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The Advocacy Channel Ep. 18: How to Start a Customer Education Program, and Start it Off Right

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Are you looking to build a successful customer education program but not sure where to start? This episode has got you covered!

For Episode 18 of The Advocacy Channel, we had the pleasure of speaking with Shannon Howard, the Director of Customer and Content Marketing at Intellum - a leading customer education platform.

Shannon is a customer marketing expert with years of experience building education programs for companies like The Predictive Index, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and Litmus. Her expertise spans from marketing to curriculum development to SaaS product management, making her the perfect person to guide us through the process of creating a successful customer education program.

She helps us answer questions about education programs like:

  • When is the best time to start one?
  • What are the top mistakes to avoid?
  • How do you use data to make better program decisions?

Tune in to learn from one of 2023's Top 100 CMA Influencers & Strategists and start developing more power users and advocates of your product.

Check out the full episode below, or keep reading for our favorite pieces of advice from the episode.

Prefer to listen on the go? The Advocacy Channel is available anywhere you listen to podcasts.


What is the first step to starting a customer education program?

(Listen from 8:20)

When you envision a customer education program, you probably think of brands like HubSpot and Hootsuite that have developed extensive on-demand training platforms that are widely recognized.

When starting on the path of building an education program for your own company, we asked Shannon if there is a concrete first step she would recommend taking.

She advises that while there’s not exactly a tried and true path, you can get a clear plan by looking at factors like the nature of your business and your current business goals. How you begin depends on where your business is at, and what resources you have available.

Start with figuring out the business problem that needs to be solved, and where the learning gap exists. But remember that not every business problem is solved by learning - sometimes it’s actually a product problem or a service problem, or an internal training problem.

Once you identify the immediate need, you start from there and think about how you can build this out further. It takes time to build scalable on-demand training to the level of HubSpot, whereas you can always start with launching one initiative like group training or live sessions to get started.

“I think it starts with figuring out where the gap exists, what’s needed, and starting from there, but building with the end in mind. Know that this is not the plan for forever - just because it works today, it doesn’t mean this has to be the forever format.”

What are the mistakes that people run into when launching an education initiative?

(Listen from 12:54)

Shannon names three common mistakes that can hinder the success of a customer education program.

  1. Not enough internal marketing. While a team could be building something impressive that earns positive feedback from customers and drives notable results, they might not be talking about it enough internally. Shannon emphasizes that you need to be loud about what you are doing within your own company. This could be done by asking for time to give updates at company-wide meetings, or finding champions on other teams who are willing to give you a shout-out and talk about what you’re doing.
  2. Not naming business outcomes. Those who work in learning are good at naming what success looks like for the learner but may forget to determine what success means for the business. It’s important to name the business outcome that you’re looking to drive, such as showing that those who complete your course or certification have a longer lifetime value, or are more likely to participate in advocacy opportunities.
  3. Data problems. When working with a lot of platforms, your data might not be synced across all of them. Shannon has seen people have a difficult time proving the impact of their programs because they have information in their learning management system but it’s not connected in other places to see the whole picture. Get those connections in place, because that’s ultimately how you prove the success of what you’re doing. Shannon’s tip is to ask for what you want, and don’t give up if it’s not happening right away.

How do you get internal marketing going?

(Listen from 16:00)

With regards to not doing enough internal marketing for your programs, we asked Shannon what she would say to someone who is struggling to get that going in their organization to showcase their work.

From Shannon’s experience, often it falls to the background because there is not enough priority placed on it, as there is more focus put on communication with customers.

It can also be a confidence issue, or because it can feel weird to promote ourselves. Shannon gives us a good reminder: “If you’re a marketer, you know that people don’t read everything you write. They don’t read every social post, they don’t open every email - we know this for a fact. It’s the same thing internally. We feel like we're being annoying, but we’re not.” (17:15)

This is especially important in a remote environment when you’re essentially invisible except for what happens online.

While it might feel uncomfortable to ask for time at a company-wide meeting, remember that people want to hear from you! As a customer marketer, you have great customer stories and experiences that you can share about the impact of your education. An idea for a quick two-minute update from your team could be:

  • Highlights from the week
  • The progress that you made
  • What’s coming up next week

“If you’re a marketer, you know that people don’t read everything you write. They don’t read every social post, they don’t open every email - we know this for a fact. It’s the same thing internally. We feel like we're being annoying, but we’re not.”

How can you best measure the results of your education programs?

(Listen from 21:02)

It’s normal to not have all your education program’s data syncing together perfectly, especially when launching it as a new initiative. But how can you become more data-driven in your analysis and decisions once you launch a program?

While it’s well and good to analyze spreadsheets and create different dashboards or views, Shannon guides us to start with the questions.

Start with the question you want to answer. For example, are people who are certified more likely to renew? Are they more likely to expand or participate in advocacy activities?

From there, you can understand what data sets you need to prove whether that is true or not. Write out what questions you want to answer, add your hypotheses that you’re trying to prove or disprove, and then figure out the data to support that.

“You can get into the weeds of a spreadsheet and forget what you were doing there, or how you’re trying to connect the pieces. But if you start with a question, you can get a better idea of what you need to look at in relationship to what else to figure out the answer to that question (25:29)

Listen to the full episode for even more expert advice on leveling up your customer advocacy initiatives. Special thanks to Shannon for being on the show!

Connect with Shannon on LinkedIn » 

Got questions or feedback about the podcast? Send us an email!

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