By Fraser Deans
Let's make a wager.
I bet you $5000 that within 2 minutes, I could make one of your product managers, customer success agents or sales reps speechless with a simple customer query.
No? Don’t like those odds?
Well it turns out you’re making that bet every day.
When staff can’t answer customer queries bad things happen. Take these two situations:
Customer: "I read on your website that I can get emailed a daily report. How do I do that?"
Rep: “Let me check with my manager.”
Rep: “Thanks for waiting. Here’s how you do it.”
Every time your team says "Let me check with my manager" the confidence in your customer crumbles and up swings the churn graph. Sigh.
Prospect: “Do you offer custom branding?”
Rep: “Let me get back to you on that.”
--PROSPECT NEVER RETURNS CALLS--
Every time your team says "Lemme get back to you" you lose the sale. Ouch.
Let me tell you ‘ouch’ is an understatement. Both these situations have happened to me.
The SaaS businesses we love (Basecamp, Slack etc) have all built teams of experts. Those teams have recognised that even their most explanatory products need people to explain them.
They understand that staff aren’t their typical users and so educate them from the ground up – correcting any wrong assumptions and confirming any right ones.
So here’s your goal: have a team that can tackle any question a customer can throw at them.
Now you understand. Product knowledge training is critical for the success of your business.
… ensuring all your employees are experts on your software is no mean feat. Especially considering that agile SaaS companies are often releasing software changes multiple times a day!
Here’s what you need to consider.
All companies need to offer great employee induction (even scrappy startups). Parts of induction can really rip the soul out of new employees, I remember sitting in health and safety training ready to gouge my eyes out.
Product knowledge training should NOT be like this.
In fact, product knowledge training is the MOST exciting part about induction. Here you’re teaching new employees what they are going to be building, supporting or selling in their next few years. This is what they signed up for.
Allocate a ‘product buddy’ for each new employee: a product manager, designer or engineer who knows the product back-to-front. In the first week, set up time for the product buddy to walk through the key customer journeys, explain the customer value and answer any stupid questions.
Here’s another great tip: start product knowledge training even before the employee's first day. As Peter Kazanjy says...
“When people are headed into a new role, they have energy and enthusiasm around your organization. Channel that into learning.”
Give employees simple tasks and resources to learn from before they even walk through the door at 9am Monday morning. Set them up with a demo account and let them play around with the software themselves.
Train your staff early.
Software companies don’t stand still. We’re told to innovate, fail fast and make mistakes. Our markets are constantly shifting, our businesses are continually pivoting.
As a result, many software-as-a-service companies deploy multiple software releases a day.
How on earth does your team keep up with all that?
Simple… make product knowledge training continuous.
If you can make training become an organisational habit your team will never be asked a question by a customer they can’t answer.
Find a cue point within your team's workflow that you can hook product training into.
Do you develop in sprints? Introduce sprint demos at the end of a sprint get the whole team around to show of the new features.
Deploy multiple times a day? Many team messengers such as Slack and HipChat have integrations that allow each deployment to send a message to the team telling them what went live. A super simple, automated way of keeping everyone up-to-date.
Don’t use team chat? Send out a daily email informing the team about all the great new features that you deployed.
Train your staff continuously.
‘Training’. Shudder. A word that fills even the most hardened corporate veteran with anxiety.
And quite rightly. People are busy. We don’t have time to sit in seminars with Angela from HR (“C’mon Angela, I know how to pick up a box already!!!”).
The secret to injecting quality product knowledge training is to make it accessible and digestible.
Blended learning is a great approach for this. It recognises that James from IT and Alan from sales prefer to learn in different ways. It also recognises that training with different purposes is better conducted with different methods. Seminars may be appropriate when you’re training staff on the product from first principles; but not so great when all they need to know is you removed an outdated feature.
Think Agile too. Agile learning delivers the training exactly when it’s needed in a very focussed way. Agile learning resources take seconds to consume and are initiated by your employees in their time of need.
Bite-sized learning is like candy for our brains. We set out and completed a goal, even if it was tiny. It helps us form positive feelings around the experience - and it’s just enough for us to want to come back for more.
Training needs to be blended, agile and bite-size.
Last week I heard a wonderful customer story about Tesla, the ground breaking electric car company.
One of their customers got married but they had a rather unusual honeymoon.
Rather than flying off to a distant corner of the world to celebrate, as most newly-weds do, they toured the British Isles in their Tesla. How amazing!
Success stories are infectious.
They turn into great word of mouth advertising (Proof: I’m sharing that story with you here!).
These Tesla success stories are share by all employees. Expert employees will enthusiastically talk about how your products have enabled your customers to be better.
Success stories have another important side effect. They make your employees believe in your mission and your solution to fulfil that mission. Belief builds confidence.
Train your employees on all the great customer success stories.
As the legendary Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War…
If you are ignorant of both your enemy and yourself, then you are a fool and certain to be defeated in every battle.
If you know yourself, but not your enemy, for every battle won, you will suffer a loss.
If you know your enemy and yourself, you will win every battle.
Companies filled with experts know the market inside and out. They know the companies operating in your markets. They know which companies are direct competitors. They know which companies are complementary.
The best staff know the products that those companies offer (allies and enemies) and they can talk at length with prospects and customers about the pros and cons.
When a prospect asks “Why is your software better than Company X?”, be knowledgeable about your competition so you can confidently position your solution as the best for their needs.
Venture out beyond your own walls to understand the software environment that you’re competing in. Train your staff on the SaaS software in the marketplace.
Know your enemy.
As Abraham Lincoln once said...
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.
Spending time on product knowledge training is time worth spending.
A team qualified to answer any customer question is a formidable force.
Put these steps in place and you’ll be well on your way to growing your own team of experts.
Sharpen the axe.
Oh, I almost forgot… if you’re looking for tools to help you achieve great product knowledge training. Training that is bite-size, agile and can be part of a blended delivery, check out Nickelled. Nickelled transforms your SaaS team into product experts through step-by-step interactive guides.