Steve Cornwell  00:00

If you just do a search on, Indeed or a search on LinkedIn for “Customer Education” and you and you look at jobs, there’s actually job posts now.! You see Directors, Managers, VPs, and specialists with with Customer Education in the actual title and to me that just says, “Hey, this is a category, the practice has arrived, and these foundations have really come into place.”

Adam Avramescu  00:36

Welcome to CELab, the Customer education lab where we explore how to build customer education programs, experiment with new approaches, and exterminate the myths and bad advice that stopped growth dead in its tracks. I’m Adam Avramescu. And today, we have a very special guest, Steve Cornwell, CEO and founder of Northpass. Welcome, Steve.

Steve Cornwell  00:57

Hey, it’s great to be here. Thanks, Adam. Thanks for having me.

Adam Avramescu  01:00

Yeah, thanks for coming on the show. And we are so happy to have you here on well, so you know, we always do the National Day of on the show. And today, it actually happens to be a lot of different national days of it’s a it’s National Day of unplugging. First of all, which might be ironic for us, being in tech. It’s it’s national employee Appreciation Day. employees, I’m sure you appreciate yours, too. It’s national absent day in case anyone is looking for a little drink afterwards. But finally, maybe most appropriately, it’s national Multiple Personality day. And so for a single day, they can have so many national days of that’s probably appropriate. You don’t get that many. That’s amazing. That is amazing.

Steve Cornwell  01:47

All the amazing employees out there. Awesome. Thank you.

Adam Avramescu  01:51

Yes, we love We love employees, don’t we? We are employee, I’m an employee. Right? Yeah, we’re also ones employee. So Steve, thank you so much for coming on the show. Would you like to give a quick introduction to yourself? Before we dive in?

Steve Cornwell  02:05

Yeah, sure. It’s great to be with you again. I’m Steve Cornwell, I am the founder and CEO of Northpass. We are a learning platform that specializes in building custom platforms for customer education programs, but but also for partner programs and workforce programs as well. So it’s great to be with you here chatting and look forward to the conversation.

Adam Avramescu  02:30

Yeah, me too. And so for our listeners, Steve, we’re continuing part of our CEO series that we’ve been doing. And this is where we go behind the scenes with what’s happening at the top level of learning technologies. And so we’re really excited to talk to you today, I think a lot of our listeners will know of North pass as the learning platform for companies like Shopify freshworks, Uber compass. So I’d really like to dive in with you and get behind the scenes of North pass and also hear about your journey. So maybe we can start with a little get to know you time, I’d love to hear about your background and career.

Steve Cornwell  03:06

Yeah, sure thing. So I’ve spent my career in SaaS, I’ve spent my career I guess what I could say, and, you know, category development within SaaS, I’ve always been in a, an organization that’s really kind of pioneering new spaces. And it’s been a lot of fun been really fortunate. In that way. I started my career in sales at a very early stage, SaaS company. And then I moved into managing Customer Success teams, playing key roles and managing marketing groups. And then in product management, as well. And the company that I started with, really right after university in 2003, was a company called edifice. And what we did is we had a data service platform and a data analytics platform for retail, the retail industry. And it was a really, really exciting time because the idea of like, big data was just coming onto the scene. And we were growing really, really fast and changing the way that their whole retail industry thought about using data. So I progressed through you know, sales, customer success marketing, product management, and we built that company up from there, just a few employees to over 100 employees and we had a really nice exit to A NASDAQ company called SPS commerce and, and then I moved into a general management role over there, helping them really integrate that product line and really get it deeply embedded into their sales process and into their marketing and their whole go to market. And, and so from there, though, then, you know, I decided that I just love the the hustle and the building phase and the scaling phase. So it jumped back into startup land and founded North pass. And we’ve been growing that for a few years now. And that’s kind of what what led us here.

Adam Avramescu  05:00

Amazing. And so North pass. Again, I’m looking at your your tagline, you’re a fully customizable learning platform for today’s workforce, customer and partner training powered initiatives, which is, you know, great to see, you know, you spanning multiple verticals of, you know, what we might consider the customer education or the learning management market. How did you how did you get the idea that this is the thing that you wanted to do when you, you don’t want to start a new company?

