Powered by Learning

Delivering Training Across the Customer Life Cycle

April 20, 2021 d'Vinci Interactive Season 2 Episode 15
Powered by Learning
Delivering Training Across the Customer Life Cycle
Show Notes Transcript

Customer education is increasingly important in the sales value chain and customer experience. In this podcast, Daniel Quick, VP of Learning Strategies at Thought Industries, talks to d’Vinci CEO Luke Kempski about how educating customers can provide your organization with a competitive advantage. Thought Industries is the world’s leading B2B customer education and extended enterprise platform vendor.

Show notes:
The connection between the customer and training is impacting sales and shaping how companies do business. Thought Industries VP of Learning Strategies Daniel Quick provides insight on the evolution of customer training and how it is being used to engage prospective and existing customers.

  • Customer training is being driven by a subscription economy from SaaS (Software as a Service) to XaaS (Everything as a Service). Because of this, the value of learning is even more important.
  • Educate your customers before they are customers. Consumers are attracted to brands that provide solid customer education and, in many cases, that helps drive sales. Good customer education can be a company’s differentiator. 
  • Because of the increased need for customer training experts, learning professionals have many more career opportunities. 
  • Customer education offerings create synergy between marketing and training professionals. Integrating marketing and training builds more enduring customer relationships. 

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Announcer 1: This is Powered by Learning, a podcast designed for learning leaders to hear the latest approaches to creating learning experiences that engage learners and achieve improved performance for individuals and organizations.

Announcer 2: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com.

Susan Cort: Hello, and welcome to Powered by Learning. I'm your host, Susan Cort. With me is d'Vinci's CEO, Luke Kempski. Today, we are going to talk with Daniel Quick, Vice President of Learning Strategies at Thought industries. He joins us today from his office in Oakland, California. Thought Industry is the world's leading B2B customer education and extended enterprise platform vendor. Daniel's teams are responsible for leading industry research, delivering customer education, implementing L&D programs, and communicating valuable best practices with the broader community. Welcome, Daniel.

Luke Kempski: Great to have you, Daniel.

Daniel Quick: Thank you. I'm really happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Susan: Daniel, start off by telling us a little bit about your background and your current role at Thought Industries.

Daniel: I'm currently Vice President of Learning Strategies at Thought Industries. As you so elegantly set me up, I run several different teams at Thought Industries. It's a consolidated learning strategy, where we're really educating the market, educating our customers, and educating our team. They all work really well together because as you can imagine, we're educating our customers, it's really great to have research and thought leadership that we developed for the market as also education for our customers.

In the same vein, when we're thinking about educating our own team, thought leadership is a lot more than just developing a webinar or a blog article, it's also about helping our employees show up as strategic consultants for our customers and be able to have fluency in the language that they speak. We really do a lot of work with our team to help them understand and empathize with our customers.

I've been at Thought Industries for about 10 months and have been in customer education for about six years now, which doesn't seem like a ton of time, but in the world of customer education, it is definitely a long time. There is a lot that has changed in the industry of customer education. It's a fairly new industry. Before I was in customer education, actually I was a game designer. I owned a video game studio here in San Francisco, so I have a lot of interest in gamification, as you might not be surprised to hear. Before then, I was really active in learning and training facilitation. I did leadership workshops and things like that. So I've always really had a passion for the intersection of education and technology and games, really.

Luke: That's great. I so love the topic of using training to engage customers. While a lot of things are new these days, it's not all a new phenomenon. There's been different ways that businesses have been educating customers in different ways forever, but I don't see it talked about very much. Especially in the training industry, within the professional groups around training and a lot of the dialogue, it seems to be like an outlier. It does feel like it's changed, though, in the last months. I know your organization, Thought Industries, has done some research too about the trends. Can you share some of those with us? What are you seeing in the research around customer training?

