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Building Your Customer Education Team for Scale

Introduction


In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins says, “First Who, Then What—get the right people on the bus.” What he is saying is: the most important first step when building something is to get the right people in place. Building a customer education team is no different. To be successful you need the right people, in the right seats, on your bus before you figure out where to drive. So how do you know who you need and where to get your bus going? In this article I’ll tell you how I do it.





The objective of Your Customer Education


While you might not know exactly where the bus is going when you set out to build your customer education team you have a general sense of your purpose: Craft educational content and experiences for your customers in the pursuit of helping them grow better (or something along those lines!)


Regardless of where you are starting with customer education, whether you're building your first team or you've inherited one, most programs tend to be focused on one or more of a few common objectives:

  • Improving onboarding or product adoption using educational content and training

  • Building educational content to attract new users to your products or service

  • Reducing the workload of high-value specialists

  • A hybrid of the above


To spin the flywheel and gain momentum with your program it helps to understand where your initial focus should be to ultimately help guide the “who” for your bus.


Who is on the bus?


The structure of your team is as important as who you bring on board (see the Customer Education Team Structure Guide for org charts you can pitch to your exec sponsors today) Think about your team in two parts: the short-term and the long-term. Many of us get trapped in short-term team building. You can think about that conversation as “who do we need tomorrow to start to do work on this project”. However, if you build your team this way then the long-term success of your program can suffer since you'll likely have spent a good deal of the headcount budget on your initial staffing decisions. Unless you are completely in charge of your budget & who gets hired, you may not get the funding when it comes time to hire the long-term folks when they are needed.


Deciding who is on the bus is an important phase of growth for any team and getting the right people in the right seats is ultimately where your success lies.


Let’s break it down by the general objective of your team. Keep in mind what Jim Collins says in his book - you want people on the bus because of who else is on the bus, not based on where the bus is going. Another way of putting this is: You need to build an adaptable team. If you only hire people for specific roles or who can't grow as your objectives evolve, then when you inevitably have to change directions those initial hires will likely need to get off. And there isn't any clean or nice way to push people off a moving bus. As a manager, it is much less stressful to get it right the first time.


Focus your initial hiring on finding folks that are obsessed with your overall mission of “crafting educational content and experiences for your customers in the pursuit of helping them grow better”. Those are the people who will help start, iterate, and grow your program.


Example team structures

Below I have broken down your team structure based on a few initial milestones that I see folks often trying to achieve and that set you up best for both short and long-term success. I've created four example teams based on the initial outcome they are trying to target. The four example structures are:


  • Onboarding & Product Training

  • Attracting New Users

  • Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers

  • Develop Credential Program


Note: The below team structures assume that you have purchased software to author and facilitate your learning experiences. Some teams will try to build their own learning management system, in which case, a product team will be necessary and included on this list. In that case, I recommend those engineers sit with the product org but have a strong dotted line to your senior leadership.



Objective: Onboarding & Product Training (Delighting Customers)


Team members:

  • 1 Senior Leader

  • 2 Managers

  • 5 Instructional Designers

  • 1 Content Editor

  • 1 Systems Admin


If the objective of your customer education program is to build onboarding and product training, then your team might look a little like this:





Let’s dive a little further into these roles and operations for your team. If you are focused on onboarding and product training then the main function of your customer education program is to produce educational content in a few different formats and then keep that content up to date. If you are building this content to have a credential or certificate, then I suggest you scroll down and look at the team structure related specifically to that kind of content. This structure assumes you aren't managing a certificate as part of your learning paths.


In this structure, a senior leader develops the strategy and key objectives. This individual is best positioned under a leader in Customer Success, or if you have a Chief Customer Officer (CCO), then reporting into the CCO or Vice President directly under the CCO is also good. The Senior Leader is key for your long-term success. They should be well-versed in customer education content options, the technologies used to build these programs, and how to interpret company growth goals into educational strategies. Beyond managing the production of work, they should be focused on building a strong purpose for your team; looking towards the future.


Under the Senior Leader are a collective of content operations folks, including content editors and systems administrators. These are the people you might think can wait till later in your growth but are actually key to building momentum during these initial stages of development.


