How to Build Your Qualified Leads Through Customer Education

Adam Jones, VP of Sales @ Thinkific
Sales & Marketing Stage
Ascent Conference 2020

[00:00:06] Hi, my name is Adam Jones, and I work over, at Thinkific thrilled to be here today to talk about customer education with you at the Ascent conference. Amazing turnout. And some of the other speakers have been incredibly good. So, yeah, looking forward to learning a little bit more myself and and hopefully sharing a few new ideas and insights around customer education with you today. So without further do, I will share my screen and we’ll get into the content. So firstly, to introduce myself, I work over at Thinkific sales team. I also lead, Thinkific, a big plus product offering. And I’ve been with the company for just coming up for two years. And during the two years we’ve seen some pretty exponential growth. It’s been it’s been a wild ride and an amazing company to be. And so it’s Thinkific up if you want to check it out myself. I’ve been working in tech and software for just over 10 years, so that makes me feel incredibly old. And I’m very passionate about the impact education can make in the world. My day to day is really looking at how do we improve Thinkific, how do we make it better for our customers to help them succeed? And and I’m really, really excited to share some of the ideas that we’ve we’ve seen work with you today. So first of all, who is Thinkific, well, we’re a little company up in Canada based in Vancouver, and we now have grown to actually have about fifty thousand different schools and academies worldwide. And we’ve been fortunate enough to to actually be able to teach over seventy five million students over over the period of time that we’ve been going about seven years so Thinkific. It’s an online learning platform and it’s a platform that can be used to to deliver education for a wide range of businesses. Anything from a small business who’s looking to move online as a result of covid to a necessity all the way up to large global organizations with millions and millions of students like a Shopify or a HootSuite. And yet we like to think that we’re really the market leader in Dubai in providing education at scale. And so, yeah, hopefully we’ll be able to get into a little bit of that. We might be able to do that using a platform like Thinkific today. We’re going to be focusing very much on generating leads, how to use education as a part of your overall sales and marketing strategy.

[00:02:24] So my goal really is to show you how to build a qualified lead funnel through customer education, and you’ll you’ll see as we get into the content, a lot of you will already be using different pieces of of the things we’re talking about today and different different types of education in your lead funnel. But hopefully by the end of the session today, we’ll be able to bring all of that together and you’ll be able to walk away with some real takeaways in terms of how to how to take what you have and transform it into into a really effective educational strategy.

[00:02:56] So we’re going to start with, well, the obvious what is customer education should be should be something most of you are aware of, but we can get in there and define a little bit what that might look like. We’re going to be talking about how customer education can impact your sales and marketing funnel. So I think probably a lot of people think about customer education as well. How do you use my products, the way we look at customer education at Thinkific because it begins much, much earlier than that and where to start. So five steps to help you get started on building your own customer education program, because if you don’t have one, I think it’s probably easier than you, you realize to actually get one up and running. So first of all, what is customer?

[00:03:39] OK, so specifically, customer education can consist of many avenues such as FHA pages, knowledge basis, how to videos, audio content. Basically, customer education provides customers with an extended how to guide. They can answer most, if not all, of the questions they might have while evaluating your product.

