Companies have gotten so good at selling outcomes that they often overlook the need to teach their users how to achieve those outcomes.
It seems like ensuring customer success would be mission-critical for companies in software, hardware, retail, healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing.
However, many companies have not yet invested in developing a true customer education initiative that educates all players who impact customer outcomes: frontline employees, partners, and end users.
Well, while the benefits of customer education are clear, few companies know how to successfully educate customers at scale. (They haven’t yet discovered The Intellum Framework©, a practical framework for building a customer education strategy.)
Many of our customers find it helpful to understand the Framework’s underlying methodology—and that’s exactly what this blog is about.
A Methodology Built On Two Decades Of Experience
After 20 years of educating frontline employees, partners, and end users on products and services, you start to deepen your understanding of how best to educate customers at scale. You also start to see patterns among the organizations that have the most successful customer education programs.
And since we were one of the first to bring a true customer education platform to the market, we have two decades of data insights that show us exactly how people learn best.
The result of our experience plus data insights? The Intellum Methodology™.
The Intellum Methodology Is the Foundation Of Customer Education Success
The Intellum Methodology includes eight strategic thrusts that make up a successful customer education strategy. We’ll dive into the first three in this article, which is the first of a three-part series. (“Strategic thrusts” are the focus areas a company needs to address to reach an overarching goal.)
- Business goals
- Audience strategy
- Content strategy
- Delivery strategy
- Marketing strategy
These eight strategic thrusts co-exist: you don’t have to complete one to move onto the next. Rather, they’re essential parts of the whole. Doing customer education at scale successfully means executing all eight.
#1: Business Goals
Some companies jump right into content creation without defining which problems they're trying to solve through training—and which goals they’re trying to achieve. This leads to training that doesn’t drive the desired outcomes.
Always begin with the end in mind: what outcomes do you want your customers, partners, employees, or your business to achieve? Which outcomes can be augmented through education?
Be aware: While educating users and stakeholders is an effective way to solve specific problems, it doesn’t work to solve every problem. So how do you determine if customer education is the right fit to solve a problem?
This is where a training needs analysis comes in. This systematic process for determining and addressing needs, or "gaps," between a current state and a desired state is a well-worn tool in the customer education practitioner’s box.
This analysis illuminates the real needs of each audience. From there you can create education program goals that are tied to the broader business outcomes you want to achieve, as well as a plan for how you’ll reach those goals.
By gathering needs and requirements upfront, you will be able to:
- Identify root problems that need to be addressed
- Discover gaps in learner knowledge and abilities
- Determine education outcomes and program goals
Ready to put this methodology into practice? Take The Intellum Framework course.
#2: Audience Strategy
The second strategic thrust involves defining target audience parameters. Why? Because the ultimate goal of a customer education program is to deliver the right content to the right learner at the right time.
And you can’t achieve that ultimate goal without understanding whom you’re educating.
The mission here is to define your audience segments and learner personas (these are NOT interchangeable terms; they mean two different things).
An audience segment is a group of users with common characteristics who you will educate in order to reach a business goal. They might be customers, employees, or partners. If you’d like, you can segment a little deeper: customers of Product Line A; customers of Product Line B; customers at premium tier; customers at freemium tier; internal sales team; internal customer success team; etc. Each of those could be an audience segment.
Learner personas are prototypes of learners within an audience segment that share common characteristics, such as training goals, job responsibilities, responsibilities with your product, or skill level. These learner personas are later used to inform content and delivery methods.
Understanding both your audience segments and your learner personas allows you to target the most relevant audience with the right content, and deliver at the right time, ultimately resulting in more satisfied and more
While each strategic thrust plays a critical role in the success of a customer education program, you could argue that resources underpin the whole thing. The key to a winning customer education program is having the right people with the right skills.
Early in your education initiative, you might have fewer people who wear multiple hats.
Some roles—like subject matter experts, business analysts, or education marketers—may not need to be full-time. The important thing is these people are available and ready to support your education initiative when asked.
Here are some of the resources that are commonly found in customer education teams, organized here by function:
Your customer education program needs both an executive sponsor and a dedicated program owner/strategic lead. Without an executive sponsor, it will be hard to gather the resources needed to develop a thoughtful program. And without a dedicated program owner to connect all the pieces, it will be hard to keep your whole initiative moving forward in a strategic direction. You’ll also want to identify subject matter experts to consult as needed.
