In Episode 16 of The inSide Scoop on Customer Success, we tackle a very important topic: Building a Community Strategy with Customer Education. Listen in as our VP of Customer Success and podcast hostess with the mostess, Anika Zubair, talks to Adam Ballhaussen, Director of Customer Education at Docebo.
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Show Notes + Links:
Anika Zubair (00:49): Welcome, Adam, to the podcast. Before we get started with today’s topic, can you please tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself, your experience in the community and customer education space, and how did you start at Docebo?
Adam Ballhaussen (01:04): Yeah. Thanks, Anika. Thanks for having me. I’m really excited to chat today and happy to share a little bit about myself. My name is Adam Ballhaussen. I’m a Director of Customer Education here at Docebo. When it comes to getting into the community and customer education space, like many professionals in the industry, I think I kind of found myself just falling into the opportunity to join an education services team and just following opportunity after opportunity that led to where I am today.
Adam Ballhaussen (01:35): I didn’t really chart a direct course on this path, but I’m so excited to be in this space. The journey really started back when I joined a company called nCino. It’s a cloud banking software company, and I joined a relatively young education services team that at the time had an education strategy, but it was mostly instructor-led. Our trainers would actually travel on-site to banks to train on our software.
Adam Ballhaussen (02:01): As many in the space I’m sure can relate to, I joined the team and started to wear many hats, trying to create content and resources to enable our trainers while simultaneously trying to convert that curriculum into an on-demand asynchronous e-learning style based training. Thankfully, the organization did have an LMS, but there just wasn’t much strategy there. I got to over the span of a few years develop a strategy for how we leveraged the technology at our disposal to deliver an on-demand e-learning curriculum.
Adam Ballhaussen (02:32):Developed that into a certification program that we used to certify customers, partners, and employees. In 2018, we outgrew our prior LMS and that’s when I was introduced to the incredible folks at Docebo. Started working with them and actually became a Docebo customer. We moved our entire learning experience over to Docebo and saw some great success with them. And simultaneously through my time at nCino, they actually launched a community for our customers shortly after I started within a few months.
Adam Ballhaussen (03:02): The community was a part of our education services team, and it really grew to be the central place that our customers could go to access training, documentation, access our support team, share ideas and inspiration with one another. We really scaled our e-learning curriculum along with our community. And when I found the opportunity to do the same with this role at Docebo, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been there for a little over a year.
Adam Ballhaussen (03:28): And as we’ll get into, we just launched our community this past year with the help of yourself and all the great individuals at inSided. We’re enjoying developing and growing our community and continuing to use our own product to train our customers and help them be successful.
Anika Zubair (03:47): Amazing and loved hearing the backstory as well, because I think it’s a unique route that you did take into education, but also how you’ve kind of tied that into community as well and how you’ve made a central hub for your customers to have a one-stop-shop, whether it be learning new things, asking new questions obviously fired through the community, but it’s so important obviously that that stems from customer education. I’m curious, what inspired you to work in customer education and then obviously build customer education into community?
Adam Ballhaussen (04:20): Sure. As I shared, I just kind of found myself taking one opportunity that led to another, that led to another. It wasn’t an intentional shift or career decision that brought me into this space, but I’ll share at least why I’m inspired to stay in this space and continue to be in customer education and community. So much of it really is about the people and about the mission that we have every day as education leaders and community leaders.
Adam Ballhaussen (04:49): This space is so collaborative and encouraging, and there are so many resources out there that others in the space are willing to share and help, because that’s what we’re all trying to do every day, right? I’d say the biggest thing that I love about my job and about being in this space is the focus on the customer and focus on individual and their needs to be successful in their roles with a product or with a service. Every day you get to wake up and ask, what does the customer need? What do these individuals need?
Adam Ballhaussen (05:24): And you get to have a real, tangible impact on creating content, developing solutions or resources that can help answer those very basic needs and those very basic questions. I just love the accessibility that we have to make a real impact and change in the way that individuals work and perform in their roles.
Anika Zubair (05:44): Yeah, I love that. I also just love that more businesses are realizing that there is a human behind everything that you’re doing. I love that communities really drive and push forward the human element of all of this. Focusing on your customers, focusing on the human element really makes people inspired to do better at their jobs because there is actually a human on the other side of that contract rather than just a logo.
Anika Zubair (06:11): I do love hearing that that’s where this all stemmed for you. A few other warm-up questions so our audience can get to know who you are, Adam. I’m curious, are you an Apple or a Google person?