Daniel: Definitely, you're right. It's not talked about as much. That's one of my goals, to really talk about it a lot more often. It isn't really a new phenomenon, as you've pointed out. In fact, if you think about traditional B2B companies who sell physical products like copy machines, or companies who sell on-premise software that you purchase once and install on your computers, in those kind of businesses, training teams have always had a role.

Usually, the business buying that copy machine or that software will pay the vendor a little bit more for what's called education services or training services, where training professionals will show up and ensure your employees know how to use that copy machine or that software. In other words, companies have really sold training packages to customers for a long time now.

What's really changed in the last 10 years or so is the growing prevalence of SaaS companies, software as a service, or these days really, anything as a service. You hear SaaS. In these business models where customers pay for a subscription, usually annually, and in return they get access to software or a service of some kind, it's really shifted the role of customer training. Training customers is now a business critical imperative rather than an additional revenue stream.

If your entire business relies on acquiring customers who subscribe to your service or your product, then you need to ensure that they renew their subscription at the end of the year. Otherwise, you have what's called a leaky bucket. The only way that customers are really going to renew and continue paying you year after year, is if they're getting value from your product. So the focus is now on customer training and customer success as business functions really dedicated to helping customers realize value so that they renew their subscriptions. In the absence of good training, particularly during onboarding, your business will have some really big problems keeping out of the red.

You asked about some research. In our research in 2019, 75% of organizations that we surveyed increased their investment in customer education. In 2020, 90% of organizations did. 99% of respondents to our survey reported that customer education impacts their revenue today. No doubt that we'll expect investment in customer education to continue to grow as organizations realize the benefits of training across the entire customer life cycle really.

Luke: When you think about the customer life cycle, it actually starts even before they purchase the product, right?

Daniel: Yes.

Luke: Can you talk a little about how you recommend starting that process even before they're customers, even when they're prospects?

Daniel: I think it's conventional for us to think about training as a post-sales strategy. That makes sense. When your customer buys a product, you want them to get value from that product so that they renew their subscription or that they buy more products. Or so that they leave a great review and tell their friends how awesome the product is. Really there is a lot of benefits to helping your customers get value from the products and services you sell, and training plays a key role in that. What I think organizations are warming up to is the idea that training and customer education more broadly play a really big role earlier in the funnel as part of a marketing or a sales strategy.

According to Gartner research, 27% of time spent buying B2B software is spent independently researching solutions online. People who are looking to buy software, they spend 27% of their time online just researching it. When you go online researching, what do you do? Usually you start with a Google search. Now, imagine a company has strategically invested in great product documentation with high SEO value and training videos on YouTube. Now, not only is the prospective buyer learning about your product through your website and your training materials, but they're also left thinking, "This company is going to help me get the support I need to learn the software."

It's like a feeling of trust. In this way, I think training can be a true competitive differentiator for buyers in the market who are looking for a new solution.

Luke: They have definitely for sure. I know in the marketing world, we have a parent company, JPL, which is an integrated marketing firm, and are talking more and more about working with clients and helping them design and think about a customer experience in terms of their customers and how they work with them. I imagine the idea of training and education integrating with the whole customer journey from being a prospect, to being, hopefully, an engaged and ongoing, reoccurring customer. Can you talk a little bit about that integration?

Daniel: Training plays a huge role in customer experience. When customers are new to a company, they need to onboard. Training can help. When customers experience any kind of friction or pain using your product, training can help. When customers are looking to become certified experts of your product, training can help. When customers are looking for best practices, just like, "Tell me some best practices on how to do my job," training can help.

For example, my company sells learning software. So we not only want to teach our customers how to use our software, but also teach them some best practices on creating engaging courses, and for that, training can help. Training is about the transference of learning. Learning is really at the core of customer experience, So I think, as customers deepen their engagement with your product. I would say training plays a central role in customer experience, especially if you're looking to scale your company and you don't want to hire a ton of support agents or account managers to help keep up with your growth.

