by completing a form, which creates a new lead or they can purchase a paid course, which creates new sales.
For this to work, the blog posts need to be useful and every bit as educational as your training courses. It seems like a lot of work, but you already have the material. You can simply take topics from your existing training topics and write blog posts teaching people how to do things in your software. The idea with a series of blog posts is to offer tips and links to real training for people who want to learn more with paid training. Your marketing team will love your help because this will help them product useful content for the blog and drive new leads.
Marketing automation - tying it all together
The final point to make is this. For all of this to work, you need to connect your learning management system (LMS) to your marketing automation tool (Marketo, HubSpot, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, etc). This way, as people sign up for your free training, names can be collected and synced with your marketing tool, so that marketing can track them and even enroll these new prospects into lead nurturing campaigns. Also by integrating your LMS with your marketing automation software, you will be able to determine what training contributed to generating new leads, pipeline revenue, and which of those leads turn into customers.
I suggest you send this post to your marketing manager and invite them out for lunch to discuss it (and any other ideas you come up with).
We did a webinar on marketing customer education with Sarah Bedrick from HubSpot. If you want to learn more about how marketing and customer education go together, watch a recording of that webinar.