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A key part of CELab’s role in the Customer Education Community is to keep you updated on the research and reports coming out of the Customer Education world, especially when they address the state of our industry. This episode covers two great reports: TSIA’s 2021 State of Education Services and Thought Industries’ 2021 State of Customer Education.

We like these reports because they come at the research from different angles, whether it’s a third party like TSIA, the Technology Services Industry Association, coming at things from a more independent perspective, or a Customer Education company like Thought Industries who can combine third-party reporting with their own customers’ trends.

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In this episode we return to the subject of Certification, this time focusing on how to adapt development of programs to meet the breakneck pace of change with growing Software-as-a-Service businesses.

Dave interviews Debbie Smith, who is Sr. Manager of Smartsheet University and an expert in credentialing and certification programs.

Pencils down, it’s time to write your certification! Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

For many Customer Education professionals, we first begin working on certification programs when a senior leader asks us to, but the definition of certification can vary wildly from person to person. It’s crucial to know what you intend to build, what outcomes it will generate, and how much maintenance it requires.

The hypothesis that Dave and Debbie explore this episode is: “Certification programs for SaaS can be delivered in much shorter timelines, but with caveats.”

When some people say they want to develop a certification, what they actually mean is “some learning modules with a quiz at the end.” But to create a legally defensible certification that can be used for hiring, firing, and other high-stakes situations, you need something far more rigorous, fair, and accurate. This means it’s going to take time and money.

In this episode, Debbie walks us through the project management required to build and maintain a certification. She takes us through how to build a JTA (Job Task Analysis) which defines what the job being certified actually is, and what the skills involved are. This means you need to meet with SMEs to understand what is being certified and what skills are involved to do the job.

Then it’s on to item writing – and by “items” here, we mean questions. Writing valid and fair questions is extremely difficult, and there’s an art to it! Debbie suggests some techniques for item writing workshops and writing better multiple-choice questions. And getting the right SMEs in, especially if they are billable and their time comes at a premium, is difficult. But you can also reward them for their efforts by giving them a certification, a badge, or other perks for participating in the program as an expert.

Debbie also shares tips for beta testing, and how many people you need to participate in a beta process.

Keep in mind that for SaaS businesses, whose products constantly change, writing a certification also means that you’re signing yourself (and your SMEs) to update the certification constantly and keep it in tune with your product.

Overall, certifications go to a much deeper level than you may expect if you haven’t built one before. These concepts are helpful to share when an executive asks you to build a certification, because you can help educate them on what’s actually involved in the process. If you’re not ready to commit the time, effort, and resources to build a formal certification, maybe a lighter-stakes credential like a badge is a better offering! If you’re just making a test with no proctoring or controls, you can call it something other than a certification.

Listen to the episode and find out more of those “201”-level techniques.

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Education takes many forms in the world of B2B SaaS Software and Sam takes us on a journey:  How to Inspire, Cultivate, and Distribute Success.

Continuing in our Customer Success series, we dive deep into the thoughts of Sam Cummings, Author, Data Scientist, and Customer Success professional, currently working as an Enterprise CSM at LinkedIn. 

Education takes many forms in the world of B2B SaaS Software and Sam takes us on a journey:  How to Inspire, Cultivate, and Distribute Success.  Beginning by telling human stories, anchored in data we can inspire – or connect – with our customers.  Then, we Cultivate the seeds of success, and Distribute that through champions to other networks of people.  

We also delve into what Sam calls “b2c-ification”. This maps to discussions that many of us in both Customer Success and Customer Education are seeing. While we talk about Social Selling or Digital Selling, at the core of this is the human factor.  We connect and share our experiences on LinkedIn, YouTube, and many other platforms

Enjoy this great discussion!

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In this episode, we return to our Instructional Design 101 series, where we informally cover key concepts from the instructional design world and apply them to customer education.

In previous episodes, we’ve covered frameworks like the Kirkpatrick Model of Evaluation, which helps you measure the effectiveness of your course, and Bloom’s Taxonomy, which helps you define what types of knowledge or skills you’re actually teaching and how you’d expect the learner to put them into practice.

But neither of these models answer a key question we hear from Customer Education professionals every day: how should I think about structuring my course?

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Customer Education has evolved
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Steve Cornwell is CEO and Founder of Northpass, the LMS that powers learning experiences for some of the top SaaS, sharing-economy, and subscription-economy companies. He joins us for the return of our CEO series, where we get CEO-level perspectives on the Customer Education market.

In our discussion, Steve talks about the Evolution of Customer Education, pointing to the ways that it is maturing as a category. As the subscription economy matures, building healthy recurring business is more important than ever, which places a premium on companies’ user experience. One effect of this has been the rise of Customer Success as a more defined function. The onboarding and learning experience for users can also make a huge difference.