Steve Cornwell  05:25

Yeah, it’s a, you know, it’s really interesting how it’s all all come together. And so it ultimately ties back to my time at NFS. And so, like I mentioned before, that business was growing. And one of the cool things that we were doing that business was, we were, we were retraining an entire industry, this retail industry, how to think about data. And for the longest time manufacturers in that industry, like like Nike, for example, or like L’Oreal, they had thought about their, their success based on how much product they sold into a retailer, and not really how much actually went to the consumer. And so we were actually teaching them how to retrain them to think about actually thinking all the way to the end user. And it was a big, monumental mindset shift. That took a lot, a lot of education. A beneath all of that we had a very sophisticated and enterprise grade data platform, which was our product, it was our servers, the edifice service. And to be successful in that business, education was a really big component of what we did. And so we had trainers on staff and and customer success teams, educating the clients constantly. And we got to a point in our scaling, where we had to think a little bit differently about education, we just scale it more efficiently. And frankly, you know, in a really, if I really looked at it critically, our customers didn’t necessarily love the way we were educating them at the time, it was a lot of onsite a lot of correct, you know, on site curriculum, and it just wasn’t all that. That interactive and that convenient. And so

Adam Avramescu  07:03

it’s it’s so funny, Steve, like the way you describe it. That’s, that’s literally the problem statement. That’s the genesis for customer education, it’s so many companies, right? We’ve been doing it this way, we’ve been doing it manually. Maybe we’re not providing the best experience, maybe we’re not able to serve our customers as quickly as we want. And that’s exactly why they start thinking about customer education in the first place.

Steve Cornwell  07:22

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, I had like a marketer’s mindset, that’s kind of more of my gravity as a, as a professional. And so I looked at it from like an experiential point of view and a brand point of view. And I was like, we can do this a lot better. So we looked at this was probably 2010 or so I write around there. And we looked at bringing all of this online. And so we looked at the systems that were available. And there are some awesome learning management systems. But it was just so clear and obvious that they were built for more of the talent suite, the HR compliance suite. And so we we had to get it ultimately decide, hey, do we build it ourselves? Or do we kind of Jimmy rig one of these HR oriented solutions in? Or do we just not do anything. And so we actually didn’t do anything, because neither of those were great options. And we just kept going. And shortly thereafter, we actually exited the business to this much larger company. And they’re, you know, we went from having, you know, let’s call it about 800 or so really good size customers, to this company that we exited to. And they had 40,000 customers at the time. And they had big customers, they also small customers, and they had this educational problem at such a greater scale. And so Donna was like, yeah, orders of magnitude. And I was going Oh, so I’m not insane. Like, I’m not, I’m not like a like, like an odd ball here with like this one off problem. Other companies have this problem, too.

Adam Avramescu  08:57

Will Steve tell you I remember, I remember 2010 being in the market for a learning management system. This is 20 2010 2011. And we were doing customer education, out to hundreds of clients that were all themselves various sizes, the business from from SMB to much larger. And we had the exact same issue we were looking and the only things we could find, were either these, you know, open source, you know, almost like plugin type platforms, or ones that were part of these much larger talent management suites. And we ended up going with the ladder and it was, it was okay, but just though both from the pricing model, all the way to the administration, it was clearly just not meeting our needs. You know, I had to become like a half time LMS admin even though I was the manager of a team. Yeah,

Steve Cornwell  09:48

yeah. See, see we’re feeling the pain around around the same time. You know, it was cool to out of it. I think back like at that time, something that was also so inspirational and I think it kind of indirectly in influence this, this track for me was it really cool things happening around then you had things like like edX, and Udacity, and Udemy, and Coursera. And they were all coming online with these really great immersive experiences. And I thought, see, that’s what we wanted. That’s what we wanted it white labeled, you know. And so I think that it was kind of a collision of two worlds, right? This, this educate, there’s a lot of progress in online education, making that more available and accessible. And then we had our problem that was just really starting to become a heavy problem is like, well, we can just put this together and solve it. Right. So that was the ultimate genesis of, of North pass.

Adam Avramescu  10:45

I remember that time to I don’t remember what exact year it was. But at Optimizely, we got hit up by all those platforms, asking if we wanted to partner with them to do a, you know, an optimization course. And I just remember I remember very clearly that being I called it year, the MOOC. I didn’t, yeah, that’s the year the MOOC to. That’s what I remember it my head. Okay. So that’s what a great problem statement to come out of that. And obviously, both your company and customer education have come a really long way since then. So let’s maybe pivot the conversation a little bit into the state of customer education in 2021. I would love to hear a little bit about how you see the market and where it is today.

Steve Cornwell  11:29

Yeah, you mentioned it’s come a long way, right? I think when, when we got North past sort of, we didn’t even know what to call it. It’s like, what what is this thing that we’re trying to solve, right? And this like, word customer education, I remember it came up in, like a strategy session where everyone’s like, oh, okay, but But what is that, like? Well, anyone actually understand it? And now here we are now and like, you have a great community. And there’s a lot of other great communities that are coming up around this. And I think it’s, it’s, if we think about the state right, to answer your question, the state of it is I think it’s very fair to say that customer education has absolutely become a category. So that’s, that’s awesome, just in itself. And, you know, great work to everybody over the past, like decade of really building this up. So I think that that’s part of the state is it is an actual category. I fully believe that.

Adam Avramescu  12:21

Yeah, absolutely. I agree. And so you Oh, go ahead.

