driving real value in b2b customer education

20 04 2008

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking and talking about business-to-business (b2b) customer education recently.  My comments here are particularly focused on software/webware, but the principles are just as relevant to other tech sectors as well as service-based industries and equipment suppliers.

i find a johari-square analysis to be particularly helpful to understanding where real value in generated via customer education.  in this post i will focus my comments on the training component of the customer education ecosystem.

along the horizontal axis is a continuum of the level of knowledge a customer has about an application – from basic/introductory usage to a full understanding of all features of the application.

along the vertical axis is the nature of the application to the organization’s particular practices – from generic, non-specific usage to very company specific usage.

The lower left quadrant then represents basic usage being applied in very generic, non-differentiated fashion. This might include data entry, simple reports, basic search functionality, etc.

the upper left quadrant represents the efficient transfer of current company knowledge and practice into the application. Examples would include self-help resources, document repositories, FAQ’s, etc.

the lowr right quadrant represents the application of new processes which are enabled by the advanced functionality of the application and/or templates and add-ons which expand the applications capabilities.

the upper right quadrant represents innovation and creation of new business capabilities and insights which are very specific to the success of the particular customer’s organization’s needs and goals.

The yellow arrow represents what can be considered the desired customer learning path.  The goal is to get the customer to use the application in a way that drives the success of their business.  Unfortunately, in the past, training has had limited means to deliver the necessary learning experiences to the customer. Instructor-led training in a brick and mortar setting with ink on paper content is very expensive. By the time the learning needed to get the customer through the lower left quadrant was successfully completed, the training group had run through its budget. the most innovating training groups might have been able to sneak in a bit of the upper left or lower right content, but that was limited.

the emergence of elearning tools and techniques along with systems that enable an organization-wide customer education ecosystem has created new opportunities to spread training resources further along the customer education learning path.  online tutorials, document repositories, online forums, wikis, instant messaging, and web conferences can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of ILT and ink-on-paper content. This leaves face-to-face contacts available to help customize and innovate new solutions to particular customer needs. Strategic deployment of resources across the customer education ecosystem can drive value in the customer’s organizations.

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customer education ecosystem

19 04 2008

the trend over the past four or five years has been for the training profession to refer to itself as the learning profession.  While I agree in many ways with this trend (see training vs. learning), i do believe that sometimes we get a bit too myopic in your view of the work of workplace learning. As i argued in my post on Learning Circuits Blog, We’re #3, we’re #3!, training is often not the most effective learning function in an organization.  This is particularly true in the realm of customer education.

There are a number of functional groups in every organization that are involved in customer education. to keep things somewhat simple, I identify six groups in the customer education ecosystem – product development, marketing, sales, account management, training, and customer support.  ideally each of these groups has direct contact with an organization’s customers.  They each learn something from the customer and they each – for better or for worse – provide the customer with new information.


from customer

to customer


desired functionality insight into future products


market intelligence, level of interest in product, qualified leads information about product


criteria for purchase, pain points, purchase agreement solutions for pain points, new product information

account management

additional needs, deeper business operations, integration demands additional services, add on products, templates, best practices


needs caused by learning gaps, usage expectations basic "how-to" use, insights into best use, certification

customer support

what’s not working, potential enhancements, desired new products error correction, basic "how-to" use, integration help

a great deal of effort has been made in most organizations to gather up the information gathered from customers. in best case situations it’s aggregated and funneled back to product development. few organizations have had success at aligning the information presented to the customer by the various groups. even fewer have an understanding that linking this content drives customer education around the use of the organization’s product in the customer’s particular business.

the relay method

Traditionally, an effort is made to hand-off product information from group to group as if there were a relay race involved. if the handoff goes well, some information about the product and/or the customer is passed along to the next group. usually with a spin on the information by the group passing it on.

often, the "hand-off is missed." leaving the receiving group scrambling to get the information they need. they may go back up the chain to a previous group who invariably get annoyed because they thought they were done with this particular product or customer.  or they go back to the customer who gets annoyed and wonders if there is anyone with any intelligence working for the company.

even when all of the hand-offs are performed well, the result can often be like the children’s game telephone. with each successive group putting their own spin on the information based upon their interaction with customers disconnects start showing up by the dozen.  "i can’t tell you why they built the product that way." "you know, that doesn’t make sense." "let me teach you a work around that. it’s a bit of a pain, but it will work."  "no, this class doesn’t cover what the sales rep told you." etc. etc.

About the only thing the customer is learning is how to work the call center automated phone tree and what they want to ask your competitors when the decide to drop your product.

circle the wagons

to alleviate the problems created by the relay method of communications, organizations have taken to a "circle the wagons" approach in which email inboxes overflow as everyone is expected to keep everyone else "in the loop" by sharing anything and
everything they know.  each group is then responsible for understanding the whole picture by piecing together all those emails and the accompanying attachments. the cob web of information is overwhelming and everyone defaults back to the same solution as used when the relay method failed. No one really knows what the customer is being told by the other groups and the customer again goes wanting.

customer education ecosystem

with the onset of web 2.0 technologies, it’s not only possible to get everyone in the organization not only singing from the same page, but it’s a reality that you can get everyone writing the same page. whether using a wiki to gather information from across
the organization and then collaboratively mold it into a unified message leveraging content and information for multiple purposes, or a customer relationship management system to track every contact with a customer regardless of what functional group, and/or a document management system to handle version control and create a unified look and feel, technology now enables everyone to have product, customer and market information on-demand.