A lot of people in my industry are fond of saying customer education is the scale engine of customer success. It really helps you scale your company as you're growing. I think training plays a big role there.

Luke: Yes, absolutely. I think a lot of our experience with doing customer education has been on the B2B side. One of our clients is roofing materials, so they need to educate the people who purchase the roofing materials, who install the roofing materials, all the people that are in the chain that ultimately impact the end user, the building owner. They might not be the direct customers, but they may have an interest in those roofing materials. So you need to educate a whole chain of folks in a B2B sale. And there's opportunities for actually monetizing some of that training in that flow as well. Do you see that at all?

Daniel: First of all, I think we're seeing a growing interest in customer education across all business verticals. We're firmly rooted in the information age now, and consumers are far more sophisticated than they used to be. They want to learn about what they're buying, in part because training has a lot fewer barriers than it used to. It's easier to find training online these days. So it's more important for a business to retain some level of quality control of training content to ensure that it's accurate and up to date.

I think what you're touching on is a really interesting question around fee versus free. To what extent do you monetize your content? I definitely think there's a sweet spot. There's a temptation, I think the old-school way of doing training is really, as I mentioned before, it's like, put all of your training behind some paywall, so training package, if you want to call it, or some training subscription. As a result, I think you have a terrible customer experience if you're new to a product, and you're like, "Great, now I have to pay extra to learn how to use this product."

Conversely, I think a lot of newer companies who are offering customer education have sort of swung in the opposite direction, I think with good intention, and I totally understand this perspective. They want to make as much training as possible free and available to their customers so that they get maximum value from their products and ultimately renew their subscription with the company.

I think there's an opportunity for training teams to really blend a mix of free versus fee, where you're offering some basic education to customers so that they're getting on-boarded, so that their time to value is decreased, they're getting value as quickly as possible. But also focusing on some level of monetization strategy, where you're creating more tailored customer education, education more focused on use cases, maybe with a slightly higher touch or more polished, more higher production value, methodologies and frameworks and whatnot.

If you can develop those and monetize those, I think you'll find that your customers are willing to pay you some good money for that kind of training, and as a result, your training function has now brought in an additional revenue stream. And I think that can have great benefits for you as a training team in your organization.

Luke: That's for sure. I think, like you said, it's the balance between what you're charging for and what's bundled in, and what's even just good for your brand to be known for in terms of educating the customers. I know when you purchase, some products are getting more complicated for consumers because they are more sophisticated. I think about a new vehicle, when you get a new vehicle and you don't know even how to open the gas tank necessarily or pop the hood. You can find things on YouTube to answer that particular question at that particular time, but you don't get that overall onboarding or orientation to your vehicle when it's most useful to you, which may not be talking to the salesperson when you're out in the parking lot. When you think about the brand value of educating your customers and how it can create that lifelong relationship, do you see more of a demand for that these days?

Daniel: Definitely. If you're investing in educating customers across the entire customer life cycle, you're essentially transforming your business into a center of excellence around the market you're selling to. Your training programs can become so much more than onboarding programs. They can become true thought leadership programs driving innovation, and defining best practices, and really pushing the discourse around your industry. They can also become brand loyalty programs by empowering and connecting customers to each other.

If your company has goals to lead the market category, which I think a lot of companies have that goal and they want to lead their category, I think education can play a really big role. You want buyers to automatically associate your brand with their industry, with the domain that they are practicing their craft. When I think about inbound marketing, for example, I think about HubSpot. When I think about customer success, I think about Gainsight. When I think about a sales CRM, I think about Salesforce.

These companies didn't just become leaders in their markets by having strong products. They also became leaders because they became experts in their industries and they were really able to educate the industry around best practices. So when you buy them, you're not just buying a product, you're really buying a thought partner who will help you achieve success in doing your job, essentially, and that's really a huge competitive advantage.

