Published On: September 25, 2019By
How does product education help marketing enhance and extend the customer journey? A customer success expert explains

EDITOR’S NOTE: Because extended enterprise learning involves multiple disciplines, we sometimes ask other experts to share their insights with our readers. Today we feature excellent product education advice from Ruairi Galavan, Senior Manager of Customer Engagement at Intercom.

Every New Customer Counts

Customer acquisition is an obsession among startups. This is especially true for software-as-a-service (SaaS) companies, where each new customer adds revenue that can help your business grow.

No wonder many early-stage companies invest so heavily in marketing tactics to attract prospects and convince them to sign-up. Blog posts, paid advertising, white papers, hero videos, webinars, social media, specialized landing pages – the choices are endless.

If you’re lucky and your message resonates with your target market, sign-ups will soon start filling your pipeline. But does this mean you can just put your feet up and wait for subscription dollars to roll in?

Not so fast. Truth is, most of these new users will take one first look at your product. Then, for any number of reasons, they’ll leave and never come back.

Ouch. You just invested all sorts of time and money in marketing campaigns to get people in the door, only for them to question your product’s value and walk away.

What’s the Missing Link? Product Education

If you don’t immediately show new sign-ups how they can succeed with your product, don’t be surprised if they move on.

And what about folks who do decide to stick around a bit longer? You’re on borrowed time with them, too.

Forget the adage, “If you build it, they will come.” Most startups have found that it simply doesn’t hold true. Neither does, “If they sign up, they will use it.” Instead, many sign-ups are just kicking the tires.

You can guide these people to early success, or you can turn a blind eye and let them figure it out for themselves. But I’ve found that even a modest product education effort can keep new customers from leaving.

How to Bootstrap Product Education

When I first joined Intercom, my role didn’t have an official “product education” title. Instead, I wore many hats. I wrote our product documents. I hosted how-to webinars. I created our help videos. I also managed our outbound messaging to customers.

The goal was simple – to create and distribute content that would help new customers get the best out of our product as quickly and easily as possible. As this function grew, I hired a team of customer-minded content specialists. They’re writers, video editors and educators. We call this group the Product Education team.

Simply put, we market our product to existing customers. And we measure our impact by analyzing specific customer behaviors:

  • Do we activate new sign-ups?
  • Do we expand their usage?
  • Do we retain these customers over time?

You might not think of product education as a traditional marketing activity. But SaaS marketers are quickly discovering that you ignore it at your peril.

Think of your solution as a luxury hotel. There’s no point building in a grand lobby with a shiny marble floor, only to have guests find a broken elevator and no stairs leading to their room!

5 Ways Product Education Helps Seal the Deal

Below are some tactics I used in the early days of Intercom, when the Product Education “team” was just me, and we fought for every new sign-up to become an active, loyal customer.

(NOTE: Nothing has changed about that product education goal. We still fight the good fight every single day.)

None of these tactics require a large, established team or a huge budget. They just require a genuine commitment to treating existing customers as well as you treat prospects.

1) Start with Minimum Viable Documentation

Don’t try to produce polished demonstration videos or invite hundreds of people to an orientation webinar until you clearly define the information new customers need most.

This may seem obvious to you, but I guarantee that formalizing it in writing is worth the effort.

No matter what kind of product you sell, chances are you’ll need some kind of documentation to support it. For example, you’ll want to develop a written description of your product, the problems it helps people solve, how it works, how to get the most from it and how customers can find additional help when they need it.

Before you do anything else, capture the answers to these questions in as much detail as possible. Writing, rewriting and refining this information will bring clarity and focus to your ideas, advice, beliefs and tone.

Our team relies on this core messaging document when creating other materials like webinars and help videos.

It’s a common reference tool that we use time and time again to check how we defined things in the first place. In effect, it is our “knowledge base.”

2) Look Beyond Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When you’re working at an early-stage startup with dozens of competing priorities, it’s tempting to publish the quickest, easiest type of documentation, just to keep your head above water. Usually, that means you’ll crank out a hasty “starter” collection of FAQs.

There’s nothing wrong with FAQs, per se. But if that’s your only documentation, you’re likely focusing on what to do when things go wrong.

Of course, you should answer common questions and be honest and upfront about your product’s shortcomings. But FAQs alone don’t inspire new, successful usage.