This enables a consistent message that can be crafted to move the customer along a learning curve from initial contact, through basic usage, to power usage. once a customer is fully aware of the workings of a product and/or services available to them, they can then begin to drive real value for their organization with your products/services.

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if a blog falls on the web, but no one hears it…..

17 04 2008

my little hiatus from blogging over the past six months provided me with a number of interesting issues to contemplate, but the one that caught me most off guard was this question:

do readers really care if i post or not?

why would i ask this question? a quick look at some of my blog statistics for eelearning will clue you in. Here’s a chart of the activity on eelearning here on wordpress. I my last post before my sabbatical was the middle of September. But readership of eelearning continued to grow through November. hmmmm. Makes you begin to wonder.

Add to this that my stats counter on my typepad account is still counting away and has shown steady readership there, even though I haven’t posted a new post on that verson of eelearning in almost a year now!

What I take from all of this feedback is two fold. One, many blog readers aren’t obsessed with what is being written every day. Blogs for many web users are resource sites and it doesn’t really matter whether the content they are seeking and finding was published yesterday or last year. Two, moving a blog and getting your readers to change their blogrolls and bookmarks is a very difficult task as well. if you obsessed about reader statistics, then make sure you have a comprehensive plan to migrate your readership before you move.

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work at learning/learning at work blog carnival

17 04 2008

in march, dave ferguson started a new blog carnival centered around topics in workplace learning. blog carnivals are “events” in which bloggers contribute posts on a given subject which are listed on a host blog. The host blog usually rotates from one blog to another on a regular basis.

Check out the first work at learning/learning at work blog carnival event on dave’s blog.

Manish Mohan has taken on the task of hosting the next event on his blog Life, The Universe, and Everything about eLearning and Content Development. Manish is particularly looking for contributions from learning and development professionals who are working from outside North America. He asks that you provide a permalink for your post and a short intro, but he doesn’t give clear direction on where to send it. I received his call for contributions through facebook so you can try there. You can also find him on LinkedIn and of course through his blog.

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what you’ve been reading

16 04 2008

another interesting bit of data is a listing of the most popular posts on eelearning since i moved over to wordpress.  i’m pleased to see that my posts regarding exemplars in elearning are numbers 1 and 2.  What astounds me is that in 4th is my my post on learning theory resources, my very first post to eelearning. in 5th is my 3rd post which was links to evaluation resources. 

As I said in my last post, it would seem to show, at least among my readership, that people are at least as much interested in content as they are currency.  It also suggests to me that perhaps i should update those posts – because I have added to my personal list of learning theory resources and evaluation resources.  Most can be found in my delicious account.  But some are trapped in my browsers bookmark lists.

post name


what is a "good example" 565
exemplary elearning solutions 483
buggy whip makers 245
learning theory resource links 241
evaluation resource links 123
where i’d work 122
Top Ten learning tools 116
are motivation and drive innate or learned? 112
there they go with the powerpoint thing, again! 102
as if i needed proof 96

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i must have needed it

15 04 2008

how do you explain an impromptu seven month hiatus from blogging activity? the best one i’ve come up with so far is the line my mother always used when i slept in late or caught an unplanned nap in the afternoon. “well you must have needed it.”

it’s as good an explanation as i can come up with.

After four years of blogging on eelearning, three years managing learning circuits blog, a job search that was not working (it seems be going much better today), personal finances that reflected the lack of success in the job search, and a handful of other personal matters resulted in me coming down with a case of “blogging burn-out.” stressing out to post “something” just because the clock passed midnight once again became less and less fun and more and more onerous.

I even contemplated shutting eelearning down. then i considered a facelift. i even had a new name (eeVolution) and new masthead. then i realized i didn’t need to create more work for myself. i needed to pare down the work i had on my plate to projects which i can focus my limited time. i decided to resign from the online community leader role for LCB, stop trying to participate in every known online community (LinkedIn is now the only one I try to visit every day, Facebook still gets some time), pull the plug on my consultancy business, redouble my full-time job search efforts, and regenerate eelearning while putting eelearning wiki and my obsession with Web 2.0 tools in suspended animation for the time being.

it seems to be working. life is a bit more manageable. my six month hiatus has led to me rethink what I want to publish here, review what I’ve done over the past four years, and reflect on why i blog. i’ll provide these insights over the next several weeks.

i guess Mom’s right. i must have needed this seven month nap. i know i feel renewed about writing eelearning. i hope it will show through in what you read!

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