Customer Education: Boost Your Marketing Strategy
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Educate Your Customers, Or Somebody Else Will

Today, industry after industry is undergoing rapid change brought about by technology, regulation, consolidation, and new paradigms. Marketing in this environment is a challenge. How can you position your company or organization as a leader when your customers and prospects are constantly deluged with torrents of new information? One approach that works for many organizations is to offer education to their customers. Education can be more than technical skills for using your products; you can become a source of skills for business and professional success. You can use education as a valuable tool to strengthen your company’s reputation, attract new customers, and build loyalty.

What makes education different from other types of marketing communication? Education involves careful explanation, from basic principles to more advanced concepts. The most effective education includes tools that help the learner apply knowledge and new skills, such as case studies, interactive exercises, worksheets, checklists, as well as review questions and quizzes to check knowledge gain. eLearning provides an ideal vehicle for delivering all of these features.

There are 2 broad approaches that businesses take to education marketed to customers and prospects:

  1. Create content that addresses customer needs
  2. Create or sponsor continuing education courses for professional development

1. Address Customer Needs

When you’re competing for business, wouldn’t you like to have someone on the customer’s buying team say, "I took a terrific course from Company X, let’s make sure we get a proposal from them"?

If you don’t educate your customers, somebody else will. When you provide education to your marketplace, you control the message. An organization promoting safety practices surrounding emerging technologies found that a top Google search result related to safe operation was a YouTube video of a—literally—barefoot blogger in his living room. He was providing incomplete and somewhat inaccurate information. The organization’s new eLearning modules teach safety practices that are supported by research.

Customers often need skills to help them effectively integrate your products into their business processes. How can they address changing markets or new standards and regulations? Do they understand the technology trends that are affecting their business? You already know their business challenges, so you’re in a strong position to become a trusted source of education.

Think beyond direct users to help managers lead transformations that are related to your products. How can they coach their people to adapt to change? How can they reinforce what their people are learning from your training? What should they be measuring to see how your products or services are being implemented?

Some companies limit their education to existing customers as a way of adding value to their core offerings. Others make their education available to prospects and the public, usually at no cost, in return for an email address or other contact information. This kind of education both increases your credibility and generates leads.

Consider these questions:

  • What technical and business skills do customers need to use your products successfully?
  • What are their most pressing business challenges?
  • What are the most successful customers doing with your product or service? What skills and knowledge do other customers need to replicate that success?
  • How can education help turn prospects into customers?

Examples:

A company that sells customer relationship management software to the fast-growing senior housing market has invested in courses, both workshops and eLearning, that teach their customers’ salespeople a selling process to address the unique emotional needs of senior citizens who are considering moving out of their homes. The courses challenge participants to unlearn traditional sales techniques and embrace a new role as advocates for their prospects. The company’s research has demonstrated the effectiveness of this selling process. Courses also taught the managers new metrics for evaluating their prospect pipeline and ways to reinforce their salespeople as they learned the new selling process. This soft-skills training from a technology company supports the success of its customers and creates another reason to buy their CRM platform.

A professional association developed a series of eLearning courses for its members on best practices for operating a small business in their industry. The courses featured a leading industry expert and included videos, case studies, and worksheets. These courses supported the success of their members and reinforced the value of membership.

2. Continuing Education

Professionals in more than 50 fields, including the building industry, healthcare, financial services, and more, have to complete continuing education each year to maintain their certifications and licenses. Continuing education offers another opportunity to market your company or organization. Much of this education is moving online. Why? Effectiveness and convenience. Knowledge retention increases by 25-60% with eLearning. 70% of learners feel more motivated when learning on a mobile device.

Professionals want to take short courses that offer real value and can fit into their busy schedules. They need solid information on the core principles and terminology of your field. Each professional organization or certification body has its own requirements, but, in general, courses that don’t promote specific products can be approved as continuing education units or CEUs.

Find out the requirements for CEU courses that apply to your customers and prospects. There may be opportunities to develop courses yourself or to sponsor courses developed by professional associations or educational institutions. Continuing education courses are usually distributed through professional organizations or by publishers that manage the required reporting of completion. You may want to develop your own education offerings, which gives you the greatest control over the content and message. Another option is to become a sponsor of pre-existing continuing education or courses created by others.

Examples:

A non-profit organization in education for the deaf offers eLearning courses for speech-language pathologists. These courses illustrate concepts with the proprietary evaluation tools the organization sells to the education market, and show teachers using them, but they acknowledge that other products are available. The organization obtained CEU approval from the relevant professional association, then offered the courses at no charge on their website. The courses are being viewed more than 2,000 times a year by learners from 50 countries. They have greatly increased the organization’s visibility in their field.

A lighting manufacturer sponsored a course on technical concepts in LED lighting for building-industry professionals. The manufacturer’s experts approved the content and graphics and provided images from their customer installations. The manufacturer was credited as the sponsor at the beginning and end of the course. The course was distributed through a company that aggregates courses for professionals in this industry.

Customers today are looking for solutions, not standalone products and services. They ask, "How can you solve my business problem?" The real value comes from both the product itself and the ecosystem of services and skills that support it. Robust education offerings are a great way to demonstrate your commitment to customer success and help you stand out from the competition. When you offer engaging, focused online learning opportunities, you create awareness and build customer loyalty.

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