Does your company provide a free product trial? Most likely your answer is yes. Free product trials are pretty standard these days. Do you also include free training offerings in the trial? Adding free training during the sales cycle generates highly qualified leads, shortens the sales cycles, and scales valuable sales resources.
Are these offerings training? Are they marketing? The answer is yes. When I started at SugarCRM, my manager suggested I build a self-paced course called What is CRM? a high-level overview of the benefits of customer relationship management software. I balked, exclaiming, “That’s not a training topic, that’s marketing!" I was told, “Build the course anyway." The What is CRM? course was by far the most popular self-paced course in our content library. We provided it at no charge, allowing leads and prospects to gain an overview of SugarCRM features and benefits without contacting a sales rep.
Free education offerings give prospective customers an opportunity to do their homework. Self-service is a valuable thing, because prospects move themselves through the sales funnel, and then your company benefits with lower selling costs and shorter sales cycles. At SugarCRM, we found that prospects who used the free self-paced courses were more likely to buy when they contacted sales reps. Of course, "Training users doesn’t guarantee that the deal closes," Cory Bray, Managing Director of ClozeLoop indicates in a Skilljar blog, "but it mitigates the risk of an ‘unforced error.’”
Why free training?
Free training might include self-paced offerings, instructor-led options, or a blend of both. At Jaspersoft, I provided modules in the self-paced Online Learning Portal (OLP) at no charge to serve as “marketing.” I partnered with the Marketing team to determine which modules within each course to make available for free. Working together, we built courses and learning pathways for prospects. In addition, I gave Sales reps coupon codes for a 30-day free OLP subscription to provide to prospects, allowing users to access all the course materials, better understand the product, and then determine whether it was a good fit.
While eLearning provides a scalable approach to enable prospects, don’t stop there. Jaspersoft sales reps in EMEA often enroll prospects into public instructor led courses, for free or a fee. Instructor-led-training during the sales cycle is especially helpful for complex products. Users get valuable hands-on experience during class, meet instructors who are product experts, and work through use cases. Addepar invites prospects to the first day of a multi-day instructor-led course at company headquarters. This experience provides prospects a valuable product overview, as well as an opportunity to meet executives and product teams. Deliver a more scalable approach with live online instructor led product overviews and deep dives.
Additionally, providing free education offerings scales sales resources. Rather than sales reps and sales engineers repeating basic product demos, they leverage the knowledge cycle. At Jaspersoft, Sales reps are more than happy to provide OLP coupons, because it means less work for them. Sales engineers focus their valuable time on unique scenarios, as well as building and delivering customized demos, rather than conducting the same generic demo.
Before you build your prospect-facing training, talk to sales reps and sales engineers. Find the most common questions that come up during demos. Since Customer Education is a scale engine, start with these key topics. Work with Marketing to align with the product messaging, but make sure you go deeper than high-level features and functions in the education offerings to provide real value and not a marketing video.
Don’t build all new content for prospects. Instead, evaluate what you can curate from existing content:
- Are there existing self-paced courses to provide at no charge?
- Can you issue coupons for prospects to access your content library or subscription?
- Are there individual modules from existing courses to expose for prospects to access easily?
- Can you string together a learning path from training, marketing, and support content to address issues that many prospects have?
If there are gaps in your existing content, then prioritize what needs to be built specifically for the sales cycle. This is a great opportunity to partner with Marketing resources; build the content together, and then add it to the free education offerings.
Once your content is available, incorporate the content into the current Sales and Marketing processes and systems. Make sure it’s easy for leads and prospects to find and use. It’s a real tragedy when excellent content exists, yet no one knows where to find it. Next, train the sales team so they know what’s available. Teach them when and where to point to the content and to include details in sales playbooks. Most importantly, make sure the Sales and Marketing teams know that your repeatable and scalable content makes their lives easier. Remind them regularly.
Measure the impact.
Should you include a barrier to entry, like a lead form, to access the free offerings? When you connect the lead form to campaigns, then you can track users along their journey and track the opportunities created and won that engaged in the free training. Learn four other ways Customer Education impacts your business bottom-line in my blog Five Ways Customer Education Impacts Your Bottom Line.
Consider providing free education offerings for users to access before they become customers. It’s a good investment in time and resources because educated leads become highly qualified prospects, and highly qualified prospects are more likely to buy your product. Your company will save money with shorter sales cycles and you will have more successful customers.