[00:04:01] So as you can see here, at Thinkific we use customer education throughout our business. I’m sure you hope to hear that we practice what we preach. So what we’re looking at here is our knowledge, based on knowledge, has literally thousands of articles that can meet the customer, where they want where they want to find information. So simple as what is thinkific. If we get really detailed around how to use the API, how to set up a single sign on with your platform, lots of really detailed information. We also do a ton of blog content, so really looking to video content. So how to how to build a successful coaching membership site or how to set up a customer and customer education site? You’ll find all of these different pieces on the platform. And these are all other ways in which you can use education. And YouTube video is a massive one as well, so you’ll see here this is one of our favorite. Thinkific. Plus customers and incredibly successful customers for the Corporate Finance Institute. And we have a fairly high engagement with our video content as well. So just because we’re an online learning platform, we obviously do a lot of online courses that it is really important to remember to diversify the way in which you’re presenting information to your customers. OK, so customer education increases trust, I think the the way to think about this is that education based marketing really is the sharing of knowledge with the purpose of building trust. And if there’s one thing you’ll hear me hopping on a lot about today, it’s how do we use the knowledge we have to build trust? So it’s a strategy that really establishes credibility and trust with your customers by offering educational messages rather than a direct push to say so. If you think back to the inbound marketing kind of revolution happened to 10 to 15 years ago when companies stopped just using paid ads and things like that and actually just started offering up free content, I would say the customer education and sales and marketing is kind of an evolution of that. And you’ll see when you when you think about inbound marketing, a great example would be the company that immediately comes to mind is HubSpot. And if you think about an inbound marketing education, again, the company that comes to mind is HubSpot, and they’ve done a great job at kind of owning that category. And I’m really becoming synonymous with education in that category. So today’s consumer lives in a highly digital and immediately kind of gratifying customer environment. They don’t have to buy unless it’s on their terms and on that timetable. And they don’t want to be sold to they want to they want to buy an experience where they can absorb as much information as they can, where they can feel like they’re fully educated and making a decision from from a solid position of knowledge. And that’s why this medication can be so, so important in your sales and marketing and your sales and marketing strategy. So why does it matter? Yes, I can hear you saying yes, that and customer education is important, but that’s handled by customer success after they ombud. Why does it matter to me as a sales and marketing professional? It’s a really good question.

[00:07:14] Only nineteen point eight five percent of churn comes from the product underperforming.

[00:07:23] So take a second, just think about that, how much money, how much time, how much effort you put into building this incredible product and don’t you don’t hear what I’m not saying. Don’t stop doing those things. But to go to all of that effort, over 80 percent of churn to actually come for the other reasons that we’re seeing here, like poor onboarding or weak customer marketing, that’s a pretty crazy number and one that we think that customer education can go a long way to helping to impact. So really, the way to think about it is like this is in your control over selling customer service, onboarding, ineffective relationship building. If you’re able to solve a lot of this and really educate the customer during that kind of prebuy sales and marketing phase, then it can just have such an amazing impact on the on the lifetime value of your customer, whether it be marketing. So they have a full understanding of how the product works and what they can achieve, whether it’s the the actual onboarding process itself. You could have a freemium model like in effect, where obviously education’s huge to us because if we don’t educate our free customers, then maybe they’ll just leave the platform without being successful on never to decide to pay us at all. And so obviously, it’s it’s absolutely critical to a premium model or even a free trial model that the customer is getting that education at the right time. This is story actually we worked very closely with here. at thinkific, if you follow her on Twitter and you are interested in customer education, I would highly recommend it. But this is one of my favorite quotes. Customer education is increasingly understood to be the antidote to churn and a key driver of increased lifetime value. And it’s definitely what we’re seeing. More and more customers, particularly in this space, are realizing that a cohesive customer customer education strategy, which begins presale can really be a difference maker. OK, so the way we look at customer success, we have a blueprint and really three areas. So there’s presale and that’s what we’re going to be focusing on today. There is ongoing kind of customer success and support and how education fits. There you see the that obviously that works very closely because CSM account managers and in customer support and obviously having a customer support team, really education, making a scalable education is a big piece of that as well. You don’t want to keep answering the same questions over and over. But for today, we’re going to focus on the first second presale, which is really how the sales and marketing teams can embed, integrate education into that into that strategy and tactical day to day. Customer education, it really does make a large impact on your bottom line, giving you a competitive advantage and hopefully increasing your annual rate as well as decreasing strain on your customer support team. Yeah, you go to the Disney guy, I just love this stuff, so we’re trying to include my presentations, my team will tell you, but yeah, let’s move on. So how can we use education to find and create happy, successful customers at scale? You can see the quote from Girardeau here. Customers don’t want to be marketed to and are skeptical of any message that is overly promotional. People don’t want to be told how great your product is. Obviously, you think your products great or otherwise. Why would you be doing be doing this? They want to understand what your product is, the problems that can help them solve and how they’re going to solve their problems. And what is that? What’s going to come out the other end? What’s the other. What’s the impact? So product centric customer education is a powerful tool to increase customer satisfaction and retention as customers learn to get more value out of the products they buy. And ultimately, that’s why we’re here. We’re trying to help people use our products to get value, right. They’re not using our products just for fun or they might be. And that’s kind of cool. But generally they’ll be trying to drive up some kind of B2B business value with a with your product.