Adam Ballhaussen (06:24): Oh man, this one’s tough to say. I’d say nine times out of 10, you’ll find me being an Apple person from hardware to software. The one caveat I’ll share is with productivity software. I would choose Google Sheets, Google Docs, Gmail, Google Calendar over Apple products any day. I’m very thankful that Docebo operates in the Google Suite. But yeah, Apple. I got iPhone, MacBook. I’m an Apple fanboy, just not for professional work I’d say.
Anika Zubair (06:56): I agree 100%. I just think that Apple hasn’t fully figured out the collaborative software yet. The next question is dog or cat?
Adam Ballhaussen (07:06): See this one’s stuff as well, because I would say that I mostly identify as a dog person, but I currently only own a cat who I love dearly. Her name is Slippers. I really have love for both breeds.
Anika Zubair (07:20): Okay, cool. Thanks for sharing a little bit more on the personal side. Let’s jump into today’s topic and talk all about how building a community strategy with customer education in mind is really how people should be going about the community-building space. Because I know that’s what you’ve done at Docebo and also kind of your history and experience has also shown as well. But a lot of our listeners today are probably just getting started or maybe thinking about community.
Anika Zubair (07:46): When do you think a SaaS or software company should start thinking about community or community strategy?
Adam Ballhaussen (07:56): Yeah. Well, as you said, hopefully, these listeners here are listening because they’re already thinking about it and that’s a good sign. Because I think that when it comes to thinking about a community or really your community, I’ll kind of spin the definition there, I think you need to be thinking about your community of customers or consumers or your audiences from day one, right? They should be at the center of every decision you make regardless of what department you’re in or what team that you’re on.
Adam Ballhaussen (08:23): And when it comes to a community strategy, as we’ll talk about more here, I see community or a community platform and a community environment as being one part of a greater customer education or customer enablement strategy, right? It’s a foundational element and one of the building blocks, but it’s not the only one.
Adam Ballhaussen (08:45): I think it’s important from day one to start asking yourself when you should introduce a community or a space for your customers or your audiences to connect with one another because there are certainly plenty of benefits that they can gain from that connection with one another. But it may not be that you should lead with a community, right?
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Adam Ballhaussen (09:04): If you don’t yet have a knowledge base in place for your product or service, if you don’t yet have an onboarding curriculum or an on-demand e-learning environment that your customers can go to to learn about your products or services, you might want to think leading with one of those offerings. Even with an instructor-led training strategy, it might be that your customers could benefit more from having trainers educate them through the onboarding process more so than engaging with the community.
Adam Ballhaussen (09:34): I’d say that you should think about your community strategy from day one, but be really intentional about asking what your customers need at that moment in time, what their greatest pain points are, and consider whether or not a community is a right solution to address those needs.
Anika Zubair (09:48): I really love hearing that, because I think a lot of people automatically jump in saying, “Oh my gosh, I have customers, or I have a need for customers engaging,” or something, but there has to be a strategy behind it. As you said, there has to be some sort of knowledge base. There has to be some sort of tactical parts of your thinking already in place before you can even expand on education or a community strategy, which is so, so important. I think a lot of people jump the gun there.
Anika Zubair (10:16): But also coming back to education, because we’re talking both community and education, should customer education departments take ownership of community at all times? I know that’s something you guys have done, but curious if community should sit in the education part of a business.
Adam Ballhaussen (10:29): Yeah. I think at the very least, I believe strongly that there needs to be a close tie between a customer education team and strategy with a community team or strategy. In terms of ownership overall, there are a lot of different companies that are running successful communities from a lot of different teams. You’ll often see community aligned with marketing. You may even have a standalone community team that rolls up into customer success and is more parallel to customer education rather than falling under it.
Adam Ballhaussen (11:01): I don’t think that there’s a single recipe for success in terms of where your community team and individuals fall in the org chart, but there are a few things that I think you have to be cognizant of and plan for when determining where your community team sits.
Adam Ballhaussen (11:16): And that’s access to the right resources from a marketing standpoint to reach and target audiences and have access to a tech stack to engage and bring in those audiences to your community, direct access, again, as I said to customer education and your knowledge-based team, so your technical writers if you’re a software company, ensuring that you have very close alignment there in the content strategies of those teams so that the community can help bolster and engage and help scale those content engines.
Adam Ballhaussen (11:51): And then finally, direct access to customer success, professional services, and support because those are the teams that have the closest pulse on the needs of the customer. Again, I think the most important question you can ask when developing your community strategy is, what do our customers need? What are the biggest pain points for our customers today, and what can we do to help address those?