The size of your content team may vary, depending on existing content and overlap in skill sets, as well as company stage and budget. Roles include:
- Curriculum developer
- Learning experience designer
- Instructional designer
- Graphic designer
- Media specialist
Many organizations have a significant amount of content created by marketing, product, and support teams. This is a great starting point to pull from—but don’t assume existing content creates the desired learning outcomes. Instructional designers identify the medium to be used as well as how to deliver content that meets learners’ training needs.
Marketing and Delivery
A platform strategist ensures your learning management system (LMS) is set up to meet your learning objectives. An education marketer helps to create the go-to-market strategy for your education initiative and supports ongoing promotion. Think about education as a product: it needs dedicated marketing resources just as any other product would.
Your customer education program will grow and change over time. As such, you’ll need a dedicated technical team similar to a software product team, including a:
- Product manager
- Software engineer
- Data engineer
- Web developer
- Business analyst
Our goal here isn’t to scare you into what a significant undertaking this is in terms of resource allocation, but rather to help you thoughtfully resource your program for maximum success.
It’s also worth noting that you’ll need more internal resources if you choose to build your own customer education platform vs. buy.
#4: Content Strategy
You may already have quite a bit of content, or you might be starting from scratch. In either case, we encourage you to review the different content types for your customer education program.
Because, while having a bunch of content is awesome, you want to ensure you’re using the right types of content for an education initiative. Educational content is intended to drive behavior change in the way customers, partners, or employees interact with a company’s products and services. It’s different from marketing content and thought leadership content.
There are two primary types of educational content:
- Curriculum-based content: outcome-driven education that builds conceptual understanding and teaches specific competencies.
- Reference material content: help articles, how-to tutorials, and glossaries, which are mostly used when seeking an answer to a specific question (e.g., How does a feature or process work?).
Sometimes organizations that are new to customer education zero in on reference content (like how-to articles or short demos). However, to fully educate your customers, you must enable them to think critically about why and when they’d take one action over another in addition to learning how to use product features correctly. That’s why highly successful customer education programs use both reference material content and curriculum-based content.
Take Braze, for example. Braze used Intellum’s open asset approach to content to mix and match content types like videos, in-person sessions, and files, and built them into a clear, organized learning structure using Topics and Paths. Now, learners can see what courses have been assigned to them, when they’re due and what’s up next.
Content Strategy Before Content Creation
Before you create new content, start by developing a content strategy. Content strategy, at its core, helps organizations think through why, when, where, and how their audiences will interact with content, and set goals for each piece of content.
It’s not realistic to launch a customer education program with hundreds of courses on day one. This process will help you achieve your big picture vision by building and launching parts of the whole along the way. (Like a contractor has a blueprint everyone’s working toward, a house is built room-by-room.)
Conducting a content strategy exercise will help everyone align on:
- Substance: Determining the right content to develop
- Structure: How content will be delivered across channels
- Resourcing: What you can create, given available skills, budget, and time
- Governance: Who’s in charge of ongoing content creation and quality
#5. Delivery Strategy
As we said earlier in this article, the ultimate goal of a customer education program is to deliver the right content to the right learner at the right time. Delivery strategy plays a key role in making sure you meet that objective.
Delivery is the presentation of discussions, demonstrations, and exercises or activities that will help learners gain the required knowledge and skills for performing a task or learning a subject.
Delivery methods include:
- Instructor-led training (ILT), which is when an instructor facilitates a training session for a group of learners or an individual learner
- Virtual instructor-led training (vILT), which allows for learners to learn virtually
- E-learning, which is a structured course or learning experience delivered electronically
- Mobile learning, which delivers training on-the-go in the form of microlearning, short how-to videos, social learning, and other engagement formats
- Blended learning, which leverages a combination of approaches
Elements of a Strong Delivery Strategy
Delivery strategy comprises delivery methods, like the five mentioned above, plus the learner journey.
Let’s say a customer is new to your product and going through onboarding. You might have multiple methods for onboarding, including a training session with a customer success manager, help articles, and videos. How do customers navigate through these? How do they connect to one another? When do you point a customer to one method versus the other? You’ll answer these questions—for each identified learner persona—as part of your delivery strategy.