Steve Cornwell  12:26

No, go ahead, please. Well, I

Adam Avramescu  12:28

was gonna say, so you were mentioning as well, that, you know, Part Part of that category creation process is that I think the the need is now more defined. So I’d love to hear how you think about what’s motivating, you know, the kind of attraction towards customer education, where where do you see the need and the ROI? Absolutely.

Steve Cornwell  12:47

Yeah, I think there’s a couple. I think there’s a couple macro things really driving out the need. So first is the the economy has, has largely shifted from kind of this asset, asset ownership, this asset purchase economy, to more of a subscription economy, more of an experience driven economy. And that change, which is more, Morris has actually been more profound in some markets than others. But I’d say overall, that’s the general direction of the macro economy, that change has highlighted and really elevated retention, customer retention is such a critical driver of business viability, and and, and business growth. So I think that’s just been a huge, huge kind of foundational piece of why customer education has come onto the scene so hot.

Adam Avramescu  13:54

Yeah, that makes sense. Because now you’re in a situation where you’re not necessarily selling the product, and it’s a one time purchase, or, you know, a multi year contract, and you never really hear from the vendor again. Now, renewal is continual, thus, the risk of churn is continual, and in a subscription economy, that’s obviously going to drive the need to continue continually nurture and to educate your customer.

Steve Cornwell  14:17

Right, right. Yeah. And if you think about it, too, right, it’s kind of like that’s just like good business. Right? Like it’s it’s a better way. It’s it’s a more authentic, it’s a more real relationship. So I think it’s it’s only a net positive for just kind of the way the way the economy is working. It’s really good to see

Adam Avramescu  14:33

it put it puts more pressure, I think on vendors to deliver value continuously. You can’t just sell shelfware and then, you know, run away and go go play golf somewhere.

Steve Cornwell  14:44

Right, right. Yeah, I think I think the other big macro change to that’s happening is it’s so much easier than ever to create and sell products, right? Like so if you’re a digital product company, if you’re a SaaS company or, you know, a commerce maybe Maybe like a commerce company or digital content company, whatever it may be, you can, you can build products so fast now with all the infrastructure services and, you know, the, like the labor market places to find help and kind of be put put things together, and then even physical products, because are easier than ever to build and sell me just that the internet has opened up so many distribution channels to reach audiences. And so I think that this just like, proliferation of options, that, that we face as, as consumers, you know, by going to a supermarket or b2b buyers, by looking at things like GE, to, at its at this point, it’s, it’s overwhelming, in terms of how many options we have. So like things like features, they’re essentially commodities at this point, pricing is pretty much, you know, par for the course. And I think that customer experience, CX is becoming one of the only ways to truly differentiate businesses. And, and, and I think that customer education is a critical, critical part of customer experience. And it’s a great way to differentiate. So, you know, I think whether it’s the the macro change towards subscription, the subscription economy, the experience economy, or whether it’s just this, this explosion of competitors, the whole need to build an incredible customer experience has really been a great catalyst for for our category here.

Adam Avramescu  16:42

Yeah, I think so too. And okay, let’s, let’s get meta about it for a moment. So now we have this category. And when you have a category, that means it’s somewhat easier to define the business case, right? It’s easier today and 2021, for an early stage company, to go pitch a customer education role or customer customer education function than it was 10 years ago. So that creates a new demand for jobs, it creates a new demand for roles, and thus, we have to figure out how to educate the educators. So we’re gonna add data here. But how do we how do we build, you know, the right frameworks around this in 2021?

Steve Cornwell  17:24

Well, I think that’s another cool piece about like, where we’re at as a category right now is the frameworks are starting to come into come into focus. We’re seeing it, you know, from a lot of different vendors, from a from people like yourself, who wrote the you wrote the book on it, right? Why smart companies profit from making their customers smarter, which has a lot of compelling evidence on why to do it, and a lot of great advice on how to actually do it. And we’re seeing other, we’re seeing a lot of good thought leadership around it, right. Like we we at North pass, we publish articles, we publish some white papers, we published some case studies on on this, and a lot of other vendors do. And so I think that that’s another really great thing about where the state of the industry is right now is the frameworks are really starting to come into focus, which is allowing the, like you said, like the the educators to get educated about how to actually do this. And I think that we see proof of this, if you just do a search on on indeed, or a search on LinkedIn for customer education, and you look at jobs, there’s actually job posts that you see here, directors, managers, VPS, a specialists with with customer education in the actual title, and to me, that just says, Hey, this is a category, the practice has arrived. And, and these foundations have really come into place.

Adam Avramescu  18:58

It’s It’s remarkable. I agree that, you know, first of all, to your point, there are more frameworks out there now, including the thought leadership that your company puts out, that really put more guardrails around the discipline of customer education or more best practices or frameworks that can be used. This episode will probably air after a couple that are focused on customer education maturity models, which is now something we’re starting to see more of. And similarly with the on the job front, I like you have seen more customer education, jobs and more customer education, leadership roles open this year than I have in any year prior. And I’m sure COVID had an accelerating effect on some of that. But I agree with you so much of it is that the category has arrived. And I’m I’m surprised in some ways that it’s arrived as quickly as it has. So it is it’s delightful to see. And what’s really intriguing to me is that not only are the jobs here, but increasingly they’re all starting to be called The same thing or the same couple of things.