[00:11:30] Let’s look at an example. So HootSuite is a customer Thinkific they’ve been working on with Thinkific Plus for four or five years. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s probably the world’s most widely used social media management platform, over 60 million users. And when they originally came to us, they were looking for an efficient way to produce and distribute products to their customers. So they came up with the idea of, look, we don’t want to just build a few costs. We want to actually launch something which has its own brand. And so they launched the HootSuite Academy. And now a couple of years later, four hundred and fifty thousand students at the HootSuite Academy has really, really expanded.

[00:12:14] And this is a great example of how to use education through different stages of your of your customer journey is what we did brilliantly, was they actually set up a lot of free educational courses. So they had they actually used to give the social media marketing training for free as well. But they’ve recently changed that. But what they did is they had these two free courses, HootSuite platform training and social media marketing, training. And to become certified in these courses, you would go through take it, and then you’d be able to take a certification which would then be able to share online. The only thing that you had to do to gain access to this course is to sign on, feel free to Hootsuite account. So. Just a pause there for a second, really, really important, so they use a single sign on experience through Thinkific so that every user who took this free course would actually have a free account of HootSuite. And then obviously they’d be looking at taking those leads, those free leads and transferring them and converting them into paying customers and actually going up to I believe they do about one hundred and ten thousand of these free courses being taken a year. And that’s obviously great.

[00:13:23] But it’s what’s even better is out of those hundred and ten thousand, a number of those who are able to convert to happy paying customers. And you’ll see as well that over time they’ve actually began selling education as well. So they’ve been able to create additional levels, which has been which has been exciting to see. So, yeah, it was a great topper funnel strategy for HootSuite and ultimately help newcomers to social media see more value in its product.

[00:13:50] So the practice of kind of building education into your business to help lead, see more value in your product is a perfect example of what we call the education winwin cycle between a business and its customers. And you can see this many flywheel here that we’ve we’ve put in just to kind of really show you visually how that would work. So when a business has the time to invest time and resources to educate leads and eventually customers build up proper training, the customers are coming away with a better understanding, not just of the product features, but also how to achieve success using the features. So the example here is, look, you can be incredibly technically gifted, but if you don’t have a basic understanding of social media, you’re probably not going to be able to get too much value out of out of the HootSuite platform. Think if if, you know, you may be able to use the platform brilliantly, but if you don’t have an idea of the topic that you want to teach on or how to put together an educational syllabus, you’ll probably get a struggle in terms of getting value out of the system.

[00:14:53] So by actually leveling up the overall knowledge level of your audience, as well as educating them on how to use, how to use your platform and the value they can expect to glean, then you start seeing obviously more customers look, better retention, less churn, and then have more resources to build better education. So that’s why the flywheel comes in. Educating your customers bring on better customers, more successful customers who become brand advocates, increasing retention and then funneling more into your into the education side of your business so you can continue to build great content, bring on better customers and so on and so forth. Who tweets results? Well, I mean, Florida, fifty thousand that’s growing every single day in terms of students. They did see a reduction in a and they have seen increased temps.

[00:15:45] And just overall, what we’ve seen with HootSuite is which has been really interesting, has been the expansion across their business. So originally they started, OK, let’s create some courses and put them on in the academy. Now they’ve actually embedded all of the educational courses into that. So when you’re in the app, you can take a class or you can watch a video. And one of my big one, one of the big things that I think is so important is meeting the customer where they don’t make them search for education, give it to them in a way that they want it and meet them where they are so they can go about and continue to use the platform. The interesting kind of as a side note with HootSuite was they did such a good, good job branding academy and building courses is there that their employees were actually starting to come to them and just being like, hey, I don’t want to use our internal elements anymore. Why would I use this when I can use the academy? And so to me, that registers the importance of building a beautifully branded academy and making it. Can people want to take your courses? Another big thing is social sharing, so I guarantee you’ve seen people on LinkedIn sharing the fact that they’ve passed through tweets, certification, the economy has its own brand on LinkedIn now, social channels, everything like that, and has almost become a business in itself.

