Recapping the CEdMA Fall 2018 Conference in Boston

January 3, 2019

CEdMA, or the Customer Education Management Association, is one of the primary organizations for Customer Education Leaders. Adam spoke at their fall conference in Boston and brought back some nuggets to discuss with Dave in Episode 005 of CELab.

At CEdMA, all the presentations are led by member organizations, so you’re not hearing from abstract “thought leaders” — you’re hearing from other Customer Education leaders. This also means that, rather than artificially imposing a theme, the themes that arise are more organic and based on the issues and trends that Customer Education leaders see on a day-to-day basis.

This year’s conference saw two key themes:

  • The role of the traditional Education Services P&L (which stands for profit and loss, and refers to running your department like a business, where you must achieve profitability) vs. using Customer Education to support the overall health of the broader business.
  • The role of certification and badging, to certify and credential our customers.

Customer Education P&L vs. SaaS: What do we do?

CEdMA’s membership comprises a wide variety of Customer Education organizations, and many of the member organizations are working in businesses that support on-premise software, or a mix of on-premise and SaaS. Many of these organizations began in the on-prem world and have been making the shift toward SaaS, which naturally changes the way we do Customer Education.

Peter Broderick, the SVP of Global Customer Enablement at Kronos, shared a bold keynote asking whether SaaS is the death of the traditional Customer Education P&L, beginning with the market conditions and pressures that affect SaaS businesses. Boards care about SaaS businesses because they generally have higher valuations. That said, SaaS businesses only become profitable if the customer stays with them long enough to make up for the cost it took to acquire them. And as businesses switch to SaaS, we need to figure out how we don’t just deliver on-site training during an implementation, but we need to figure out how to align training to a SaaS business model and segmentation, where there are high-touch, low-touch, and “tech-touch” (no human touch) customers.

For Customer Education teams in SaaS, there’s a difference in when we do what we do and how we measure what we do.

  • When do we educate? Instead of having on-site training at the beginning of an implementation, and then periodic retraining sessions, we’re in a position of continuously educating our customers. Releases have gotten more frequent, so we need to adapt the way we produce (and update) content. Many sessions at the conference touched on this.
  • How do we measure? Instead of just measuring the training business (bookings, margin, revenue) or activity (butts in seats, satisfaction scores), we now have the opportunity to measure the effects of training on the broader customer lifecycle — including time to first value, adoption, renewal, and so on.

While these trends may be scary, because change is always scary, they actually represent a great opportunity for Customer Education leaders to become more essential to their businesses. Additionally, it provides a way to break down silos between teams like Training, Tech Pubs, Customer Service, and Product to work more cross-functionally to support the customer experience and produce content that’s more bite-sized and contextual for customers.

In our episode, Dave also mentions Michael Allen’s Guide to E-Learning and reflects on how we can tie Customer Education to other KPIs in our company. What’s most important to our company? A lot of the time in SaaS, it’s not really the dollars we bring in through training. As we move from measuring ROI as the number of trainings we sold, to figuring out how we support the broader business, how do we move forward? ROI is harder to measure now, but can have far greater impact.

What’s the role of certification?

Many Customer Education teams are now designing certification strategies, and are figuring out how to badge and credential their customers. Overall, certifications are moving from being very formal, professional assessments to incorporating smaller achievements. Many companies now do this by awarding badges to customers.

One approach to badging is to use Open Badges, an open-source standard that provides shareable tokens for customers, in essence letting us show credentials that are much more granular than something like a college degree, or even a formal professional certification.

Kevin Streater from ForgeRock shared how his team developed a credentialing program using Open Badges, including different levels of badges that reflect different levels of achievement. Another great example of Open Badges in action is IBM’s certification program. IBM provides different levels of badging, whether you get certified through them or even take IBM-related courses on Coursera.

One issue we must get right is to make sure that badges are actually meaningful. Just because we set up badges, it doesn’t mean that customers will be compelled to earn them. Certifications and badges should help you show progress in your career, bring you to a high level of competence with software, or even help you get a job in a certain field.

Some badges can be awarded for knowledge acquisition — “Hey, I learned something!” — these can add a little fun or whimsy to a learning experience, but customers may not be motivated to earn them because they’re so simple. Most companies layer on more meaningful badges, especially for partners who must certify their skills to deliver services on behalf of a company. These higher-level badges are awarded based on performance-based testing.

Richard Huie Buckius and Peter Manijak from Magento also shared how, for their certification programs, they leverage experts in their Magento community to generate content, best practices, and assessments. Often our customers know more about us when it comes to expert use of our products, so opening up content to a community can be incredibly powerful. This approach helps to increase the reach of a certification program and engages the power users in their community.

Finally, Dave and Adam compare certification programs to video games, and to dating, but you’ll have to listen to the episodes for more on that!

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