Blog Post

How to Make a Customer Education Business Case

Dr. Anderson Campbell
June 18, 2024
How to Make a Customer Education Business Case blog thumbnail

If you’re in the business of education, you’re also in the business of selling. Even as education programs become more popular within organizations, many teams still struggle to get approval for the funding, people, or tools they need to succeed.

Education is a natural part of the customer experience. Sadly, it’s often misconstrued with customer onboarding or relegated to the occasional training session. But when customers learn, and learn consistently, their stock in your organization rises—as we’re about to explore.

Looking for help making the right customer education business case? Look no further. In this article, we’ll share how to advocate for world-class learning that elevates the customer journey.

Why Your Customer Education Business Case Matters

As a learning leader, you understand the value of your work better than anyone. When you give your customers the resources and tools they need to understand your product or service, you enable them to get the most out of your offerings. Investing in customer education also means investing in customer engagement, retention, expansion, and other success measures.

But not everyone appreciates the value of educational content like you do. Heck, some executives might not even understand what customer education is or what it offers. And that poses a problem if you’re looking for the funding to start, maintain, or expand your customer education efforts.

By developing a clear customer education business case, you can show exactly how education creates ROI for the company and its bottom line. Present your best case to the stakeholders that matter most, earn their buy-in, and ensure the long-term security of your team and program.

7 Steps to Build a Business Case for Customer Education

How exactly do you make a compelling business case for customer education? Start by following these seven steps:

1. Identify your stakeholders.

There’s no “right” way to succeed with education. Customer education programs often look entirely different from one organization to the next—and that’s by design. To narrow the list of potential customer education strategies, you’ll want to identify your key stakeholders. 

Ask yourself:

  • Who are the champions of education at my organization?
  • Who are the gatekeepers who might need convincing?
  • Which internal teams or departments are impacted by our education efforts? (Examples: Sales, Marketing, Customer Success, Partner Success, People Ops, Finance)
  • Are there other people who should be informed about our program?

As you create your shortlist of stakeholders, put yourself in their shoes. According to Mandy Patterson, Manager of Customer Education at Sprout Social, the more you understand your stakeholders and their needs, the easier it’ll be to present a business case that resonates.

“Take time to do the research and understand who you're presenting to. So many times we talk about how important the audience is as educators, but sometimes I think we gloss over doing the due diligence.”

In Patterson’s case, she was looking to grow her education team and program at Sprout Social. So, she identified two stakeholders who shared her vision—i.e., her education champions—and leaned on them for advice on winning over others at the organization.

“I spent time talking with my VP and Director and went through tons of rounds of edits and sharing data. They shared what the most relevant information would be and really pushed me to think in new ways about how to structure my presentation and organize my data.”

She continued, “Spend time with trusted mentors who are familiar with how to present and share business cases, and choose mentors who will challenge you. Ultimately, you're the expert and know best, but having folks who can help you think even more critically is a must-have.”

2. Align education and business goals.

Once you’ve established the people you’re speaking to, consider the mission that binds these people together. In almost any organization, you have broader goals that everyone—from sales reps to the C-suite—contributes to. Align on the ways education helps enable these business goals, so you can make the case for the ROI of customer training.

“If you can show a 1:1, direct relationship of how your plan will impact larger, more strategic goals, your chances of getting approval are so much higher,” Patterson explained.

To find this alignment, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are the specific team goals we’re trying to achieve?
  • How do these goals contribute to the overall mission?
  • What pain points are associated with these goals?
  • How can customer education help alleviate those pains?

Go through this exercise for each of your key stakeholders, and try to find at least one critical pain point that your education efforts would help to solve. 

For example: Say your business looks to improve product adoption and net dollar retention (NDR). If Customer Success is one of your stakeholders, they’re likely hyperfocused on ensuring a smooth customer experience and protecting upcoming renewals. You can speak directly to their pain by articulating how customer education helps to reduce churn, improve product knowledge, and create stickier accounts.

3. Create an education proposal.

With knowledge of your stakeholders and alignment with their goals, now’s the time to position your education program as a must-have asset.

When building your proposal, consider the types of formats available to you. A presentation deck is a tried but true option that everyone will be familiar with. If you want to be creative—and demonstrate the power of education in the process—you could even design an online course and walk through it in real time.

Regardless of your delivery method, make sure you include a call to action at the end of your presentation. If you’re pitching the creation of a training program, ask your stakeholders for feedback and provide a deadline to hold them to it. If you’re asking for sign-off on a new learning management system, ask them to review the options and share any preferences or concerns.