[00:17:01] OK, so how do we do it? Five steps to launch, let’s get into it. Well, first of all, define your goals.

[00:17:08] So with any topic, with any project, really, it’s critical trying to come up with your objective. So presale, education, goals, I mean, generally, I know we all can be in the area of leads and lead conversions and opportunity creation and pipeline generation and obviously revenue. But let’s set those out. So let’s say we start with CAPSULIZE. We want to basically try and convert those to activated customers and all of the other stages in between. We’ll be measuring throughout the process. So where do you start? Well, the first step is to analyze any content. So each business has customer education in some format. It could be a blog post. It could be a help center like we looked at. And whether it’s formal or informal, you’re going to have to take stock of what you actually have as a starting point. First step is to have a look and really kind of put everything together, maybe try and group them by the problems they solve and get a good idea for what you’re working with to begin with.

[00:18:09] Also connect to the sales team.

[00:18:11] So we’ll think about what is the main pain that the customers are coming to them with? Why are they choosing your platform? The sales team is the really the front line of interacting with potential customers every day. And they’re a great resource of the common questions that they might have. So it’s yeah, it’s really it’s not enough to just track every little thing you’re doing now, well-rounded customer education, things that really come from the things that you’re not doing. So support records, common customer questions, requested guides, requested features, customer interviews. All of this is information that you need to deep dove into to gather and really discover the full picture of your current processes. Step two is identify the gaps. So you’re going to get some of the gaps in the sales team. But it’s also important to look to customer support from your existing customer base. So if you have a dedicated support team, ask them what they spend enough time. What are the questions that keep coming up? And you can have a look and I’ll give you Zendesk. We were able to pull reports on the most requested things we use that to to really inform our education decisions and the areas we want to teach. So you want to be able to identify misalignment in marketing and sales process to better establish a pre sale customer education program. Is this something that you’re hearing all the time in that first 90 days of customer, of a misalignment in terms of expectations that you can actually go and build into a course that your customers can take either during the voting process or even before to to really just kind of really ensure that they that they’re answering that question in the pre sale process so that when they get into the product, they don’t have to ask.

[00:19:56] So split your existing consent into kind of need to know and focus on, you need to know first focuses on the things that are coming from your customers and the news items that are linked to the misalignment and then not narrow it down further by looking at the data. What are the need to know? Content pieces of land at the most page views. Which emails have the strongest reply, right? Which post about the most shows, what lead to content or event led to the most email sign ups. These are usually the topics that you can consider as a priority and you should be an authority on those topics as well. And a really good starting point when you’re building out your lead generation side or the lead generation side of your education program. When you skip this step and it is tempting to jump right into the cool content, but you risk spending loads of hours developing new content. It’s brilliant but doesn’t necessarily attract leads. So we all have ideas and we all have created content in the past, which is flops for us in customer education. It’s really important because you have all this info like you can find this information yourself. You just got to look for it. Step three, map your customers journey. So start by making your content for the stage of awareness that they are they aware that they have a pain, but they don’t know what. They just know what the symptoms are. They haven’t been able to dig into what it is they are the solution where they realize that, OK, well, this is a problem I need to solve and I know the solutions out there. So let me have a look at those. Or are they at the stage where they’ve identified the pain, the pretty sure they know how to solve it and they’ve actually identified your product exists and they’re just looking to understand how your product works and what they can expect to see come out the other side. So it’s really important to know which stage of the buying cycle or the customer journey your your potential prospects are up because that way you can meet them where they are. Like I said earlier, really important to be answering the questions that they have based on where they are not buying cycle. OK, so remember this, we’re going to keep coming back to it. What are your education goals? We want to capture leads and we want to activate customers. That’s really, really when we talk about education in pre sale. It’s really the two areas that we really want to be focusing on. And HubSpot is a great example of a company that creates educational content at every single level of the Bijani. I’m almost certain everybody watching this video right now at one stage or another has come across a piece of content which HubSpot created and you can see like they created coasters that are full potential customers who are aware of pain. They know they want to they know they have something they want and they want they need to fix. And they’re using those problems to drive leads to the funnel. So they have additional content that is platform specific as they work their way further down the sales funnel and offer different certifications. But yeah, they start with the inbound calls. And HubSpot does a great job of providing information on the overall concepts of inbound marketing with the primary examples always coming from HubSpot. You’ll notice that I’ve used a few examples that it is not coincidence that product is always front and center, establishing themselves as a top solution and educating their customers on how to use it and its value. But they’re doing that by solving problems that the customers have. And so meet your customers where they are and solve the problems and answer the questions they have at that moment, if you can do that and you can tie that to mystification and you can tie that to education, then your customers are going to be so satisfied. So, so well educated in terms of what they need to be able to move to that next stage of the buying cycle set for combine your assets into an online course.