Steve Cornwell  20:02

Yes, it is definitely normalizing. Right? It’s like the identity. It’s a multiple identity day. I think he said, right. So yes, I think it’s fair to say that the identity of customer education is starting to like find itself right. And brand itself, which is, which is great.

Adam Avramescu  20:18

Yeah, I love it. And so, you know, tell me tell me a little bit about, you know, who you’re seeing invest in customer education these days? What I think companies,

Steve Cornwell  20:28

yeah, definitely. So this, I think, in 2021, something really cool is happening. I think we see it, I think the pandemic accelerated this too. But a company customer education is not just for for big companies anymore. And that is that that fact is going to help accelerate the growth of this category. So much. So I think historically, customer training, customer education, that you know, that the big, like, robust customer Academy was really just for big companies, you know, think about like HubSpot Academy. More recently, Salesforce trailhead, I mean, Adobe’s had a massive Learning Services Group for forever. Yeah. And these are all huge, huge companies. And they’ve done great work, like being inspiration being role models for ambitious, you know, small businesses and growing midsize businesses. And I think, you know, having been in growth stage, startups, I’ve always looked at those like, that’s that Academy is a tremendous asset. Like, I would like to have something like that. Yeah, one day,

Adam Avramescu  21:44

how do I build my own trailhead?

Steve Cornwell  21:47

Right, exactly. How can we do that and so, but I think historically, really only up until the past couple years, to the lift to build something like that, heck, I experienced it. It’s why I started this company, the lift to build it was just too resource intensive, it required too much specialized expertise, and it put a proper customer education program entirely out of reach for SMBs. And, and for many in most mid market companies. But that that’s all changed dramatically now. And I think two things have really driven the change and, and allowed, which has made customer education programs accessible to all companies. So the first is that content has has always been a blocker and multimedia production tools. Heck, like the one we’re recording this, this podcast on are like Canva, right? Like anybody can use Canva to develop beautiful things. Or there’s, there’s writing tools now that basically write for you. And so all of this multimedia production tooling has become commonplace, and really slashed the cost of great content production and made content production accessible to a non elearning. Professional. And that has torn down a huge, huge, huge barrier to getting into this space.

Adam Avramescu  23:13

It’s also I think, in a way, sorry to interrupt. It’s it’s also, I think, put more power into the hands of instructional designers, who are increasingly becoming learning experience designers, with a focus on the end user experience on the multimedia aspects of what they’re doing. Because it used to be you’d say to instructional designer, hey, go create your own multimedia. And they look at you like you were you don’t speak in Greek. Right? You really the guys anymore, right? It’s it’s actually pretty much an expected part of a modern learning experience designers job that you’re able to do something of your own multimedia production.

Steve Cornwell  23:48

I think it’s so cool, right? Because now, instructional design profession can can can think about things like you said, from the experience point of view and the building blocks of content have already been taken care of. And it’s about weaving all of that together into a unique and proprietary experience. And it just takes so much of the heavy lifting out of it. So I fully agree I think it’s a great thing for the instructional design craft as well. Yeah, I think the other big piece Adam is that has really made customer education more accessible is that just like platform vendors, you know, software vendors, learning learning, learning, technology companies have started to build more specific solutions for the customer education use case and, and, and that has become a very, very efficient way these services these products become a very efficient way for an SMB or mid market company, to get a turnkey solution to stand up a very Basic, but functional and effective Academy and you know, a matter of days a matter of weeks where in the past it was just entirely out of reach, or it would have taken months to develop.

Adam Avramescu  25:13

Yeah, it’s much easier now to to stand up an academy or, you know, any sort of customer education platform than it was in the past, especially when you were working with systems that weren’t really purpose built for for this use case, right? Like you had to do a ton of work to try to figure out, you know, if you were using some sort of, you know, hrs based system and repurposing for customer education, how are you going to handle the seats? How are you going to handle identity? And now customer education platforms? Just get that right. That’s Yeah, it

Steve Cornwell  25:43

just does it. It’s magic.

Adam Avramescu  25:45

Which is, which is amazing. And so Steve, like, when we think now, you know, beyond 2021? Where do you see this market going? Hmm.