Just as Customer Success as changed and matured over time, Customer Education is growing and changing as well. It’s not just something you do when you’re one of the huge industry players; you can increasingly invest in Customer Education from earlier stages with fewer resources to begin with. In fact, for many companies, effective Customer Education programs can help them accelerate their growth from earlier stages. With improvements in technology to produce and host learning, it’s easier than ever to get started.

But your Customer Education program isn’t just about producing content. It needs a strategy too. Steve talks about the evolution of Customer Education strategy, and how it has moved from a competitive edge to table stakes for many businesses. You simply need to be educating your customers if you want them to stay. This has also spurred the rise of Customer Education within Marketing departments, where efforts to educate customers aren’t solely tied to feature usage or retention; Customer Education is also used to drive pre-sales efforts, including industry or category education. As Steve points out, Customer Education is really about a company’s products, services, and best practices – not just features. It’s a way to supercharge the customer journey with directed pathways, interactivity, and even achievements.

Steve also talks about Customer Education breaking through boundaries. For one, Customer Education is outgrowing the classic “Academy” model where everything lives in a single portal or homepage. Now, Customer Education spans multiple properties and is increasingly embedded in the product experience.

As Customer Education increasingly spans multiple properties and involves more technologies to drive its strategy, Northpass has been a proponent of Learning Ops: a discipline of driving learning across the org to support multiple use cases (such as internal and customer education), integrated and in-app learning, and analysis of learning-related data.

Listen to this episode to find out more about Steve’s perspective on the industry!

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Does Onboarding Matter?  That’s what Donna Weber, veteran Customer Education professional and President of Springboard Solutions firmly asserts in her new book, Onboarding Matters! She says: “Onboarding is the most important part of the customer journey, yet many B2B companies fail to act proactively at the start of the relationship.”

In her book, she outlines the reasons why onboarding is a crucial motion for B2B companies, especially those who experience churn or attrition later in their customer lifecycles. Improper onboarding contributes to low adoption, low satisfaction, and ultimately unhealthy business.

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Brian Childs, a customer education leader with experience at Moz, TapClicks, and more, has developed a Maturity Model that emerging Customer Education teams can use. In this interview, he describes how you can use the Training Maturity Model to scale your customer education team faster. Brian Childs has been building customer and adult education programs for over 20 years. In 2020, he developed the Training Maturity Model to understand the common challenges faced by training team leaders and what drives scale. The secret is something many training practitioners know inherently but don’t have articulated into a repeatable framework. The secret is: Scaling a training program relies on capabilities across the whole organization

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Photo by Lance Grandahl – Two become one. (or one becomes two?)

On this episode of CELab we continue both our CEO Series and Customer Success Series as Michael Harnum, CEO of ESG Success, walks us through his journey to Customer Success as a Service. Typically, Education Services used to be standalone activities where customers would consume training credits, but that approach often left customers without access to proper training and providers with revenue recognition issues. In a world of SaaS software where training is a constant activity, that doesn’t cut it for most businesses anymore. 

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Product-focused afterthought! – that’s what most Customer Success clients get wrong about Customer Education according Lincoln Murphy of Sixteen Ventures

But what does this mean, exactly? 

In recent episodes, SaaS executives and investors perceive Customer Education as a growing and integral part of scaling their organizations.  This begins our “Customer Success Series” where we’ll talk with prominent leaders in the Customer Success space, starting with Lincoln Murphy – Customer Success Growth Expert, Consultant, and Thought Leader.

Customer Education, as we know it today, is undergoing the same kind of Category Creation that Lincoln experienced in the early days of the Customer Success industry.  And it’s even more critical as COVID-19’s “been like five years of change and evolution” to the Customer Success market.

In Episode 55 we explore: 

  • how we have in common with Customer Success leaders the role of playing detective to uncover our customers’ core needs
  • how customer education fits into a customer success strategy
  • whether CSMs do training, or do we centralize that function into a Customer Education team?

And, of course, we get back to the question of what is product-focused afterthought!

Listen in for another great episode, or enjoy the full transcript below!

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What are venture capitalists thinking about the potential for Customer Education and Customer Success? As the industry becomes more profitable, we’ve seen more investment activity in the space. Eugene Lee from OMERS Ventures joins us to talk about his view on investing in this market, and what he wants to see from Customer Education and Customer Success companies as the market develops.

Eugene Lee, a Principal at OMERS Ventures, a venture capital fund with $1B under management and 50+ investments in B2B and B2C tech companies including Contentful, Crunchbase, Hootsuite, Klue, Rover, Shopify, Vidyard, and Wattpad.

Prior to joining OMERS Ventures, Eugene was a VP of Business Operations at Copper, Google’s #1 recommended CRM.  Prior to that, he founded and led the business operations team at Pinterest. Before that Yahoo and Pixate.