You'll also see curriculum/instructional designers and subject matter experts in this structure. Depending on the type of company you work for you can do a few things with the folks developing the content. You can bring in curriculum designers/instructional designers to build the foundations of your training and then pass off that content to subject matter experts to facilitate training. Or you can take a hybrid approach where your instructional designers build the content as well as facilitate and report on its success. HubSpot Academy has a lot of success with this hybrid approach with our Inbound Professors and I highly recommend working in this model as you get started. It can be a very lean approach.


Depending on how many content editors and designers you need you will also likely require a small layer of management to help with the day-to-day operation of the program. I like a 5:1 ratio for designers to editors, with at least one system administrator. However, this ratio may fluctuate for you depending on the type and amount of content.


A strong management team from the start is critical for your long-term development. With a Senior Leader in charge with additional support under them, you'll get more perspectives at the table when thinking about the future of the program. This is your brain trust as much as a production team. It also builds in strategic depth to your program, as people move on to other roles over time. It helps to have multiple potential leaders to step in as well to continue the growth you hope to experience in those early phases. Build your team depth in several areas, not just one.


If you have the chance for your team to have a dotted-line relationship with a Data Analyst this can also save you a lot of time in the long-term. The Data Analyst doesn't need to sit with the team directly as long as the expectations and goals of the program are understood by whoever is leading analysis in your organization.



Objective: Attracting New Users

Team members:

  • 1 Senior Leader

  • 2 Managers

  • 5 Instructional Designers

  • 1 Content Editor

  • 1 Systems Admin

  • 1 Growth Marketer





Similar to a team structure when focused on onboarding and product training, a team focused on acquiring new users to convert them into customers will require leadership, creators, but additionally a growth marketer. At HubSpot, we'd refer to the objective of this team as focusing on the attract phase of the inbound methodology.


In this case, a growth marketer is critical for getting the word out about your educational content. They help facilitate website design for SEO as well as marketing on social platforms. This marketer can also be the one to facilitate email campaigns and other automation or work with others in the company to do so.


Not much else will change with this team structure, though your content creators may shift to include some subject matter experts, and where both curriculum designers and SMEs facilitate the training.


Objective: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers

Team members:

  • 1 Senior Leader

  • 3 Managers

  • 8 Instructional Designers

  • 2 Content Editor

  • 1 Systems Admin

  • 1 Growth Marketer





This is the model that arguably we all want to get to long-term. With this structure, customer education is delivering on goals across the flywheel by attracting new folks to our products and services, engaging them through our educational experiences, and turning them into delighted customers who then share their learnings and attract new folks. This model builds momentum and reduces friction across many layers of the business.


Similar to the first two models this team ideally roles into your Chief Customer Officer (CCO). They sit at an important intersection that you wish to align with. They are focused on your customers' experience as well as how to attract more individuals to your business and reduce friction in your sales process. Customer education is the perfect fit for a CCO.


Objective: Develop Credential Program

Overall Team:

  • 1 Senior Leader

  • 2 Senior Managers

  • 4 Managers

  • 10 Instructional Designers

  • 2 Program Leaders

  • 3 Content Editor

  • 1 Systems Admin

  • 1 Growth Marketer





Lastly, if you are looking to immediately develop a credential program where you have layers of credentials such as Certificates, Badges, and Accreditations then your team may be best suited to have two “arms”.


Note: This model is part of the framework used by HubSpot Academy where I have the pleasure and opportunity to lead the customer educational content side of the house and I have a colleague who looks after our programs which include the development, regulation, and iteration of our Credentials. To continue with the metaphors we are two sides of the same coin. While our ultimate goals are aligned with the approach we gain depth in both areas and have more folks looking after the growth of our collective programs.


In this case the roles shift slightly as you introduce Program Managers that will look after the development, regulation, and iteration of your credentials. These folks are key to the development of your credentials including working with a product team or outside vendor on their development. These folks align very closely with your operations team and creators to bring together all the pieces needed for an effective credential in the market.


Conclusion


Building a customer education team can be difficult. Pulling all the pieces together may take awhile but if you have a sketch in your mind (and your leadership's mind) then it will be a lot easier to get the right people in the right seats on the bus.


If you want to pitch your executive sponsors on how to scale teams using these structures and some standard starting points, check out the Customer Education Org Structure Guide PDF. Free to download.


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