Steve Cornwell  25:54

I think that there’s so much traction, there’s so much innovation, there’s, you know, there’s a lot of competition in the space. And that’s fueling a lot of innovation. And so I think that some really, really, like, interesting next generation things are taking place. So one is that I think that customer education is going to go from a place of being like an early adopter concept to just flat out table stakes. And like to use an analogy of blogging, right, another kind of really important form of content distribution, we’d look at blogging. So WordPress started up in 2003, the early 2000s or so. And then blogging exploded in amongst like writers and hobbyists that were just kind of sharing out their their musings out in the world. And then some early adopters in b2b embraced it. And that gave them a really unique advantage and a unique kind of brand. And then HubSpot arrives a couple years later. And they make this huge bet that inbound and content marketing is going to be the new way. And they were right. Then by like, 2010, everyone has a blog. And if you don’t have a blog, people kind of scratch their head. And they’re like, Well, are you actually a serious company, right. And so the blog is now table stakes. And I think that’s what’s gonna happen. I think that’s what’s gonna happen with customer education where, sure you got you got trailhead, you got HubSpot Academy, you got you got some other, like, really, really notable academies out there. And they’re cutting edge and they’re innovative. But hey, in five years, you know, in three years, I think companies that don’t have those academies there, it’s going to be similar to the blog, it’s like, you’re not going to be taken as seriously because it’s, it’s, it’s potentially one signal to a prospective customer that maybe they don’t invest as much in the customer experience as their competitor. And so I think that’s a that’s gonna be a really interesting trend to watch over the next couple of years.

Adam Avramescu  28:06

I think that’s super interesting, too. And, you know, the the HubSpot story, for instance, that’s pure, it’s a pure category creation story. And, you know, I think that’s interesting, both in the sense that we’ll see that in, in customer education, just like you said, but also that it’s a it’s a big part of HubSpot own story. Right part of why HubSpot Academy is powerful and innovative is because HubSpot was using it as a tool is still using it as a tool to really create and define a category of inbound marketing. And that’s really the power behind HubSpot Academy. And part of why part of why I think HubSpot is successful, because they’re really, they’re, they’re selling by educating. Definitely,

Steve Cornwell  28:45

yeah, and I think that, I think that is another big trend, I think marketers are going to become stakeholders, potentially this the ultimate steward of customer education. And we’re seeing that in our customer base, like every day that marketers are getting more and more involved, and it’s super exciting. If for nothing else, marketers have like the biggest budget, right? So that’s, that’s great for if somebody can get funneled into customer education, and so, you know, when I think about at its core, what customer education is, it’s it’s educational content, but it’s kind of it’s, um, it’s it’s like supercharged content. It’s interactive. There’s awards or certifications, there’s interactive quizzes and like, who loves interactive content more than marketers like? Nobody. And, and so I think that while we’ve, we’ve often looked at customer education, the need arising out of like Customer Success teams and implementation teams, support teams, pro serve teams. I think there is a strong possibility that the We’re gonna see companies adopting customer education way up the funnel, you know, way, way, way further up the funnel, like you said, like with, like with the HubSpot Academy example. And I think when marketers fold into customer education that’s going to supercharge our category and take it to like a whole new place.

Adam Avramescu  30:20

Yeah, you know, I can, I can see it unfolding one of a couple ways, I’m sure there are more, but I think the two most likely, in my view are either one, it happens exactly as you said, where marketing really takes up the mantle of becoming the sponsors and champions of customer education and customer education teams are born, not necessarily have a reactive support need or a reactive training need for an existing install base, but rather as an opportunity to really define and educate a market. The other way I can see it happening is if you think about the rise of the chief customer officer, and the elevation of that role in that function beyond just customer success, we do think, well, I should say Customer Success itself is more comprehensive than just customer support or customer experience, or, you know, it kind of a subsidiary function that might roll up into a chief customer officer position. So we might, I think, also see them starting to take up the mantle of customer education from an earlier stage, which might tie into another trend that you’re talking about. And maybe both will happen. But I’m interested to see where this goes. Because customer education can kind of be the it can be the marketing arm of customer success, or it can be the customer arm of marketing, it can be a customer. Yeah. You know,

Steve Cornwell  31:38

yeah, I hear you. And I because I think in the subscription, you know, in this kind of, like, economy we’re in where retention is, is king, I actually still think there’s some identity crisis happening. And like the whole, like the revenue organization as a whole, right, where, you know, VP of Sales before was, you know, where all the revenue was taking place, and was just like, sell, sell, sell, sell. And now, like you said, you see that rise of the chief customer officer. And so you know, where revenue is owned and and how revenue is divided. It’s, it’s, it’s now a more complicated matter than it was in the past. So I think you bring up a really good point about that, that chief customer officer, that that’ll be cool to track,

Adam Avramescu  32:22

for sure. And so how do you see then from a delivery standpoint? How are you seeing kind of the evolution of, I guess, the formats or the modalities that we’re using for customer education?

