A Customer Training may be a cost center, but it doesn’t have to be

Corporate training requires an ongoing investment of time and resources to pay for skilled trainers, curriculum development, technology, travel, lodging and meeting space. The payoff is that your workforce is prepared to meet the changing demands in your industry, service customers competitively, and comply with regulations. What about training customers to use your product? You will find that you face the same costs and concerns of corporate training—as well as benefits. Offering training to your customers is table stakes if your product or service has any sort of learning curve. Training is a cost center, though it doesn’t have to be. What if you could monetize your investments in corporate training? In some industries, such as high-tech, manufacturing, and medical devices, there’s a high value placed on education that helps customers benefit faster from a company’s products and services.Yammer, maker of enterprise social media software, is one of many tech companies that are now selling training courses to customers. The company offers several tiers of certifications, ranging in price from $299 to $799 for courses and exams. An enthusiastic customer testimonial on the Yammer website notes, “If you are looking to maximize the Yammer experience and create a highly collaborative environment, then Yammer’s certification program is a must!” Other companies that are selling courses include Corporate Aviation Solutions, which sells a test prep course for aspiring aviation managers, and Bluebeam Software, which sells one-on-one web trainings, group web trainings and on-site trainings for customers of its PDF creation and editing software.

Extending your influence through training

When something is free, you often “get what you pay for.” So even though you might have a few short videos on your website or YouTube for customers to learn a bit more about your product, is the content worthwhile? Are they even watching it? By making your training videos and content world-class and then charging for them, you’re placing a premium on education as it relates to your company’s offerings. That can create positive brand value.Of course, marketing is not the primary reason to offer training to customers. Through high-quality, easy to access courses, customers become more knowledgeable users which usually makes for happier, more engaged users. Customers don’t have time or money to take a three-hour webinar or fly halfway across the country to attend a class. Give them something quick and valuable which they can do on their own time—such as an online course—and they are pleased as punch. You may also discover that your competitors are already offering training courses and certifications; that above anything else should create enough justification for jumping into the training business game, whether you charge for it or not.Charging for training makes good business sense, especially in industries where deal negotiations are common, such as in high-tech. If a prospect is pushing for a lower price, the vendor can offer discounted training courses to sweeten the deal instead of cutting into product margins. Selling training also helps offset the investment that you’d have to put into course development and maintenance anyway, and those fees deliver more resources to create the best possible courses for your customers.How to get startedSelecting a flexible platform to host your course is a critical first step. Making the course available online and on-demand is almost a no-brainer: this makes it possible for your customers to take the trainings anywhere, anytime, and pause and replay the content whenever they wish. The platform should also be simple for anyone in your company to create a course using existing content (such as a slide deck or presentation) and predefined templates and then deploy it. You’ll need a way to accept payments online and discount courses, when needed. Since training is not your core business, whatever platform you choose should be easy to learn and maintain and as low-cost as possible without looking cheap and unprofessional. The software should also have a zero learning curve for users. Fortunately, there are more and more options that fit these requirements today.Is there a black lining?We’ve had many requests from our customers in the past several months who want to monetize their trainings. We integrate our training platform with Shopify, so customers can easily post and sell their courses online. Yet there are risks to putting out a shingle for training.If your company has been offering training for free and suddenly charges for it, customers may balk. If it’s the first time you’ve offered courses, they may still balk. After all, they’re paying thousands of dollars or more per year for your product or service and may expect education to be part of the deal. Make it so by bundling training into your standard deal structure. If that’s not viable, explain to customers that they can still access the free introductory video on your website but paying for in-depth training will lend greater value to your product. Explain to them the benefit:  well-trained, skilled users mean faster ROI and greater adoption. That should make their CFOs happy too.It’s always smart to ascertain whether customers actually need more training and are willing to pay for it. If they don’t care, and you don’t already have a training budget, it might not pay to create a training program from scratch. Also, be careful about focusing more on profits than the training content itself. In the end, you want your customers and partners to be educated users and positive spokespeople for your product and company. Survey them frequently to find out if the courses are having a positive influence on their experience with your products. Developing a knowledgeable and loyal ecosystem for your company is the main goal; any money left over is icing on the cake.