Adam Ballhaussen (12:14): You get that insight most directly, most immediately, and most organically by being aligned closely with customer success, support and professional services, because those teams are talking to customers every day and they hear the voice of the customer most directly and can give that feedback to you so that you can prioritize and execute the appropriate strategy.
Anika Zubair (12:34): I love everything that you just said. I just took a ton of notes. I was just saying, what do your customers need and also how do you address it, is probably the best first step I think in planning community strategy as you’ve already kind of highlighted and making sure you’re speaking to the right internal stakeholders. I think a lot of people when building community are always looking at external stakeholders about like, okay, let me deliver this for my customer or get something done for my customer.
Anika Zubair (13:01): But sometimes the internal stakeholder knows just as much as asking a customer. Like you said, the professional services team, the customer success team, they’re speaking to the customer all the time and they are that internal voice of the customer, which is so crucial to make sure you include in your community strategy. But you also mentioned quite a few different steps in how to start community strategy. What would you say is the first or most important priority in creating a community strategy? What’s the second? How do you prioritize really?
Adam Ballhaussen (13:33): Yeah, I think you have to start with the end of mind and set clear alignment at an executive level and a leadership level of what business objectives you’re trying to drive or that need improving. First, you have to align on what those objectives are and determine if the community can help address them.
Adam Ballhaussen (13:55): At this point, we’ll assume that you have identified the right metrics that you’re looking to drive, the right impact that you’re trying to have with your customers, and you’ve aligned on the fact that the community itself can help move the needle in at least one of those areas. I think that’s really the greatest priority. And from there, it’s true and that you have the right resources and plan to execute and start to offer whatever it is you’ve determined you need to focus on.
Adam Ballhaussen (14:27): I think the best way I can describe this is by giving a pretty clear example for us here at Docebo. There are a lot of different flavors of communities. And when you talk about a community strategy, there are a lot of different needles that you can move with a community. You could be more focused on the advocacy and engagement side of your strongest customers. You could be focused on aligning with enablement and education and really trying to help improve and bolster the expertise of your customers on your product.
Adam Ballhaussen (14:59): Or you could simply be looking for a marketing tool to help engage and draw in new audiences through thought leadership. Those are just a few flavors and examples of what communities can do. For us, we started with a goal of building raving fans, building advocates, and we want to drive advocacy and engagement. But we couldn’t just launch a place to help identify customers who want to serve on webinars or case studies or help sing the praises of Docebo from their success without first ensuring that all of our customers’ needs were met.
Adam Ballhaussen (15:36): And we realized that there was a big gap in our customers’ understanding of our product innovation and our new releases. Customers were having trouble keeping up with the pace of innovation. We have monthly product releases, and we got a lot of feedback out from our customers that it was difficult to keep up with those and difficult to adjust and change their strategies as our product evolved.
Adam Ballhaussen (15:58): Our initial focus with building a success community was to focus on improving transparency of our monthly product releases and improve the enablement that we were providing around those monthly releases. Building our community on inSided, we were able to use a lot of tools like events and product updates and specific discussion categories that we could provide our customers to be able to be aware of what offerings we have and what content is out there and also engage directly with us in conversation about those releases.
Adam Ballhaussen (16:31): That’s just a very tangible example of an area where we identified a need or an ultimate goal that we needed to get to but realized there were some gaps in between and decided to address those in-between gaps before we can get to that ultimate goal of driving advocacy, engagement, and loyalty.
Anika Zubair (16:49): Yeah. A few things that you said there that I really loved, which is building a fan base almost or raving fans and advocates of your product. And that obviously comes together in a community space, but you did also mention some gaps that are missing and that you guys are working on as well. And I noticed earlier you mentioned also the successful launch of your community, which is exciting, but a great community obviously starts with a strategy, which you’ve already highlighted. And then it takes execution as well.
Anika Zubair (17:18): There’s definitely some work to be done. How many people at Docebo helped you launch the community, and how many are helping today? Is it like a multiple department effort? You mentioned the cross-functionality of it. Curious how it’s working today.
Adam Ballhaussen (17:33): Yeah, there were a lot of teams involved before the launch and there are even more teams involved now that we’re live. I’d say that from the early stages. Going back to what I shared with the first step of creating a community strategy, there was a lot of involvement at the executive level and leadership level aligning on what it is we’re trying to get out of a community and what needs are present that we need to address with our customers. That helped even in our vendor selection process, right?
Adam Ballhaussen (18:02): Because there are different vendors who can offer different types of solutions or different features and functionality that might align better with a certain strategy. It was really important early on to plan with our leadership what the needs were. And then there was a huge need to work directly with our customers. When you ask how many people at Docebo helped launch the community, there were an endless number of customers who we were surveying and polling and getting on calls with asking what they wanted and what they’d like to see.