Steve Cornwell  32:34

I think there’s tremendous innovation happening here. And this is something like when I put my product hat on, I’m just so deeply passionate about. So I think that one of the biggest trends we see over the next couple of years is that customer education is going to move like beyond the the academy or that we’ve been we’ve referenced a couple times here. And so, you know, there’s this idea out there that the pinnacle of customer education is that classic Academy, this shiny homepage, the learning, the learning pathways, the certification programs, the integrated community, and for like, really good reason, right? It’s a tremendous, all in one destination that makes it easy engaging for users. And this is how it’s been for a long time. But we’re seeing new ways to deliver customer education, which really extends the academy or augments the Academy. And this type of delivery is is proactive, it’s personalized. It’s injected into the tools that people use every single day at Northwest, we call this embedded. And I think it’s a major, major gap in most customer education programs right now. And I think only the earliest of adopters are starting to fill that. So you know, and I think it’s important because when you think about as consumers, how we how we consume information, in our personal lives, everything is presented to us, right, we almost we almost don’t even have to think anymore, outside of work because everything is on our mobile devices. And it just like pushes information to us constantly about how to how to direct our days how to live our lives, how to consume information, everything we want to know. And so I think we’re on the cusp here of kind of the the user’s tolerance for education is going to fall in line with with that type of format, where unless it’s really pushed to them in a hyper personalized contextual way. I think it’s going to be we’re going to deal with like an attention or an engagement problem in the academy. And so I think it’s really, really an exciting trend to see how this more embedded, more personalized, more proactively served. Learning really pans out and it’s really neat.

Adam Avramescu  34:54

Because Yeah, you’re right. I mean the the whole idea of the customer Academy, you can build you can The best Academy in the world, but you’re still probably going to have some issue marketing it out to the rest of your customers who haven’t discovered yet, because you’re still asking them to go to a different place to consume a certain type of content versus meeting them where they are. And so I agree with you on the rise of embedded learning on the rise of contextual learning. We had an episode a while back that was called is in product education, the new LMS. And it was in our old style hypothesis debate format. And Dave, and I debated it for a while. And I mean, we didn’t have a clear conclusion from that. I don’t think that contextual or embedded learning is going to fully subsume what an academy or a community does today. But it certainly is going to become a key component for anyone running a customer education program. Absolutely, I

Steve Cornwell  35:49

see them as they’re, they’re necessary right there. They’re the academy and the, the this embedded style, I view them as extremely complementary, right. Because as you kind of mentioned, that there’s this marketing aspect of customer education that needs to be in place for it to be effective. And this kind of embedded in, you know, push driven learning, it’s just kind of like naturally marketing the content. But there still is a tremendous need to have that bigger, more robust, more immersive experience that people can sit down and be thoughtful about and take their time with. Right. So I think, like, it’s more about, how do you kind of divide what people want to know? And where do you? Where do you put it? Like, what’s the right? What’s the appropriate format for what you’re actually trying to accomplish? Yeah,

Adam Avramescu  36:41

I agree.

Steve Cornwell  36:42

Yeah, fun to watch, it’s gonna be a fun one to watch.

Adam Avramescu  36:47

Definitely. And so, you know, maybe this will help us transition a little bit into what you’re what you’re actually seeing in your customer base, I’d love to hear a little bit about what, you know, North path North passes, excuse me customers are doing with the platform and kind of what they’re doing in the world of customer education.

Steve Cornwell  37:06

Sure, yeah. So we serve, we serve a lot of different industries, you know, not not just the b2b SaaS space, we serve a lot, a lot of different industries, healthcare, manufacturing, real estate marketplaces. And by and large, all of those customer, all of our customers are training their version of a customer. And, and so we get to see how customer education is playing out across a really, really diverse spectrum of companies. We rolled out a framework a couple of months ago, we call it learning Ops, you can see it on our website. But what learning ops is all about is driving learning across the whole organization with the purpose of maximizing that customer experience. And it’s a flywheel method. So it starts with getting alignment starts with iterating quickly on content, and then really tying learning activity into business outcomes. And so we see a lot of interesting things in our customer base, taking place around this learning Ops, flywheel. And so one of the most interesting things that we’re seeing is kind of what we call multiple use cases. And I’ll just, I’ll just kind of tell us a quick little story about this. And then I’ll kind of more clearly define it. But when I was I’ve never forget going to see a customer in New York. So we’re based out in New Jersey, we took a rideshare into New York, and we serve a lot of rideshare companies in a business. And so I’m always interested in talking to the drivers. And so I asked the driver, hey, do you prefer working for this platform or that platform? And they said, Well, hey, I prefer working for platform a, I said, Well, how come? And they said, well, it all comes down to how successful I am on the platform, in this case measured in earnings power. But also what my how satisfied I am working with them when I have problems. Yeah. And like how fast they get back to me and like their tone and their general like disposition towards me. And it just dawned on me at that moment. I was like, wow, customer education is not just about educating that end user. It’s actually if we think about customer education as a driver for the customer experience. It’s Yes, it’s about educating the end user, the customer, but it’s also about educating the people that are serving that customer, the service teams, the sales teams, account management teams, the customer success teams, and so that’s something that we really promote in in our learning ops framework. And it’s something that we organically see in our customer base is that it’s we have we see a lot of direct customer education taking place. But we also see a lot of customer service team education, customer success team education, sales, team education, all oriented around, either helping that customer succeed and maximize the results or giving them a really, really good experience. So that’s been fun to see that kind of proliferation of use cases within an individual customer.

