How to scale a SaaS business: Educate Your Customers

For most SaaS businesses today, the ‘land and expand’ strategy is critical to business growth. The strategy highlights the need to:

  1. Generate interest in the product
  2. Convert prospects to clients
  3. Onboard new clients efficiently
  4. Drive product adoption quickly
  5. Reduce the risk of clients leaving (churn)
  6. Up-sell premium features or add seats to the license

While a team can be assigned to each of those functions, let’s see how a dedicated Customer Education team drives real impact across all areas of the customer lifecycle.

Let’s dive in:

1. Awareness: Drive Inbound Interest

In order to drive exponential growth, users have to be aware of your product. And a world-class education program helps with that.

The best customer education programs help promote the entire teach set of your users, not just your tool. Think of a photography course by Adobe — they’re teaching you how to be better photographers, and naturally introduce Photoshop as a tool. This kind of education reaches out to a broader audience and promotes skills surrounding your product. The more people learn various job skills through your platform, the more your tool gets talked about and recommended.

In Action: Hubspot Academy runs online courses and certifications on SaaS Marketing Automation and Sales, not just their product. As more people learn about online marketing, Hubspot gets recommended as the tool of choice.

2. Sell: Convert Prospects

When prospects understand the value of your product, their decision making process changes. No longer are they making decisions on bullets points on your website or the price point, but deciding based on the long term value of your product.

$$$ — If you are a high ticket SaaS with a complicated product (Big Data, BI, etc), chances are your customers don’t understand how your product is different or justifies the high cost of implementation and upkeep. And they often don’t trust members of your sales team. A dedicated education program targeted towards prospects gets them in the door to try your product in controlled environments, and then see for themselves what your service does for their business.

$ — If you are a low ticket SaaS, chances are you’re in a crowded market and your customers are price sensitive (Analytics, CRM etc) . You need a solid strategy to convert free trials into paying customers. A product education program ensures prospects understand what your product does, and why it’s worth paying for premium features.

In Action: At Addepar, we invite prospects to join us for an introductory day of training where they get to try the product themselves in a learning lab, ask questions about our portfolio analysis and reporting capabilities and get to meet our engineers and product managers. This has proved very successful — prospects that come to 101 move faster through the sales pipeline and convert at a higher rate.

3. Implement: Proper Onboarding

Congrats, you made the sale! Now you have to implement the product. And this step is very, very important to get right. A smooth and efficient implementation ensures:

i. Customers get value quickly

ii. You avoid Customer Success escalations and headaches for Support down the road

iii. You scale your customer onboarding efficiently without needing to hire a ton of implementation folks

And recent research shows that effective onboarding can be a significant competitive advantage for SaaS companies.

Empower your education team to create an easy to follow onboarding experience. This ensures customers set up the product as intended, and avoid support headaches down the road.

In Action: Addepar customers get designated training resources included in their implementation project scope. This ensures they learn the software, and the key decisions and trade-offs while they implement and onboard their data. Our implementation managers tell us that clients that go through training before their deployments can “speak Addepar” from Day 1 and ask the right questions, and complete their implementation faster.

4. Adopt: Drive Usage

Adoption means different things, but the general goal of any customer success program is to ensure that customers use your software and make it an integral part of their workflows. While success teams like Support and Professional Services provide adoption services, the Education team is best suited for this task because of the one-to-many model of most education programs.

While Support helps customers one by one, and Professional Services reaches a few customers at a time, the Education team reaches many customers at the same time through public instructor led courses, and an even larger audience through e-learning.

Proper education ensures customers know the which features are most relevant for their roles and how to use them to get their jobs done. Well trained customers also become early evangelists, promoting your product to their coworkers at their company and peers outside.

Show Me The Data: This isn’t just a hypothesis — the Technology Services Industry Association (TSAI) collected 2,700 responses from customers that took training from hundreds of software vendors and found that training is directly correlated to higher product usage.

5. Retain: Keep Clients Happy

The deal is closed, implementation is complete and they’ve adopted your software. You can hardly believe it! Now retention becomes a top priority, because losing a customercan be very expensive. Although you may have a dedicated Customer Success team focused on keeping customers engaged and successful, your Customer Success Managers ultimately need solutions to salvage customer relationships that are turning south.

Education teams help Client Success scale by creating repeatable content. This includes:

  • Continuing education for different job functions
  • Thought leadership on industry best practices
  • Content for new features

Show Me The Data: Research from Pendo shows that customers with proper training are:

6. Grow: Expand Your Business

The ultimate hypothesis is that well trained, happy customers will

  • Stay longer as customers (retention)
  • Buy more of your software (upsell)
  • Refer you to their peers (lead gen)

According to Donna Weber, of Springboard Solutions, and a specialist in customer onboarding and enablement, well educated customers buy 2–6 times more software. A recent report by Accenture Learning also points to the fact the growing trend of customer education programs is driving real top line growth for companies.

Show Me The Data: The same study from Pendo shows that companies with effective onboarding and training programs are reporting much higher profitability and faster growth compared to peers.

Going forward:

Customer Education is a real value driver across the customer lifecycle and is here to stay as a permanent CS function. If your SaaS company doesn’t have a customer education team, start that conversation with your CS team today. Empower your clients with the right knowledge and skills and they will prove to be the most valuable assets of your business.

— — -

A major thanks to Adam Avramescu, Bill Cushard and Donna Weber for inspiration and advice.

About Me: I’m passionate about Customer Education and lead the learning development efforts at Addepar, one of the fastest growing fintech company in Wealth Management. I also run a Slack community called Customer Education Hero for people who want to empower customers through education.