The importance of self-service education for customers and prospects

Profile picture for user barb.mosher By Barb Mosher Zinck August 2, 2021 Audio mode
Self help - help yourself. A deep dive into self-service education and training.


Everyone knows about the HubSpot Academy. It’s one of the places to go to get courses on marketing, sales, and service, using HubSpot tools or not. And it’s a perfect example of self-service education that companies should be developing to grow and support customers. Don’t have the budget or resources to build your own version of HubSpot Academy? There are still things you can do.

The benefits of self-service education

Eric Peters is the Growth Manager of HubSpot Academy. He shared some of his insights on self-service education in a recent article on the Product-Led blog, talking about the two motivational factors for self-service education: unit economics and consumerization of IT.

Unit economics, he said, is the internal motivation. For example, how much does it cost to acquire a customer versus the revenue you get for that customer? How much are the support costs? And how can you leverage educational tools to reduce those costs and reach profitability faster?

The consumerization of IT relates to how easy you make it to learn your product; how easy is it to use? Here, you think about self-service tools that decrease the learning curve and increase confidence.

Self-service education is also proactive. Peters said it “solves the problem before it becomes a problem.” Work closely with support and customer service to learn where customers face issues or challenges, build educational content to resolve them, and provide it to customers before they happen.

Self-service education doesn’t have to focus only on using the product, either. It can also focus on strategy, helping people grow their skills at a higher level, hoping that when it comes time to implement a technology, the vendor will be top of mind.

The many types of self-service education

There are many types of content you can create to provide self-service education:

  • Blogs - How-tos, did you know, x ways to do y
  • Videos - Product videos
  • Knowledge base - In a user-friendly, readable format
  • Webinars and Podcasts - Live and on-demand
  • Tutorials and Product Tours
  • Whitepapers and ebooks
  • eLearning courses
  • Events - Customer only, or open to everyone / paid/free

How you move forward and start your self-service education strategy depends on many things. It’s impossible to do every format at once (unless you have a massive budget and many resources). And some content types take longer than others to develop. To develop a strategy and implementation plan, you need to work across the company - marketing, sales, service, and support - to figure out the best place to start and how to grow in a way that benefits existing customers and potential new customers.

Peters mentioned a couple of things to keep in mind when you are creating educational content. First, you need to keep the content consistent across all formats and up to date as your product (and strategies) change. He also mentioned the need for accessible content and content “that delights.”

There are a couple of ways to ensure your content is consistent across formats and teams. First, you could create a central team responsible for developing educational content. The team would include marketing, sales, service, support, and dedicated content creators, including outsourced resources.

The other approach is a centralized content repository, with content fed from departments and systems where it’s initially created. Every department then has access to all the content and can mix and match it for the channels they are responsible for. This approach is similar to how a CDP centralizes customer data and feeds it back to other channels.

Measuring the success of your self-service content

Like any marketing program, you can’t create self-service educational content and assume it’s all great. Some content will work better than others; some formats will perform better than others. Some content and formats will work better at different points in the customer lifecycle. If you don’t measure performance, you won’t know what’s working.

Like any content you create, you measure performance. The fundamental metrics to look at include traffic, time spent with the resource, how much of it was consumed, where viewing dropped off. With live webinars and events, how many people attended, for how long, engagement levels, feedback surveys, and so on. These metrics will tell you if the content is good and where and how to improve it. But you also need to look at performance in terms of how well it supports your business goals.

When customers use self-service education, you need to understand how it helps reduce support calls, lowers customer churn, increases advocacy and positive feedback through reviews, customer stories, referrals.

When it’s used to bring new customers on board, you need to understand how it helps with conversions. You also need to understand what content and content formats work best at different stages of the purchase journey.

It’s here you can leverage a lot of self-service education in your content-driven experiences. Include the education that works best at the customer’s purchase stage and the formats and types of content that work best for the specific customer (which requires you to understand that prospective customer as much as you can).

My take

Every product company should offer self-service education. Most of the self-service education we see and read about comes from SaaS product companies and companies that are product-led. And that makes sense. If you offer a free trial or a freemium version of your product, you need to give customers the information they need to use your product successfully. The same with SaaS companies that don’t offer a free version - you want to give customers the tools to use your product.

But any company that offers a product can provide self-service education. Product-based education improves product usage for any product. It helps reduce support costs, helps customers use more of a product, and encourages buying more products or add-ons. Even non-product-based education helps all companies. If you think about it, how much more likely would you purchase a product from a company that helps you create better strategies overall than one that just offers their product?

The best products aren’t just about their products; they are also about their self-service education.