Adam Avramescu  40:14

Yeah. And you know, for anyone who’s in customer education, who might be getting asked, hey, you know, can you do internal naval internal enablement as well? Like, can you do customer and employee education? Can you do sales enablement, right, there’s often a lot of overlap between the departments that run these things, especially depending on the size of the company. To me, that’s actually such a clear use case, for how customer education and internal education directly overlap and augment each other is that if you’re putting great materials out there for your customers, and you’ve created so much great source of truth content, that of course, you want your frontline customer teams, also getting access to that same customer education, so that they can play their role in educating the customer. So they can use that content to supplement what they do. So they don’t spend time, you know, including their precious time or the customer’s precious time repeating things. And so that, you know, that they’ll know what the customers experience with that content will be.

Steve Cornwell  41:20

Great. Right, right. And you get and not to mention, like, from an internal efficiency point of view, you get so much, you get so much leverage, right. Same core piece of content can serve many audiences. And and that’s, that’s great for for operational efficiency, too.

Adam Avramescu  41:36

Yeah, I agree. So you you mentioned, you know, embedded learning or integrated learning. Tell me a little bit about what you’re seeing in your customer base there.

Steve Cornwell  41:45

Yeah, we’re seeing some really, really cool things here. So we are seeing our customers build customer education experiences, like natively into their own websites and into their own mobile app. So last week, actually, I was talking to one of our, our customers, she she runs product over at a she’s, she’s the VP of product over at a luxury real estate firm. And her and her team, they’ve just done amazing work weaving learning experiences throughout the entire journey of their real estate agents who, for them, that’s essentially a form of their customer, right? Because are these independent agents sort of like a channel partner model to? Exactly Yeah, very much so. And she just said, Hey, like, I can’t force people to learn. And you know, these people are out in the field a lot. They’re there, most of them are not going to sift through, you know, our central hub. So instead, we’re, we’re bringing it to them contextually right within this, this agent app that her company has built on their own. And they’re serving it up, natively and contextually. And so that’s one one example there. And the engagements are really high, and the adoption is going really high. And so we’re seeing a lot of this kind of integrated learning. And it’s not just within proprietary apps, but I’m sure you’ve seen this to Adam is like, there’s a lot of just integration happening to commercial apps to like CRM systems and marketing automation systems and customer success systems. And we’re seeing learning really brought into these revenue and customer ecosystems, which I think is it’s great. It’s just it’s bringing learning closer to, to, to the core operation.

Adam Avramescu  43:37

Yeah. And it also it starts to integrate the learning data. So you don’t just have, say, learning attendance and consumption sitting in a silo somewhere that’s completely divorced from the rest of the data in your org. So I actually maybe that’s the the last one I’d be curious to talk about is, how are you seeing customer education teams start to combine or integrate that data so that they can really point to the impact of what they do?

Steve Cornwell  44:02

Yeah, this is this whole impact analysis? I’d say like, I mean, just like, candidly, I’d say that this is probably the area as a category that we have the most work to do on you know, there’s a lot of maturity around other areas of customer education. This one, I think, is is just ripe for for seeing some maturity around.

Adam Avramescu  44:24

Yes, it’s it used to be our elusive Holy Grail.

Steve Cornwell  44:28

It’s hard to do, right? It’s it’s really hard to do. But we are seeing a lot of traction, and we’re seeing the desire to get there. And we have some customers that have successfully correlated material impact on their business to learning activity data. And, and that’s, that’s great, right, that I think, the more that we can publish on that, the more that we can socialize that and build frameworks around that. You know, the more we’re going to be able to enable the customer education leaders out there on how to make this how to make this real?

Adam Avramescu  45:07

Yeah. And and, you know, it may look in some ways like, like other disciplines like marketing or or even like sales where, you know, these are things that weren’t quantified at first, you know, we had to do a lot of them on faith. And then as the data became richer, as there became more activity in the space, then we did start to see more rigor around being able to do attribution and actually being able to do impact analysis, because it’s a core business functions. There’s a little bit of a chicken in the egg there, but I think, I think I think I’m starting to see more, more chicks hatching out more eggs,

Steve Cornwell  45:38

yeah, more,

Adam Avramescu  45:40

more eggs.

Steve Cornwell  45:42

I think what’s cool about it is it brings in another stakeholder in the business, I mean, there’s more and more data science, coming into business, there’s more analysts, resources coming into businesses, there’s, there’s great new analytical tools that are becoming pretty accessible to businesses and data pipelines. And so I think we’re gonna see this mature at a pretty rapid pace over the next couple of years.

