Upselling Training

Many thanks to Dave Crowther for suggestion this topic: how to recommend and upsell training to customers.

Wouldn’t it be nice if each and every customer knew how to use the product (and the underlying technology) that we support? My clients find that about a third of their cases, on average, are how-to questions, so even if many (most?) are caused by unreadable user manuals and non-intuitive user interfaces, there’s ample opportunity to up skill what I like to call “naive” customers.

1. Create an environment in which it’s easy to gain knowledge

  • Improve the user interface. It may be the product that’s inept rather than the customers. Support needs to be the customer advocate to ensure that products are as easy to use as possible. Use the abundant information you gather during customer interactions to push for more customer-friendly features. (That won’t sell any training, but it’s a lot easier to sell training if customers feel well-disposed towards the product.)
  • Improve the product documentation. It won’t sell any more training than a better user interface, but it contributes to a good customer experience — plus, will save support untold hours of toil to construct a parallel repository of knowledge. In a future post, I will discuss conflating documentation and the knowledge base.
  • Create basic (free) online documents and tutorials. Many products benefit from a quick video on how to get started and how to accomplish basic tasks. You may be able to repurpose existing training materials, either webinars that were recorded or small excerpts of traditional training offerings. If the latter, think of them as commercials for the real thing. Customers will view them and some will choose to pay for the complete experience.
  • Bundle training into support offerings. Often the stumbling block for getting trained is budget. The support contacts would love to attend a training class but there’s no way they can get the budget to do that. If you cleverly include training credits into the support offerings this objection goes away (although the attendees may still have to pay for travel, and time may be in shorter supply than money!)
  • Encourage all new contracts to include a training component. Smart sales reps know what new customers need training and will include some in their contracts. Others may need some encouragement to do so.

2. Encourage the support engineers to recommend training

  • Create a method to identify naive customers. Good support engineers know within a few minutes of starting to work with a new customer whether they are in naive territory. Make sure everyone has a set of discrete tests to use to ascertain the technical skills of each contact.
  • Have them recommend a specific training event. “You need training” can easily sounds like “you know nothing”. Instead, suggest a specific training class, even a specific portion of a class: “I see that we have a system administration course scheduled next month in your area. I think you would find it very useful to learn to interpret the reports, which is covered on the second day. And I can recommend the instructor, who taught a class I took last year”.
  • Have them propose a range of choices. If the only recommendation is to spend $2,000 on the system administration workshop, the customer may feel put upon. If instead the recommendation is, “You can read the SysAdmin guide, especially chapter 13, or you could go to a class that would show you all the reports in action”, the customer feels (and is!) in control of the learning decision rather than forced to buy.

3. Create a partnership with the training group

  • Offer a structured way to send leads to the training team. While nothing replaces the personal recommendation of a support engineer, a training registrar can follow up with customers who displayed a need for training and offer options. The ideal setup is for the support engineer to mention the training and pass on the lead to the registrar.
  • Mine the support experience for training prospects. The case database is full of treasures: what features are causing problems? What products are popular? How large is the training market in Spain? All answered with a little help from support.
  • Carefully consider commissions to support engineers who sell training. In my experience, support engineers do not react well to direct financial incentives for selling anything, including training. They don’t like to consider themselves as salespeople, and they have a strong feeling of teamwork that does not sit well with the idea of individual commissions. At the same time, it makes sense to recognize individuals who can convince customers to get better trained. I’ve had good success with small individual prizes as well as team recognition events (sponsored from the training budget).

4. In extreme cases, intervene at the management level

Some customers need a a full-blown intervention to get the training they need. Ask the support engineers to flag particularly naive contacts to a manager, who can then reach to the contact’s manager to strongly recommend training — or replace the contact. This does not sound like an ideal start for a sale, but it is possible to turn a sticky situation into a positive, by focusing on the risk and opportunities for the customer. Go high in the hierarchy: budgets are much more malleable high up if the rationale is strong.

This would be an ideal time to admit to my (sorted!) past as a Director of Education. I found the support database to be an endlessly useful resource for our marketing efforts.

What do you do to recommend training?

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3 Comments

  • Peter Holt Reply

    Great advice! One caveat, before recommending a course ask what training they have been on. It’s not good, recommending a course they have already attended… and if they have attended training, recommend one on one consulting instead.

    • ft-admin Reply

      Excellent point! It’s also good to avoid recommending a course they hated for whatever reason!

  • Ceebu Reply

    Excellent article… most of the times support engineers don’t have ANY insight into what the training organization does and support / training end up being siloed (even though most times they come under the same service leader) – Being able to identify customer who might need help and offering training, takes customer advocacy to the next level… The idea of re-purposing existing training video’s to create free self help / kb and leverage them to market paid courses is excellent – Will work very well, when support engineers direct customers to those videos for more info.

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