[00:24:00] So why online courses? Well, you know, we’re obviously big proponents of online courses, that’s what our platform does. But online courses bring you a lot of value. They require a site, so.

[00:24:13] In the same way as a really kind of long-tailed piece of content would generally you want to be getting some kind of some kind of data so you can continue to market that person in the future. So a lot of the time with thinkific, will, we’ll ever ask for a free sign up, maybe give them access to a free trial or even just collect, you know, an email address as an entry point to get access to a course. And what that allows you to do is once you have that email address, you can track the progress of the student to see whether or not they engage with the whole class, whether or not they’ve completed it. And so step three, that data data data gives you tons of information and a lot of quantifiable data. So you can see well, out of the course that I have a bill on social media marketing, which of the parts that are engaging with the people passing a certification at the end. Is there a correlation between we need to complete the social media certification and customer success down the line? So the data that you glean from customer education is so much more advanced through an online course than it would be through just a blog post or even just a video or something like that. You might be able to pull an aggregate on how long people watch a video for. But you don’t know specifically for that lead how they engage with that video in the middle one as important as well. You’re showing customers that. You’re showing that you’re not here to sell to them. You’re providing value at no cost. And that’s what customers are looking for. They want to understand.

[00:25:47] So by now, you’ve mapped out the content fits into each stage of awareness of your customers journey. It can still be tough to match the two formats because online courses and books, coaching programs, slideshows, blog posts and so on. How does it all tie together? This is a framework that we really like and it can help you understand what you need to do to actually repurpose the content you already have. So the framework is by a leader. So let’s hope I got that right. I am sorry if I didn’t. She’s an audio consultant who built it for content marketing, but works great for for online courses as well. So first of all, have a look what you have, right, expand case study, social post, how can you build them out when you have a piece of content? First, determine if it can be expanded upon. Then if you don’t have some things that can be expanded, maybe you can reformat something existing. Maybe it’s a book or an book or a slide deck.

[00:26:43] You can obviously take notes and blog posts and you can write them and actually turn them into an online course, refocus. Maybe you have some educational content already. Maybe you’ve built it for a different objective, but you can kind of take the existing educational content and put it into an exit, into an online course and refocus. And finally, if you don’t have anything, you can always start from scratch. Which is interesting because sometimes weather with online education, you might be solving a problem that you’ve identified that you haven’t solved before, and if that’s the case, sometimes it can be good to start from scratch because you can really zero in on on that topic and ensure that it’s it’s relevant. And generally, if it’s something that your customers have been looking for, they’ll be pretty happy to see it. Obviously, I have to think of it a little bit, I wouldn’t be right, could it be sales if I didn’t? But in all seriousness, leveraging an element to create marketable causes is the way to go. And this is how you can quite quickly convert your expert knowledge and convert that into marketable courses. So trying to do this on your own is difficult. Trying to do this within a framework or an existing platform, like if it is great, we are we have lots of existing templates that can quickly help you organize. We have tons of different examples of SAS companies or other companies using customer education and building our own academies through thinking and every single every single course. We didn’t think you’ll always have an instructional lesson, a lesson at the beginning of every single template that’s just to help you make the best use of it. I wouldn’t be much of a sales person if I didn’t promote Elam’s platform a little bit, so we didn’t think you were going to be able to access those templates. You’re going to be able to view existing platform, existing academies that other companies have built. You really don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are companies like HootSuite, an active campaign, and amazing companies have done a brilliant job within it. So and also as well, have a look around, are all of the great elements is out there as much as we we like to think think Capek is the best, it ultimately does come down to your own needs and what you’re looking for. So the main thing is finding finding a platform which is going to give you the education that you’re going to need in order to really achieve your goals in terms of value is a big thing to think about as well. You don’t want to get bogged down with a six month implementation. Really important to be agile and get things up and running.