Adam Avramescu  46:09

I think so too, and it’s really exciting to see. So Steve, this has been a great discussion so far. Let’s wrap up with one thing we always do in the CEO series, and really talk CEO to CEO. So this is a little segment that we call the view from sea level, because I like puns. So let’s just talk real quick, when when you’re talking to other CEOs, whether it’s on your customer side, or you know, even talking to investors or the board, what are you talking about? What What do what do CEOs care about in this space? Mm hmm.

Steve Cornwell  46:46

Well, I CEOs are talking about boards are talking about it, and so that, like that, on its own, the fact that these leaders that at the sea level, I like that one, by the way, good one, that the fact that they are engaged, is very meaningful, just on its own right, and very, very good for for our space. But there are there’s a couple, I guess, areas there that we, we, we talk about and engage on. So I think first is just like acknowledging that, you know, customer for life is, is the goal and CX, you know, customer experience is, is the path to get there. And so just like just acknowledging that and talking about that, what what that means, and the implications of that is a really, really good healthy discussion that that that I’m having with a lot of the top executives within our customers and and an externally as well. And I think specifically on that point, you kind of have to you have to ask the question. It’s a tough question. But like, what happens if you don’t prioritize customer education? What happens to the customer experience? If competitors are prioritizing customer education, if a competitor shows up with a great engaging Academy or an embedded learning experience within their app, right, like, what does that mean for your install base? What does that mean for your perspective, customers, and just having that conversation is a great starting place. And so I think I encourage CEOs to, to think about that, to to engage in that and to really just kind of be be thoughtful about those decisions. The other thing that that is a really interesting topic right now is the question of CEOs and, you know, boards of like, how do we how do we make room for for customer education, you know, in the budgeting and the hiring. And so it’s important to talk about ROI, it’s important to talk about the impacts on you know, reducing time, the time to customer value or increasing the rates of product adoption, or, or driving down, you know, support costs that so so that business can scale cost efficiently. So

Adam Avramescu  49:10

and even the one you brought up before about customer education as a competitive differentiator, that those are all lightbulb moments that still have to go off at some point. And you’ll get some level of scale where that really resonates with you. But I think you’re right, as the category matures, and it becomes more of a given table stakes thing that your company does, I think there will probably start to be a little bit less resistance to get to that lightbulb moment and it’ll be more of an accepted practice.

Steve Cornwell  49:39

I think so. And I think that tactically speaking, you know, one of the things that I think I spend a lot of time talking to executives on is to don’t fret about like striving to have 10,000 certifications in You’re one of your customer education program like Yes, that’s it, that’s a great thing to strive for. But just get started with, with one lesson, get it out there, get feedback on it. And the sooner you get that feedback on it, the sooner you’re going to learn about what how to take that next step. And so that’s another thing is that there’s just like a level of pragmatism at the executive level that has to be has to be discussed and has to be acknowledged and prioritized because otherwise it can be, it can be runaway scope, creep, and then never go anywhere.

Adam Avramescu  50:34

Yeah, you’re trying to run before you’re even crawling. Mm hmm. So, Steve, before we cut out today, thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the audience,

Steve Cornwell  50:46

it has been so much fun. For the audience, like Thank you, for all the people building around this. It’s awesome, it’s fun to be a part of it, I think we’re doing some good work on getting a lot of traction on this category. So So thank you. And a for anybody who’s curious about building a customer education program, like don’t wait, you know, get started, it doesn’t matter if you’re, if you’re a marketer, if you’re in, if you’re in the customer organization, if you’re in product, like just get started, start small start small scale up, and you will eventually have those that that those 10,000 certifications a year. So I encourage you to just get moving.

Adam Avramescu  51:26

So if they want to get moving with North pass, where can they find you, Steve?

Steve Cornwell  51:30

Northpass.com. It’s where we are. And then Personally, I love LinkedIn. And I’m just, I’m on LinkedIn. So you connect with me directly there. I love hearing from people and and would love to connect with you and help you out if you can. Amazing. Well,

Adam Avramescu  51:46

thank you, Steve for taking time out of your day to share your thoughts with us. And to our audience. Like you. We’re passionate about customer education. We’re committed to connecting with our growing audience of leaders and professionals to the people and ideas they need to understand the field. So if you want to learn more, we have a podcast website at customer dot education, where you can find show notes and other materials. On Twitter. I’m at Everett masscue. Steve, you’re on LinkedIn.

Steve Cornwell  52:13

I’m on LinkedIn.

Adam Avramescu  52:15

Special thanks to Alan Cota for our theme music and if this helped you out, you can help us out by subscribing in your pod catcher of choice, or leaving us a review on Apple podcasts. Those things really help expose our podcast other people to our audience. Thanks for joining us. Go ahead and educate, experiment and find your people. Thanks, everyone. Thanks

Steve Cornwell  52:36

to you. Thanks, Adam.

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