#6. Marketing Strategy
Education marketing is a discipline in and of itself. Just like you’d create a go-to-market plan for product launches, your customer education initiative needs a go-to-market strategy. And your program also needs ongoing engagement and re-engagement tactics.
Here are four key elements of education marketing:
1. Go-to-Market Strategy
Your go-to-market strategy starts with an understanding of your target segments and a defined value proposition for each of those audiences. From there, you’ll outline which channels you’ll use to promote your education initiative, such as email marketing, social media, or webinars.
2. Launch Plan
When introducing your customers and partners to your education initiative, it’s critical you show them:
- Where they can go to find support
- How to navigate the platform
- How to find content tailored to their training needs
3. Awareness Building
Build ongoing awareness through content and marketing programs that help customers see how education will benefit them in their day-to-day lives. Paint a picture of how education—and your product—can help learners work toward their long-term professional development goals.
4. Engagement Tactics
Your education marketing strategy should include tactics for engagement and re-engagement, with the ultimate goal of driving behavior change and education-based outcomes for your end users.
This is the part of the methodology that’s focused on measuring your program’s performance against the goals you set (overall business goals and content strategy goals).
At Intellum, we like to think of measurement as falling into three maturity levels:
Novice performance measurement
Novice measurement is focused on learner engagement. Metrics include registrations, enrollments, and completions (of a given course, webinar, etc.). Looking at engagement metrics is as simple as looking at a report—anyone can do it. But while this is basic reporting, it’s important. You need this foundation to achieve more mature levels of performance measurement.
Competent performance measurement
Competent measurement is focused on content efficacy. Metrics include assessments, learner perception, and behavior change. This type of measurement shows us how effective the content was. If you remember, educational content is intended to drive behavior change. This goes far beyond whether or not a course was engaging.
Expert performance measurement
Expert measurement is focused on business impact. Metrics include outcomes and ROI of the training material. For example, let’s pretend a learner took a course on Action Links. We’ll want to measure how often they are using Action Links and whether their usage led to any business outcomes (e.g,. Are they using the platform more?). This is hardest to measure as it requires companies to set up reporting outside of the education platform.
Another helpful model for measuring your customer education program’s success is the Kirkpatrick Model, which measures proficiency across four levels.
Level 1: Reaction
Here are some sample questions you can ask to understand how participants responded to the training:
- Did you feel the training was worth your time?
- Can you apply what you learned to your job?
- Did you like the style or method of training?
Level 2: Learning
Here are some actions you can take to understand whether participants have applied what they learned:
- Measure proficiency in the specific learning outcomes
- Evaluate pre- and post-learning to measure learning lift (increase)
- Conduct skill-based evaluations or interviews
Level 3: Behavior
Here are some ways to measure the impact of education on the learners’ behavior:
- Manager evaluation
- Recorded observations
Note: Behavior change isn’t something you can measure immediately after education concludes. It can take weeks or months for the learner to build confidence—or to have the opportunity to apply their new knowledge.
Level 4: Result
This is where you’ll measure how the behavior change impacted the business by comparing the business impact against the original goal. For example:
- Did an increase in advocacy create an increase in lead generation?
- Did a decrease in support cases create a decrease in support costs?
Ultimately, to measure the success of your customer education program, you need to know: Did they like it? Did they learn it? Do they use it? And did it improve results?
The final strategic thrust is application. This is the process for sharing learnings, iterating, and republishing.
Many organizations focus on creating quantity—publishing lots of new content. But the most successful organizations focus on creating quality—iterating on and improving existing content in addition to creating new content.
Everyone should be involved in application, from the curriculum developer to the product owner to the education marketer.
Here are the basic application requirements:
- Data/report sharing: What kind of data do we need access to in order to show the ROI?
- Benchmarks: How will we define success?
- Clear roles and responsibilities: Is everyone clear on who’s responsible for what?
- Communication channels: Do stakeholders have channels to share information?
- Leadership support: Who will ensure we get the resources we need to meet our goals?
Ideally, you want to get to a place where you can demonstrate a clear process for how you’ll apply lessons learned to improve your content, delivery, and marketing strategies.
Your Strategic Approach To Customer Education
Now you understand the eight strategic thrusts that form The Intellum Methodology for customer education success. Ready to put this methodology into practice? Read The Intellum Framework blog and then take The Intellum Framework course.