The proposal process is a two-way street. In addition to providing your own recommendations, you want to ensure you’re meeting the needs of stakeholders and finding an education solution that works for everyone. Expect feedback, and dedicate plenty of time to iterate. (More on that later.)

4. Gather data to back your claim.

If your company’s just beginning its education journey, the hill ahead can be steep. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of customer education statistics that can set the groundwork for your program and help you gain buy-in even when your champions are few.

When Patterson built her business case for education at Sprout Social, she leaned heavily on existing, proven data to support her recommendations.

“I focused on third-party data and found statistics on the impact that customer education and training has on the bottom line for SaaS businesses. I included data on the likelihood of customers to use and adopt products more when they're trained, looked at the impact of customer education on CSAT scores, and explored education’s impact on the companies we look to emulate (think: case studies of their education programs).”

Third-party data wasn’t the only evidence at her disposal. Patterson combined internal and external data, allowing her to personalize her business case and speak to the exact needs of her target audience.

“I paired that data—which I found through various blogs and industry leader studies (hello, Intellum)—with our own internal data. I looked at contraction reasons, support tickets, adoption rates, and direct customer feedback from NPS surveys. Then, I identified where customer education could positively impact the bottom line.”

As you build your own customer education business case, don’t be afraid to think of the big picture. Yes, historical data is crucial—but equally as powerful is the story you tell about the future of your organization after it adopts or expands your education program.

“Marrying the third-party data alongside our own internal data was a powerful way to show not only the potential impact of customer education but also the proven impact,” said Patterson.

5. Present your business case.

Creating a compelling case is only half the battle—you also have to deliver it with confidence and poise. Before entering that meeting room or joining that Zoom call, make sure you’re clear on the situation. Ask yourself:

  • Who exactly am I presenting to?
  • When and where is this happening? What is the context of the meeting? 
  • What’s top of mind for stakeholders?

Having clarity doesn’t just help develop confidence; it also increases your likelihood of “reading the room” and making the most of your presentation time.

“I presented my business case in a short-form video to our president, CMO, and departmental VPs including Customer Success and Support,” recalled Patterson. “My VP challenged me to make a less-than-10-minute presentation around the impact of customer education teams, and I used Loom to walk through a presentation I put together with data, industry-leading examples, and a tentative plan of what was achievable with a strong customer education team in place.”

When in doubt, let the data do the talking. If, like Patterson, you have a support team VP on the call, come with tangible studies showing how customer education can help with reducing support queues and costs. If you have a VP of Engineering or Product, explain the connection between learning experiences and product adoption. 

Looking for the right stats? In our latest Forrester report, we surveyed 300 education leaders and uncovered a slew of findings that can help you demonstrate the value of your program. Here are some of the key benefits of customer education:

  • 86% of surveyed education leaders have seen a positive return on investment.
  • The average program surveyed saw a 38.3% increase in product adoption (when given targeted training).
  • The average respondent also saw a 15.5% decrease in customer support costs and a 26.2% increase in customer satisfaction.

Those are just a few of the takeaways. Feel free to read the full report and incorporate these statistics into your pitch deck.

6. Gather feedback and iterate.

After delivering your pitch, give your stakeholders time to process the information and share their feedback. If you built a presentation deck, circulate it after the meeting so others can leave comments or ask follow-up questions.

As the feedback comes in, figuring out where to start can be daunting. Consolidate the data into buckets (e.g., by team, by business goal) and then circle back to your initial proposal to see where you’re meeting the mark and where you’re not.

Remember: You don’t have to act on all feedback all at once. Focus on the most common themes that emerged, and make revisions accordingly. If a popular piece of feedback doesn’t seem feasible, embrace the art of compromise. Add it to your education roadmap, or offer an MVP version with fewer features that can be improved over time.

7. Confirm next steps.

With a revised proposal in hand, reach back out to your stakeholders to confirm next steps. If you get approval—congrats! Make sure everyone agrees on the implementation timeline, and hold them accountable to those dates and deliverables.

If you’re denied or asked to incorporate more feedback, consider it another step toward getting your program approved. Continue to iterate and polish, and lean on your champions to help you get that proposal over the finish line.

About the Author

Dr. Anderson Campbell Speaker Headshot
Dr. Anderson Campbell
Sr. Product Marketing Manager
Anderson weaves years of academic teaching and learning experience into his current role at Intellum, where he blends his extensive background in higher education with innovative product marketing strategies for corporate education tools. As a former professor and a holder of a Doctorate in Leadership, Anderson’s approach to product marketing is deeply informed by his passion for education and commitment to help others grow into the best version of themselves.