Blog Post

Should You Build or Buy a Customer Education Platform (CEP)?

Shannon Howard
October 26, 2021
build or buy a customer education platform like Intellum

Investments in online customer education are growing. A research report by Forrester found that organizations increased spending on customer education by 80% between 2017-2019 and planned to more than double spending over the next two years.

With benefits like improved customer onboarding, increased product usage, and faster time to value, digital customer education is a no-brainer. The question is: When adopting a customer education platform (CEP), is it better to build or buy?

There are lots of factors to consider when making the decision to buy vs. build, including your organization’s priorities, goals, access to resources, cost, and content.

Building is a viable, smart decision for some companies, including those that want full control over what the platform looks like and how it operates—and those with a smaller user base.

Buying a world-class customer education platform is right for some companies, including those that want a proven method of educating on complex or constantly evolving products and services—and those with a larger user base. 

Let’s dive deeper into the reasons why you might choose to build or buy a CEP.

Custom Layout vs. Designed For Education

One of the first considerations when making your decision to build or buy falls into the “organizational priorities” bucket. Ask yourself whether you prioritize a fully customized user interface or a top-of-the-line educational process that ties to business outcomes. 

Many companies that choose to build their own CEP do so because they can design it to look 100% how they want. And while this can be great from a brand perspective, these sites often miss the mark when it comes to users achieving learning outcomes. 

At the end of the day, a CEP’s purpose is to drive results for your business by educating your customers, employees, and partners. To do this effectively, your platform must:

  1. Tie learning to business results and measurable outcomes
  2. Provide user-level insights to create the best learning experience
  3. Personalize content recommendations based on the user’s persona and past activity
  4. Accommodate content that is purpose-built to change behavior

Many companies don’t have the resources to build such a sophisticated platform on their own. 

So, if you prioritize complete creative freedom, you might want to build a bespoke solution. If you want a solution that can match your brand's look and feel but prioritizes the delivery of educational content, consider buying a CEP that’s optimized for education and engagement. (And there are vendors out there that can deliver a solution that aligns well with your brand aesthetic.)

Building Is Right For You If…

Besides being able to completely customize the interface, building has other benefits, which makes it a great choice for certain companies. 

Building a customer education platform might be right for you if:

  1. You want to deploy content, but delivering user-level personalization is not a priority.
  2. You require full creative control over the look and feel of the destination's pages.
  3. You can invest in a team of designers and engineers to build and manage the platform long-term.
  4. You have identified a way to measure user engagement and efficacy, and can track how the CEP impacts business outcomes over time.
  5. Your products and services are relatively simple. 
  6. Your user base is small, or you're starting with a small pilot to test an MVP

Building doesn’t mean starting with a blank canvas. Companies that build CEPs fall into two categories: they either build everything from scratch (which is rare) or they purchase a content management system (CMS) and customize it to their unique needs. 

What It Looks Like to Build a Customer Education Platform

The Predictive Index chose to build their own customer education platform by combining their CMS (WordPress) with a learning management system (LearnDash). The team responsible for building the platform consisted of a product manager, user experience designer, and web developer. They were assisted by the company’s business systems architect and engineering teams for logins, transactional emails, and other backend work. 

By leveraging existing content and systems, the team was able to launch their first iteration of a learning platform in six months. The first iteration organized content based on persona (customer, prospect, or partner) and offered three certification paths.

While this solution fit their business needs at the time, the team at The Predictive Index ran into a common problem with custom builds: issues with personalization and customization of experiences based on user activity.

Buying Is Right For You If…

While some companies choose to build their own CEP, others buy. Here’s a list of reasons when buying is a wise decision: 

  1. You want to invest in a partnership with experienced education practitioners who can help you launch an initiative or improve the performance of an existing program.
  2. You want to leverage a proven framework for creating highly-personalized education experiences that are grounded in behavioral science.
  3. You don’t have the talent, resources, or time to dedicate to building something from scratch, or supporting its maintenance long-term.
  4. You need more sophisticated features, such as single sign-on, localization, and integrations that support scale.
  5. Your products and services are relatively complex. 
  6. Your user base is large, or you are running a large scale pilot.
  7. You know you'll need to build highly-interactive courses that track a user's progress, or have existing SCORM courseware packages you need to upload.

One question to ponder might be: Do we have the resources to be a successful customer education platform, or do we want to focus our creative energy on producing the content?

Whether you choose to build or buy, the most important part of any successful customer education initiative is the content. Keep that in mind when budgeting resources and cost of the overall project. Expend all of your resources on building a platform and have nothing left for content production, and the entire initiative is at risk.

Customer Education Platform Options

Some of the highest-rated CEPs include Intellum, Skilljar, Docebo, Thought Industries, and Thinkific. 

While each CEP has its own pros and cons, Intellum stands apart from the crowd for several reasons. 

Intellum keeps users in an active state of learning.

Think about your most engaging learning experiences: Was it the content itself that got you interested? Or was it the way the content was presented over time? 

Through engagement and personalization tactics (like machine-driven recommendations, notifications, and awards), we’ve created a platform intentionally designed to keep people learning. 

This active learning results in deeper knowledge retention and promotes positive behavioral changes in users.

g2 customer education platform reviews

Intellum connects learning to business outcomes.

The Intellum Platform leverages an approach based on decades of industry experience and a proprietary methodology informed by the Science of Learning. This helps your customers achieve the learning objectives you set out for them.

Intellum also includes a powerful, native report writer that allows customers to track user activity, engagement, and performance. Whether you’re looking for an off-the-shelf report or want to export data to your business intelligence tool, Intellum offers unparalleled access to user activity.

We’re not just a platform—we’re a tool for connecting your learning initiatives to measurable business outcomes. 

Intellum allows you to customize your customer education platform.

There’s a difference between a platform that’s custom-built and one that can be customized. 

Custom-built platforms require significant development work to stand up. Intellum already has the infrastructure and framework to help you launch a successful customer education program. We offer clients the ability to customize their CEP to reflect their brand guidelines; clients with HTML, CSS, and Javascript knowledge can create even more advanced custom experiences. 

The choice is yours

The choice to buy or build a CEP largely depends on your own unique situation. What are your organizational priorities and goals? Do you have the resources to function as a customer education platform? Etc.

Of course, if you choose the “buy” route, we sincerely hope you’ll consider us as a partner

About the Author

Shannon Howard Speaker Headshot
Shannon Howard
Director of Content & Customer Marketing
Shannon Howard is an experienced Customer Marketer who’s had the unique experience of building an LMS, implementing and managing learning management platforms, creating curriculum and education strategy, and marketing customer education. She loves to share Customer Education best practices from this blended perspective.