[00:29:14] OK, so some ideas in terms of lesson format, but online courses, video lessons, we see video lessons can be incredibly well. People generally do like videos, make them show and snappy. Nobody wants to watch a video for for too long. We’re probably breaking our own rule here. I think we’ve been going for about 30 minutes, hopefully not getting too bored, making a cup of tea. But it’s all right making a cup of tea. But combine that with different things.

[00:29:40] Combine a video followed by an interactive lesson where somebody can actually go in and move things around on the screen and follow it with an audio lesson. Well, maybe some downloadable content to ask people to take a quiz, get a survey, look for continuous reinforcement. You can do those things and you’ll keep people engaged. And you’ll also be able to track which of those are working the best. And then finally step up, build education into every step of your customer journey, so we have done a great job of this. They use it all the way from a sales team who are not only leveraging HootSuite Academy content to show customers how they’ll be using the HootSuite package, but I actually have friends who work at HootSuite. It’s a it’s a competitive selling advantage for them, like a lot of their competitors don’t have an academy like this. So if you’re a customer coming in and you’re looking like, OK, well, the platforms look kind of similar. Features look the same great reviews. But one of them has this amazing kickass academy with all of these great courses that you can have access to and not just you, but your whole team. And that’s a massive, massive competitive advantage and something that something that you can’t take lightly. And obviously, customer support success, they’re going to be using academy videos all the time, they’re going to be encouraging people to go through one of the great things from a customer success standpoint is said we tie significant to sales because we have a sales force integration. So you can see which customers are completing courses. And a great leading indicator of potential change could be, well, nobody’s taken, but nobody’s taken any educational courses in a year either. They really, really understand the platform and haven’t had any new people doing well. Maybe they’re disengaged. So there’s some good there’s some good actual data that you can use. The product team, marketing team, as we’ve talked at length about lots of opportunities to use education throughout. This is Michael Lits, he is the co-founder and CEO of Vegard, an educated customer, is a capable customer, capable customer, will push the boundaries of what’s possible for your product, forcing innovation, reference, ability and ultimately value to your bottom line. And so I think understanding and helping get people to that certain level, that’s going to make a big difference. And we see it thinking that people are continuously taking our product to places that we had no idea that they could do so. So when your customers are that well educated and they have such a great understanding through the sales and marketing funnel of how things are going to work when they get into the product, they’re able to jump ahead and actually innovate and do things that that even you may not be aware.

[00:32:22] OK, key takeaways, firstly, mapo, your customer journey create courses based on the most asked questions, meet your customers, meet your prospects where they are.

[00:32:35] Influence belief patterns and create brand advocates before they become customers through certificate’s social sharing referrals use this as an opportunity to own your category, make your brand synonymous with your category through education.

[00:32:53] And then help the buyer, how are they going to succeed with your product and help them understand when they do succeed, what they can expect to come out the other end in terms of business value?

[00:33:03] Finally, just to reiterate one more time, if there’s one message that I want you to take away, it is that customer education increases trust, customer education going in the right way. It’s going to lead to a shorter sales cycle. It’s going to lead to more educated buyers, brand advocates and ultimately happier, more successful customers who are going to who are going to stay for longer, hopefully begin using different products and just ultimately talk positively about your brand.

[00:33:32] So that’s what we’re looking for, right. If if there’s one thing that we all want more of and in software, it’s happy successful customers and education can get you there.

[00:33:45] And as you can help you create a trusted, valued customers as well.

[00:33:51] Thank you so much. Everybody is an absolute pleasure to take you through this presentation today. Always. We’re just talking one way into a screen, so I hope you got some value out of it. And if you do have any questions at all, you can get me on Twitter. Adamson’s eighty five or of course, reach out to Thinkific would be more than happy to to help answer any questions you have. Thanks again by.

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