For many of us with careers in technical training, generosity isn’t large in our word cloud. We have learned to be careful about letting our training content, developed at great cost and effort, escape into the wild where someone could reuse it without paying.
Times have changed.
We must reset our thinking, and make educational content available more freely.
Support the right mission
First, understand the goals of your company, and determine how the training organization, and educational content in general, will support those goals.
For mature software companies, the training organization’s mission is typically to make money while training customers. Good for them. They rightly take actions that are ungenerous with content – such as preventing training materials from being redistributed without permission.
But what about growing organizations operating in ecosystems with fast-changing technologies? In this category I count my own company, Talend, and others who are working with Big Data and cloud technologies. In this arena, availability of skilled resources is a significant constraint on successful adoption. The early and ongoing success of customers to get value from our products is a much bigger prize than the money we make on training.
Good training or educational content can accelerate many of the behaviors we want from our customers, including: install the product, have a successful pilot project, put some jobs into production, and use all products purchased. The mission of our Enablement department? Accelerate customers’ attainment of value.
Maintaining focus on this mission makes it clear that we can be, and should be, generous with content. We should not worry that some of our free resources cannibalize our paid offerings.
Your alignment check on your mission may uncover that financial measures for the training organization are top priority. If your executive management gives a quick nod to customer success, but measures you on education bookings, revenue, and margin, then you have to begin by selling customer success priorities to your management. (Alternatively, quit reading now, and go back to focusing on the financial success of your education department). However, if you find that enabling customer success is the real mission, then you may need to rebalance your policies about sharing educational content. Move towards content generosity, in pursuit of the bigger goals of expanding the entire ecosystem of your company’s software.
Dare to give the good stuff away
This is heresy for some of my friends in the education industry. Many of them have spent much energy protecting against IP leakage, and ensuring that customers must return to the source to pay for training.
My contention is: Let it go. If you spend those resources building the next round of fabulous content, customers will naturally return to get the latest version. There will always be value in up-to-date content, and a high-quality training experience that is complete with an expert instructor and hands-on practice. If you are worried about the value lost when a pdf escapes into the wild, then you need to up your game on the training experience you are selling.
For us, an example appeared as requests from two large system integrators. They wanted unlimited access to our self-study training courses, to train hundreds of their consultants. They preferred to import the courses into their own internal learning management systems, where they could track progress in the context of their consultants’ overall professional development. If we focused on making money on training, we would say no. If we focused on risks that our courseware IP might escape, we would say no. But our mission is to accelerate customers’ attainment of value, and it is in our interest to have system integrators with well-qualified consultants ready to help our customers. We said yes.
Learn from the marketers
Marketing professionals obsess about the pre-purchase behavior of prospects. They have discovered that traditional marketing is becoming less effective, and that prospects are better attracted to rich content that teaches about the products. One interesting indicator we have seen at Talend: prospects who attend a free webinar are highly likely to make a purchase. According to the Content Marketing Institute, content marketing is delivering information that makes your buyer more intelligent. Training professionals are performing a similar function, but at a different point in the customer journey. This isn’t so much that training is becoming like marketing – rather the opposite: Marketing professionals have discovered that marketing needs to be more like training.
As a recent example, we heard from our Customer Success teams that customers needed more guidance on system architecture and sizing. To meet this need, we invested significant time from some of our experts, to create this knowledge article. And – we are making it available free.
Do such deep articles, provided at no charge, undercut training demand? Maybe. However, we are more likely to get future training business from a successful customer than from an unsuccessful one – so let it rip! Give away that good knowledge article and later, the reader may purchase more software along with training that provides a deeper learning experience. Regardless, we have advanced our bigger mission, by enabling customers to use our software more effectively.
If you haven’t heard the words content and generosity together before, you are not alone. Education departments are attuned to protecting their materials, driven by requirements to make training profitable. Yet, if our true mission is to accelerate our customers’ success, it’s time we put generosity back into our vocabulary.