Training for customers is a growing trend across most industries. The practice of charging a fee for that training is growing even faster. A recent BHG study reported an 18% increase in the percentage of customers who charge their customers and channel partners for training since 2014. Over 40% of companies who provide training recoup at least some of their training costs through fees.
What could be driving this trend?
For years, we have been hearing about a skills gap in technology and manufacturing. Academicians and social scientists have been admonishing industry to solve the problem, while all the time, it has been happening under their noses. The factors that drive the trend are, in fact, the solution.
- Rapid advances in technology make constant learning essential. The half-life of skills today is about 2-3 years, even faster in industries like medical devices, high-tech, pharmaceuticals, and manufacturing.
- Skilled professionals take responsibility for their own development and expect to pay for learning that improves their earning power. Moreover, they look askance at free training and have a dim view of its value. To them, free training is precisely worth its cost.
- In effect, charging fees for training channel partners passes it on to their customers, who pay higher rates for premium service.
- In many fields, a college degree has less value than technical certifications and academia lags industry in the development of those skills. Aspiring professionals can reach full productivity faster and for at lower cost. Those who pursue degrees may find they need to complete certifications in addition to the degree to be marketable.
- Consumers have shown a willingness to pay for training that they perceive as valuable. The market for learning in personal and professional growth is booming. Companies that have developed extensive content in those areas can find a ready market.
The Benefits of Training Customers
When we look at the value of training for customers, it helps to separate them into their respective audiences. Training channel partners who provide services to customers is a much different business from training consumers. Training customers to manage complex technical and industrials products is different from providing learning to consumers.
Sales teams, distributors, resellers, and franchisees who know your products and services and how to sell them produce revenue. They have shorter sales cycles, higher customer satisfaction, and faster revenue growth.
The knowledge embedded in the “road to the sale” and the “customer journey” is based on science and market analytics. Progressive certification as a sales professional can build a strong foundation of knowledge and build confidence.
In many industries, companies create partner certification programs and base their status on product certifications, financial stability, and customer satisfaction. Trust in the company brand flows both to and from channel partners.
Many products require customers to receive training before they can use them, and re-training as the products evolve over time. Most companies use a “freemium” model, where basic training is free, but more advanced learning is not.
Training and reference materials must be available on demand. The delivery system must also accommodate mobile devices, and it should not be more than one or two clicks away. Such systems require maintenance, and subscriptions or per-course fees will help defray the cost.
Today’s informed consumers demand excellent service, and they expect information about products to be available on demand at no cost. Market research shows a strong correlation between consumer learning and customer satisfaction and retention. Repeat customers are much more profitable than acquiring new ones. Learning that shows customers new ways to get value from their purchases increases customer loyalty.
Consumer learning can also reduce customer service costs. It is much less expensive to produce a step-by-step guide and a short video than to staff a call center to answer questions.
Is Fee-based Learning for You?
Even if you can offer paid training, that doesn’t mean you should. We can provide some things to think about before you make the leap. These are what we consider essential requirements.
A learning delivery system integrated with a secure eCommerce platform is a requirement. Vendors have built single-purpose learning management systems designed specifically for external audiences. They provide embedded eCommerce or easy integration with many excellent payment platforms.
Enterprise systems like SumTotal, Saba, and Cornerstone provide segmented delivery for external users with eCommerce integrations. Our advice is that if you have an enterprise system or are acquiring one, you need not buy a single-purpose application. All-purpose platforms are always in a race to catch up with innovators, but they always get there.
Your technology must be able to deliver learning content in any form and on any device.
If you don’t market your learning solutions, they won’t sell. Plan your marketing budget and campaign, and expect to continue it indefinitely.
If your learning content is not top quality, it will not enhance your company brand. Our recommendation is to do it well, or not at all. If you have relevant content for your employees that hits a homerun, adapt it for your external audience.
Start Small and Grow
The best approach is to experiment with small offerings and fine tune them as you go. Your plan can accommodate learning from a lot of small mistakes than one big one.
Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.