Many organizations focus their customer education efforts predominantly on onboarding. And while this is a great start, it’s one piece of the puzzle. A successful customer education program touches multiple—if not all—stages of the customer lifecycle. It’s goal is to move customers from one stage to the next. If your education initiatives are directed at only one part of the customer’s experience, you’re limiting your potential impact.
By looking at education holistically across the customer experience, you can create more meaningful and impactful programs, Specifically, ones that drive positive business outcomes (revenue, net retention, LTV, etc.).
What is the Customer Lifecycle?
The customer lifecycle is a framework to describe the stages a customer goes through when they’re considering, buying, using, and remaining loyal to a product or service. Each stage of the journey leads to the next..
The stages are: Lead/Prospect, Sale/Purchase, Onboarding, Adoption, Renewal/Growth, and Advocacy.
The customer lifecycle can help you pinpoint what your customers experience at each stage of their journey—so you can create the right education to push them forward to the next step.
Education Across the Customer Lifecycle
Let’s look at each stage of the customer lifecycle, the goals at each step, and how customer education can play a role across the customer lifecycle.
As we look at the content types and programs that relate to each stage, you may notice you’re doing some of these things now. But, if you’re like most organizations, these efforts are owned by different teams. The result is a disjointed experience. A thoughtfully crafted customer education initiative will tie these efforts together for better results.
Phase 1: Lead/Prospect
This first stage of the customer lifecycle is all about awareness and consideration. You want to reach and attract potential customers within your ICP and position yourself as a solution to their problems.
Attracting prospects is typically considered a function of marketing—not customer education. But we’d argue that customer education begins before someone becomes a customer. When a prospect engages with your top-of-funnel content, they have a problem they need to learn how to solve. In this way, blogs, webinars, and external speaking opportunities become educational in nature.
And then as your prospect moves from awareness to consideration, you’ll need to serve up middle-of-funnel content. Your customer education team can support marketing’s efforts at this stage by developing content that highlights how the prospect can solve their problems using your product or service. For example, “How to improve manager performance with [product].”
Content at the lead/prospect stage: Blogs, webinars, YouTube videos, external speaking opportunities
Phase 2: Sale/Purchase
Once a prospect is in your ecosystem, the next step is to nurture them to the point of sale. Your company’s goal at this stage is to help your prospect make the decision to buy your product or service.
This stage of the journey is often owned by demand gen or sales enablement teams. However, customer education teams can play a key role here. We have a saying at Intellum: Most companies are great at selling their product, but not at teaching their customers how to use their products.
Customer education can bridge the divide—ensuring future customers understand how the product works, setting them up for success post-purchase.
Content at the sale stage: Case studies, 1:1 demos, competitor comparison sheets, high level or overall strategy courses
Phase 3: Onboarding
The onboarding stage of the customer lifecycle is about helping your customers to implement the product. Your main goal is to help them achieve the value they expected to receive when they purchased your product.
Onboarding is the most common entry point for an education program. That’s because education (like how-to videos or learning paths) can accelerate customer onboarding and reduce customer time-to-value—while saving time for your customer success and support teams.
What’s more, when customers are empowered from the beginning to use your product effectively, they more easily transition through the latter stages of the lifecycle.
Content at the onboarding stage: How-to videos, learning paths with assessments, 1:1 or 1:many trainings
Phase 4: Adoption
The adoption stage is about engagement, and your aim is increased frequency and breadth of product or service use.
At this stage, mastery is the name of the game. Certificate courses and certifications can help customers grow their mastery, while release updates keep customers informed of new ways your product can benefit them.
The content you provide at the adoption stage will vary depending on the customer’s account health. (Learning personas can help here.) Your customer education team can create this instructional content and ensure the right content goes to the right learner at the right time.
Content at the adoption stage: Certifications, targeted release videos, product release updates, help center
Phase 5: Renewal/Growth
At the renewal/growth stage, customers should see that you’ve provided them the value they expected to get when they bought your product. This recognition leads to retention, as well as opportunities to grow and expand their account with you. The goal of this stage is to encourage renewal and growth—and for customers to become your company’s cheerleaders.
The same certifications that help customers build mastery also create a stickiness that fights churn. And by exposing customers to new or under-utilized parts of the product with targeted training, you create opportunities for account growth.
Content at the renewal and growth stage: Certifications, courses, targeted trainings
Phase 6: Advocacy
As customers grow with you, they become natural advocates of your products and services.
The advocacy stage is marked by customers sharing details about your business—whether through review sites, case studies, or referral programs. This advocacy reinforces the value of your relationship—and results in a new pool of prospects, effectively starting the cycle over.
If you have a community forum, this stage is an opportunity for customers to demonstrate thought leadership and teach others how to be successful with your product. Customer education teams can support customers in this phase with training and development in how to share their knowledge.
Content at the advocacy stage: Online reviews, testimonial videos, partnerships, community discussions
How to expand your education initiatives to span the customer lifecycle
Successful education initiatives require cross-functional buy-in and support. Members of your customer marketing, customer success, and support teams will play a critical role in aligning education efforts across the customer lifecycle. Sometimes other “less obvious” stakeholders end up playing a big part in the execution, too. Keep an open mind.
The Intellum Framework© can help you align your cross-functional efforts. It leverages our own customer education methodology to unite all of an organization’s education initiatives in one central document. This can be used to create a strategy map for your education programs.