Your most effective content is likely to focus on turning trial-minded users into paying customers, and also turning paying customers into loyal, long-term advocates. It should not only be useful, coherent and relevant, but enjoyable and motivational, as well.

aim high with your documentation for product education

3) Deliver White-Glove Treatment with Live Demos

“A demo allows the customer to see and feel how things will be better if they buy (and worse if they don’t).”
– Geoffrey James

When I started at Intercom, we made a point of inviting every single person who gave us their email address to a weekly live product demo. These were usually attended by 1-50 new customers.

Even if it meant getting up at 6 a.m. in Dublin to demo to three people in another time zone, we never missed a Wednesday demo. The benefits of this practice soon became clear – customers who attended were less likely to churn later.

In the early days, when your sign-ups are in the hundreds or low thousands, it’s worth showing each and every willing prospect and new customer a live demo that illustrates how your product can improve their lives. Unlike other content, live demos are extremely personal. They give attendees an opportunity to talk in real-time with the people behind your product and learn exactly why they should stick around.

This might not seem like a scalable activity, but you can automate lots of it. Just set-up a recurring automatic message to all your new sign-ups (for example, using a tool like Intercom) with a link to your registration page. Be sure to offer two or three dates/times, using tools like GoToWebinar, Zoom or On24. These tools are purpose-built for hosting recurring webinars.

Next, put together a script that demonstrates the value of your product in various use case scenarios. This isn’t just about features and functionality. In fact, the worst thing you can do is make customers sit through a parade of features that aren’t tied to problems they need to address.

The goal is to showcase how your product can improve your customers’ lives. The sooner you demonstrate this to new sign-ups, the more likely they’ll be to stay.

4) Offer Onboarding Screencasts

It’s frustrating to see just how many early-stage companies don’t showcase their product directly in their marketing materials. Maybe they think there’s not much to show.

Or maybe they think a 2-minute animated cartoon will somehow do a better job at helping prospects and customers understand what they’re buying.

Regardless, if you don’t set accurate expectations and help people see just how easy it is to move toward their goal, they’re likely to walk away wondering exactly what your product does.

Onboarding screencasts are a perfect way to show off your product, and set-up new users for success. (A screencast is a video recording of on-screen actions, accompanied by narration.)

As soon as you offer this kind of product education, I guarantee that the business benefits will become clear. Your product launches should pack a bigger punch, adoption rates should increase, customer service queries should decrease and churn rates should improve.

Many people dismiss screencasting as too complex or time-consuming. It’s not. It’s something anyone can do. Don’t let the word “video” concern you. Trust me, if you’re working at a startup, screencasting is far from the most complicated or time-consuming thing you’ll do!

So jump right in and start playing with tools like Screenflow or Camtasia. The more you work with tools like these, the quicker and more proficient you’ll become. You’ll find that each screencast you produce is better than the last. I bet you’ll be surprised just how fast you can achieve high-quality results.

5) Take Time to Include Activation Webinars

Some customers will sign-up and stick around for a little while, but they’ll take little or no action. These folks are going to need extra encouragement to get up and running. For your business to survive, you’ll need to activate these fence-sitters, so they can start to see the value in using your product.

Here are several examples:

1)  For a dating app

•  Answer required profile questions
•  Upload at least one personal photo
•  Publish the completed profile

2) For a project management app

•  Create a project
•  Identify core steps/milestones
•  Share the project with team members

Once you’re confident about the actions that customers should take to see value in your product, invite those who haven’t taken these steps to a getting-started webinar. Your goal is to show them why it pays to move forward, and then how to take those first few important steps.

As with live demo invitations, you can automate much of the event planning and production process by combining several tools. All you need to do is show up each week and spend an hour moving your inactive customers into the active user category.

Product Education Litmus Test:  How Sexy Are You After the Sale?

Remember, your new sign-ups are more important than any would-be customer. These are the people who believed your promises, took a risk on your product and gave you their money. Now is not the time to give them half-baked learning materials like poorly crafted documentation – or worse, nothing at all.

All of your content is marketing – both before and after the sale. That means everything you create should be crafted with the intention of educating, helping, selling and retaining your customers. As Creating Passionate Users blogger and author Kathy Sierra says, it’s important to keep asking yourself: “Are you sexy after the sale?”


EDITOR’S NOTE:  This article has been adapted, with permission, from a post that appeared on the Intercom blog.

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About the Author: Ruairi Galavan

Ruairi Galavan is Senior Manager of Customer Engagement at Intercom, the world's first customer messaging platform helping internet businesses accelerate growth. With more than 15 years of experience in human-centered design, product improvement and training development, his perspective is shaped by a desire to nurture individual customer relationships, at scale. You can connect with Ruairi on LinkedIn or on Twitter at @ruairigalavan.

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