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How to Get Executive Buy-in for Customer Education

Launching a Customer Education program requires getting buy-in from executive leaders because to be successful you will need a budget. Often these programs develop organically from Customer Success or Product teams, and don’t have a budget specifically assigned to them. This presents a challenge for whomever is leading the initiative: How do you convince executive leaders to sufficiently resource the team so you can scale beyond the first phase?

This article will describe one method for presenting the value of Customer Education to executive leaders by illustrating the big picture of what it can do for an organization.

Want to pitch your leaders on CE? Use this free PPT template

How to start a Customer Education program

The biggest challenge with kickstarting a customer education program is convincing executive leaders to allocate a budget for resources. Because Customer Education programs require specialist resources and technology, you will have to illustrate the value of what you intend to build in the broadest possible terms. The best way to do this is by mapping the customer journey.

This article outlines best practices to follow when launching a Customer Education program from scratch without any resources. But what about taking things to the next level? How do you get a budget allocated to your program?

Your CEO and CFO won’t just give you money because you have a good idea. It needs to be presented in terms of either revenue generated or a reduction in the cost of your current processes. You will need to show numbers that illustrate the current state and a projection of what customer education can do when implemented properly. A term used to describe this kind of messaging is “Above the line” communication. That is, communicate to the executives who own the budgets in terms they will take seriously. People who decide on what gets budgeted are your “above the line” leaders.

The method described here is called “Mapping the Customer Journey” and it is a way to analyze your organization so you can identify all the ways Customer Education will provide value. It consists of several interviews that will allow you to create a growth plan targeting specific inefficiencies in your business. By following this method, you can show the big picture of value to your CEO while also demonstrating prudence with the budget you will get.

Building a case for Customer Education

Learning programs deliver value to your customer at several points along their customer journey. These touch-points are managed by several different teams. The goal for this exercise is to interview stakeholders in each team so you can (1) develop advocacy from those leaders and (2) gather information necessary to make a business case.

Before describing the exercise, however, let’s discuss the conceptual framework you will be using. It’s important to understand what you are doing before you go and start doing it. For the remainder of this section we’ll describe this image:

The image above is a visual representation of the customer lifecycle in a typical subscription based business.

  • The gray boxes represent different teams or activities that move a person through the customer journey

  • The blue arrow represents the customer’s path through these gray boxes

  • The red arrows indicate relationships between teams or activities that are affected by customer training

  • The red words are a short description of the way training (or its absence) in each box impacts the other

This visualization is a “customer centric” approach to an organization. That is, it places the customer at the center of the journey. Though many companies may say they are customer-centric, it is not uncommon for each of these teams or activities to exist in a silo. Let’s use a few examples:

Customer onboarding teams are often focused on driving feature adoption during the first few months of their relationship with a product. If the onboarding initiative isn’t done well, then feature adoption will be low.

But there is another impact as well. If a good customer onboarding program doesn’t exist, then your users will also likely experience confusion when trying to get value from your product. They will seek out support resources such as help tickets or account managers.

Low feature adoption itself has a downstream impact. If customers don’t adequately adopt your features, they may not experience the full value of your solution. When it comes time to renew, they may be inclined to look for alternatives or cancel the subscription. This will show up as churn in your accounts.

In this way:

  • Onboarding is related to Adoption

  • Adoption is related to Renewals

  • And Both are related to support tickets

These relationships might be understood by senior executives, but connection to customer training may not.

How to map the customer journey

Now that you know the teams and activities that benefit from customer education, let’s dig into the Customer Journey mapping process itself. Remember, the objective of this project is to collect data and develop advocacy. This process is relatively straight-forward.

  1. Setup a 1x1 meeting with the leader of the following teams in your organization. Plan on scheduling an hour of their time. The objective of the meeting should be to “learn about any challenges you’re facing that could be improved with training”

    1. Sales

    2. Partnerships (people who sell on your behalf)

    3. Marketing

    4. Product

    5. Support

    6. Success / Account Management

  2. Before the meetings begin, create a document with some standardized questions. Some examples are:

    1. What are the most important KPIs you track to measure the performance of your team?

    2. Do you have a dashboard or report that tracks these KPIs? (Can I see it?)

    3. What training initiatives, if any, does your team undertake, other than HR training?

    4. How would you rate the impact of this training on helping you achieve your KPIs?

    5. Are there any initiatives underway to improve those KPIs?

    6. Who leads those improvement initiatives?

  3. Take notes during the calls. You will want to refer to specific quotes and specific numbers mentioned during the conversations. Particularly listen for:

    1. Names of stakeholders involved in improvements or tracking KPIs

    2. How the KPIs are measured (the math behind the KPI)

    3. What the current metric associated with the KPI is (example: “We have 1500 free trials per month and have a team of 10 onboarding specialists who deliver 55 training sessions per week.”)

    4. The cost associated with delivering their business

  4. After the calls with senior leaders, schedule similar calls with anyone mentioned as being involved in training or improvement. Have the same conversations with them. For small businesses, you may interview 10 people. For larger businesses, you may interview 20.

  5. Compile your interview notes & look for the biggest opportunity to apply training.

    1. Use the Customer Journey diagram above to guide your analysis

    2. Look for relationships between things like onboarding and support

    3. Create, if possible, a rough estimate of the impact training can have on various programs to illustrate the annual savings from efficiency or sales growth

  6. Create a presentation and share these findings with your executive sponsor and then your CEO

Want to pitch your program to senior leaders?

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What to say to your CEO

In the conversations with your executive sponsor and your CEO, you will want to communicate three things:

  • Describe the relationship between different teams and activites (using a version of the diagram above)

  • Describe how Customer Education can positively impact these activities

  • Your findings about where you would focus your attention first

Your senior executives will want to know what resources you will need to accomplish the proposal. We recommend that you refrain from specifics in this meeting, but rather communicate the typical kinds of resources needed to make these programs effective. Such as a Learning Management System to deliver content, Instructional Designers to create the content, and a Program Manager to prioritize activities and develop connections across the organization.

The objective of your first meeting is to get buy-in. In essence, what you want is a second meeting. Ask your senior leaders if they want to consider this strategy and if so, who should be involved. If there is not a person involved who is an above the line leader, insist that you have an executive sponsor.

Once you have your second meeting scheduled, begin putting together a specific plan that involves a resourcing request.

How to measure the business value of Customer Education

This article describes common KPIs used to measure and report on customer training activities. However, when developing your proposal for a senior executive or CEO, you’ll want to speak to what you intend to measure as it relates to the customer journey. Let’s look at another view of the customer journey diagram that includes KPIs.

This shows what you can measure at each stage to see how your “factory” is functioning. If you sense resistance to a major investment in customer education, then pick one KPI to target. A good starting point is support tickets since these are easier to measure directly in terms of dollars spent per support resource to answer tickets.

However, you may also find that one of the executive leaders you interviewed is a very strong advocate of your initiative. Focusing on their project is another option to get traction.

It’s important to start with KPIs that are achievable with the resources you have. Tying improvements in churn or feature adoption back to training activities will require Business Intelligence (BI). And these tend to be longer cycle / cohort driven analysis. When you start out, look for something easy to impact so you can show results quickly.

Ready to pitch your leadership on Customer Education?

Use the free PPT template deck.


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