September 1, 2016
by Chuck Frey
In card games, trump cards carry much more value and importance than any of the other cards. In the world of modern marketing, customer education is the trump card – it’s critically important to winning the game. Remember, companies that play their cards the best will always win.
It wasn’t always this way. In the world of traditional marketing, customer education was relegated to a post-sales role: Videos and product manuals that showed customers how to use, troubleshoot and maintain the product came after the purchase was made.
Today’s game: Self-service customer education
How things have changed: Customers today do product research on their own. They educate themselves about your product or service, locate and assess suppliers and compare product specifications… all on their own. As a result, customer education has moved to the forefront of the sales process.
As prospects gather information and review their options, they naturally choose the suppliers that do the best job answering their questions. Today, the winning hand for savvy marketers is content that delivers the right information to customers at the right time and in their preferred format.
Winning examples of customer education
Here are three companies that are winning at the customer education game:
- Indium sells industrial solder – quite possibly the world’s least sexy industrial product, yet it has seen a 600% increase in sales leads by training its sales engineers how to write blog posts that answer their target audience’s most important questions. This engineer-to-engineer approach is marvelously effective.
- GE’s Ecomagination website focuses on science, innovation and big ideas. In the process, it positions itself as a thought leader in the markets it serves. It has also become a go-to forum for education and discussion around environmental issues.
- Schneider Electric’s Energy University website provides a wealth of educational resources focused on energy efficiency. The company has discovered that making prospects smarter helps accelerate the sales cycle, because educated customers can make better-informed purchasing decisions – with less assistance from its sales people.
How to win the game with industry-leading content
How can you make a stronger commitment to customer education? Here are some tips to get you started:
- Go the extra mile to understand their needs: Develop personas for each audience segment you serve, and do enough research so you understand their needs at each step of the sales process. Talk to your sales people and customer support staff. Interview customers. Your goal is to deliver a winning hand of educational resources. There are no shortcuts.
- Focus on teaching, not selling. If you want prospects to consume your educational resources, they must be laser-focused on their needs, not yours. If they make an investment of time to view your educational material, it must deliver value to them. If you dupe them into viewing a glorified sales pitch, they won’t come back.
- Use data to refine your approach: By analyzing data generated by your educational content, you can identify which courses and information deliver the greatest value. Do more of that, and fix or eliminate what’s not working.
- Be brief. Respect your audience’s time. Keep educational materials short, relevant and easy to consume.
In closing, keep in mind the advice of Joe Pulizzi, the founder of the Content Marketing Institute:
“If we want to change our world through content marketing, we need to distinguish ourselves as the leading educational voices for our industry. No excuses.”
This post originally appeared on the Cultivate Communications blog.
Photo credit: Flickr user Troy Boucher
About Chuck Frey
Chuck Frey is the director of content marketing for Cultivate Communications. He is also the founder and author of The Mind Mapping Software Blog, the world’s leading website covering visual mapping. In addition, he blogs about creativity, productivity and personal development strategies on his personal blog. He has extensive experience in public relations, online marketing, content development and marketing, business strategy and creative problem-solving techniques. He is an avid photographer. You can follow him on Twitter @ChuckFrey.