Recapping Skilljar Connect in Seattle

January 30, 2019

This week on CELab, we recap another Customer Education conference: Skilljar Connect! Adam attended and spoke on a panel at the conference, and it was a great day spent with other Customer Educators.

Let’s face it: Aside from CEdMA (which we recapped on a previous episode) there aren’t many conferences devoted to customer education. While big conferences like DevLearn and ATD TechKnowledge are helpful for instructional designers and technologists, they aren’t often customer education oriented. I’d highly recommend them to anyone looking to learn more about instructional design, content development, and learning technology. But as a customer education professional, you often must make the leap away from the context of traditional L&D, asking yourself, “How does this apply to customer education?”

So similar to how Gainsight Pulse is focused on the discipline of Customer Success, Skilljar Connect was a forum for Skilljar customers to discuss the discipline of Customer Education and share our programs.

There were a lot of great peer companies at the conference — tech companies like Zendesk, MapR, Zuora, Avalara, Looker, Alfresco, Coveo, Zenefits, Autodesk, Procore — and of course Checkr! Overall the representation included a lot of innovative brands — and some forward-thinking enterprises. These are usually the companies who are trying to think about things differently. They’re not pivoting from having Education Services teams. Many started in the cloud. This made Skilljar Connect a different forum than those geared more towards Education Services teams.

Because of the companies represented, Adam noticed some different trends than at other conferences. Most companies here didn’t have certification programs, and the ones that did were more likely to use them as marketing or industry plays. Most companies weren’t charging for training, which is much more common for younger or smaller companies who never built up education P&Ls.

A word from the VCs

To open up the conference, Rajeev Batra and Doug Pepper, two of Skilljar’s investors, gave the VC’s perspective on customer education.

  • Doug was an investor in Marketo and compared Customer Education to where marketing automation was years ago. Marketing teams didn’t have a seat at the table. They didn’t have data to make their arguments. They hadn’t gone digital. Because of digital marketing companies and practices, smart companies were able to think differently about their marketing functions. Today, Customer Education has an opportunity to do the same.
  • Doug and Rajeev also talked about “replacement markets.” In their view, the old category of “Learning Management System,” has fragmented into many new categories. Most relevant to us, one new category is the Customer Learning Platform.
  • Doug mentioned that he likes to invest along the customer journey. He started by investing in sales enablement and marketing automation platforms, then tools for Customer Success reporting. But he notices a gap between the tools for reporting and customer-focused alerts, and actually driving customer action. That’s where Customer Education platforms come into play.
  • Rajeev talked about companies differentiating themselves in the market by showing empathy. Customer Education helps you do this at scale.

Welcome to the Jungle with Suzanne Ferry

Suzanne Ferry, SVP of Learning at MapR, delivered the jungle-themed keynote talk. Among other stories from customer education programs in her career, she outlined different business models for customer education teams.

Notably, she pointed toward the consumerization of learning. Customers expect free education, or at least education that’s bundled with the software they’ve purchased. It also needs to be available on-demand and easily discoverable. Finding training should be as easy as finding something on Amazon or Netflix — and what people find should be high-quality, to boot!

All this means that the traditional P&L model of customer education, designed to generate revenue, may not be as useful as it used to be. (Note the resonance with the question asked in CEdMA’s fall keynote, “Is SaaS the death of the Customer Education P&L?”)

Increasingly, companies are embracing models such as “land and expand” (where training helps close deals and expand accounts), “influencer” (where training helps a company’s reach and brand awareness), and “demand gen” (where training supports customer acquisition and is free and open to all).

Suzanne gave an excellent overview of the different models and how she’s used them in the past — as well as what happens when companies change models mid-stream.

Getting content to stick

After the keynote, Adam spoke on a panel moderated by TSIA’s VP of Education Services research, Maria Manning-Chapman. She’s an expert in the field due to her breadth of experiences and research, so it was an honor to share the stage with her and other Customer Education leaders from Avalara (Julia Ormond), Procore (Colleen Lai), and Comodo (Kristine Olson)

Our panel focused on how to make content stickier — especially when most of our learners aren’t required to attend training.

As most Customer Education professionals can attest, one of our biggest challenges is to get customers to remember and use the content we train them on.

In our panel, we discussed how to get past some of the mental roadblocks that we have around content (many of which we’ve also discussed on previous episodes of CELab, and in my book, Customer Education: Why Smart Companies Profit By Making Customers Smarter.

We also spent some time debating hot topics like microlearning (does it work, or is it a trend?), prototyping content (how do we make content more agile, like our software development processes?), certifications (why do we do them, and do they work?), and completion rates (do they matter?) — so overall, a meaty discussion!

When Skilljar said “Connect,” they meant it

One of Adam’s biggest takeaways from the conference: it really WAS focused on connection. Aside from the keynote and panels, the rest of the time was spent in roundtables, focus groups, and other activities meant to foster connections and share best practices.

Adam’s biggest takeaway from this is that in the world of Customer Education, we’re all still looking for opportunities to connect and build the industry together. Especially if Customer Education is in its infancy and will become more prominent as Doug and Rajeev suggested, it will take a community of educators to bring the field into maturity.

Overall, it’s encouraging to see conferences like this — where Customer Education really is the focus, and we have a place to “find our people.”

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