Luke: Yes, I think you make a connection there too between the business models of looking at customer training and customer education integrated with a subscription or an ongoing relationship that you would have with a customer. Sometimes that's with software, but like you said earlier, there are lots of different things that we're subscribing to these days and have those ongoing relationships with.

Daniel: At its core, it's about empowering the customer with the skills and knowledge that they need to make the absolute most out of your product. That goes far beyond how to use the product and aligns much more with the job your customers hired your product to do. We, at Thought Industries, definitely have our fair share of software companies that are SaaS companies, but we also have quite a few companies who are manufacturing companies and need to educate their customers on physical products. We have companies who are associations or continuing education businesses, who need to educate their members on domain best practices and whatnot.

So there's a lot of different instances in which I think training has a really big value for organizations. If you focus on that, focus on training your customers, and I think really customers, it's a really key way to help them feel positive about their relationship with your company.

Luke: Excellent. Let's change hats a little bit and think the audience for Powered by Learning or learning professionals, leaders in learning. A lot of what's in the industry media is around employee training and that's what comes to mind. If you are going to consult with somebody who's been particularly involved in employee training, what would they need to grow and what would they need to think about differently when they think about customer training?

Daniel: I'm fortunate to lead both our external and our internal training teams at Thought Industries. I can tell you that there are actually quite a few similarities and also a lot of really good reasons why these two business functions should work very closely together. Our customer training team has developed not only product mastery, but also some level of domain expertise that we've gained by educating the market and by empowering customers with skills and best practices.

That tribal knowledge really helps us deliver internally really effective employee training because we can help our employees better understand our product, certainly, and use a lot of the materials that we develop for our customers, but also understand our customers and more deeply empathize with our customers and more broadly our brand and how our brand serves our customers. No matter what type of position you have in the organization, I think that can really serve you to better understand our customers and how your job might serve the mission of the business.

There are some differences between customer training and employee training, of course. I think in customer training, it's a lot more important to think about scale. You're not thinking about a targeted learning experience for the marketing team, for example, you're thinking about a learning experience that can be scaled to fit the learning needs of thousands of customers, and perhaps even their customers as well. So scalability is a factor in customer training more so than I think it is in employee training.

I think another big difference is, in customer training there's a lot of blending of marketing and how you're packaging your learning. Your customers are not required to complete your training. If they are busy, most customers don't even really want to take a ton of training, unfortunately. It's really important to make customer education super digestible and compelling so that customers will consume it. And I think that's not really something that in L&D you think as much about, or you have the luxury of thinking about the learning experience and what is the ideal learning experience rather than how can I make customers feel compelled to digest this given their busy schedules.

Luke: To wrap up, Daniel, could you talk a little about the importance of the sales, marketing, and customer training. If there are three different teams, the integration between the three in order to be successful with customers on an ongoing basis. And then if you're the training leader, how important it is for you to develop strong relationships with those other components in order to be successful.

Daniel: Marketing and customer education, I think, actually share a lot in common. In both, the goal is to change behavior. Marketing is about convincing people that your product provides value so that they buy it, and customer education is about teaching people how to realize that value with your product so that they buy more of it. Both share the goal of having customers who see your product as an essential tool for doing their jobs.

I think it is absolutely critical, whether or not if your customer education reports into marketing or not, it's very important to work very closely with the marketing team to make sure that you're aligned around the value proposition of your product and make sure that both your education material speaks to that messaging to how customers will get value from your product. As they're digesting this learning experience, they don't want to just know how to use the product, they want to know how this is going to actually help solve a problem they're doing in their jobs.

Conversely, I think marketing can really work a lot with customer education in their thought leadership. If they're doing any content marketing, for example, how can they tap into training teams who have expertise around, not only the product and not only around the customers' skills and the skills they're pulling into their roles, but also an instructional design and how to create a great learning experience. So I think marketing teams can really tap into that more often.

Then there are some obvious advantages as well. If you create a great learning experience for your customers, that doesn't necessarily guarantee that people are going to consume it. So you have to drive traffic to your education programs. And your marketing team can be a really great ally in that, obviously, by creating campaigns or automated nurture emails or whatever it might be, there's a lot of tools in marketing to help you drive traffic to your programs. I think there's a lot of synergy there, and I think that there's also a lot of great relationships to be developed with the sales team as well.

We are just getting started with that at Thought Industries, where we are getting started with our new sales academy, which is a joint effort between sales and the learning strategies team in thinking about how we can help our sales team land the plane, essentially. What is it that we can do to enable and empower them to do better in their roles? Part of that is helping them understand not just our product so that they can speak fluently about our product, but how our product aligns to the problems that our customers are trying to solve.

I think our education team has developed a lot of proficiency and expertise around that. Then as you can imagine, we use Thought Industries for both our customer education platform as well as our internal learning platform, and so we can create some great curated learning paths and learning experiences in there that our customer education drives as well.

Luke: That's great, Daniel. I'm so glad you were able to join us today. I know all of the learning and development leaders will listen to this and really see all the opportunities that lay ahead in expanding just beyond employee training, to expanding into customer training and the early training through the whole sales cycle. Again, thank you so much for joining us, and best of luck to you.

Daniel: Thank you so much. If you're interested in hearing more about customer education role, I'd love for anyone, if they're interested, to join us in the customer education Slack community. It's a place to meet other customer education professionals. You can find out about that at customereducation.org.

Luke: Okay, it sounds good. I'll sign up for that.

Daniel: Awesome.

Susan: Thanks, Daniel. Nice to meet you. Take care.

Daniel: Thank you.

Susan: Luke, Daniel is so passionate about this topic. He really makes you think about customer training and education in a different way, and realize the impact that customer education can have on brand loyalty and on sales. Conversely, you'd think the impact that sales could then have on customer education as they're being in touch with the customer. What a great conversation.

Luke: Yes, I know, I definitely agree it was a lot of fun to talk to Daniel. I have some takeaways. I think one of the big ones would be that customer training is increasing and it's being driven by the subscription economy that you hear about so much. You certainly see that in software as a service or SaaS. He even mentioned SaaS being everything as a service. You're starting to see it in other products as well. The next thing you know, you have a subscription for your refrigerator.

It just seems like everything is going that way and bundled in those subscriptions, a learning value makes a lot of sense. Another takeaway was really to begin the process of educating your customer even before they're customers, even when they're prospects, so that you can really show the value that your organization will bring by educating them to use and get value out of a product or service that you're selling.

Another one was using customer education to make a differentiated customer experience, and then use that as a competitive advantage. While your competitors might not be educating their customers, but if you are, that might be a really big differentiator to help you land more business. And then the opportunities for learning leaders. If customer education is continuing to increase, then learning and development leaders who really understand the different ways to educate target audiences will have more opportunities to grow their careers in this area, also, the people who design and develop learning experiences.

I think the last one was really for those of us in that space to find more opportunities to learn about marketing and learn about the integration of marketing and customer training, and how that can bring value to both prospects and customers, and to really develop relationships with the leaders of those other areas so that you can help show them what could be done when it comes to educating customers that could bring value, even monetary value to the organizations that are employing us.

Susan: All great points, Luke. Definitely this is an ever-evolving topic and something that we should definitely revisit in a future episode to see how it's all changing. Thank you.

Luke: Sounds good.

Susan: Many thanks to Luke and also to Daniel Quick, Vice President, Learning Strategies at Thought Industries. If you have any questions about what we talked about today, you can reach out to us on d'Vinci social channels, through our website dvinci.com, or by emailing us at poweredbylearning@dvinci.com.

Announcer 2: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. For more than 25 years, d'Vinci has provided custom learning solutions to government agencies, corporations, medical education and certification organizations, and educational content providers. We collaborate with our clients to bring order and clarity to content and technology. Learn more at dvinci.com.