Adam Ballhaussen (18:31): We ended up having a group of 28 community founders we called them who we had conversations with and meetings with leading up to the launch of our community. It was vital to have their direct input on what we built into the community, because ultimately it was for them. We wanted to build not only for them but with them. And then there was obviously collaboration across IT and our customer experience team to get the platform up and launched.
Adam Ballhaussen (19:00): We also had obviously some great help over from the folks at inSided in our implementation and launch. We were able to launch our community in six weeks from implementation kickstart to our soft launch. And then another month out from that, we had our full launch. It was a quick implementation with relatively few hands involved during that project.
Adam Ballhaussen (19:24): But now we have customer experience support, professional services, our product team, our product market team, all very heavily involved in the community, helping us create content, make customers aware of issues that there might be in the product, providing enablement on releases, helping drive ideas and ideation in the community space, and ultimately, every day continuing to drive customers to our educational content that my team is responsible for creating.
Anika Zubair (19:54): I loved hearing that by the way, Adam. When you said you were building community with your customers, not necessarily for your customers, I think that that’s a great takeaway piece, because it’s so important to make sure you include them in the process. Like you said, you were surveying them. You were asking them what they actually wanted. What value did they see? What kind of content did they want to see? How often should things be happening in the community? All of this is so important.
Anika Zubair (20:18): Because aside from obviously getting people to come to your community, which is the first step is like getting people to show up and see what you guys are publishing, it’s super important to keep people engaged over time and keep people coming back again and again and building community with your customers is obviously a great way to do that because they are seeing the value from day one and they know that you’re building with them as well.
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Anika Zubair (20:42): That kind of leads me on to my next question is all around content creation as also, how do you continue to post great content in a way that keeps your customers engaged and keeps them coming back? Did you guys have a content strategy plan? Did you work with marketing? Was that a part of the community strategy? Can you speak to that a bit?
Adam Ballhaussen (21:01): Yeah. Yeah, I’m happy to. But, Anika, before I… Well, it’s kind of ties into this question, but it’s kind of building on the whole concept of building with and not just for. One other magical component that I think that process unlocks is it generates buy-in and ownership in your customer base of the community that you’re building, right? We saw such high-level engagements during our soft launch into our full launch from those community founders because they were invested and they had helped us build.
Adam Ballhaussen (21:40): You can plan as much as you want for what content that you’re going to create that I promise I’ll get to, the content that creates as a company and the offerings that we’ll provide in the community. You can plan that very tact and very strategically. What’s a little bit more difficult to plan and predict is the value and the magic that your customers will create in that community space.
Adam Ballhaussen (22:03): One way that you can ensure that you’re capturing as much of that as possible is by generating that buy-in and ownership in your customers so that they are going to the community to share ideas and best practices, and they’re thinking about the community first when they have questions or when they need help from others. Our content creation strategy has been bolstered so much by the ownership and involvement of our customer base in our community because of some of those early seeds that we planted by including them in the building process.
Adam Ballhaussen (22:37): I’ll move into the content creation and generation part. I’ll say that over the past few months, we launched our full community platform in May of this year, and we’re recording this now in November. And throughout that time, as I mentioned previously, we’ve been really focused on communication around our product updates and our new functionality around releases.
Adam Ballhaussen (23:02): That’s involved a great deal of collaboration with our product marketing team and our product teams to ensure that we have the right post plan and the right strategy in place to share that awareness and share content related to our monthly release enablement. Looking into next year, we’re now creating a content plan that’s a bit more focused on customer onboarding. We have a lot of really great resources out there that our professional services team uses to help onboard and enable our customers.
Adam Ballhaussen (23:31): But a lot of that knowledge is sort of siloed and left right now to one-on-one interactions between our professional services team and our customers. A lot of the content that we’re looking to start bringing into our community in early 2022 is content that can help our customers collect inspiration and ideas around how others have used our product and what others have done before them throughout onboarding, and then ultimately just best practices and guidance for standing up a learning management system and creating a learning strategy.
Adam Ballhaussen (24:05): Since we are an e-learning company, that’s a lot of the content that we’re focused on throughout next year and a content calendar has been really the core of that content planning.
Anika Zubair (24:16): Yeah. I think it’s so important to have that plan and strategy in place like you said, and just being able to forecast that a little bit. Because in order to engage your customers and keep them coming back and encourage some level of deeper conversation or interactions between your customers is to make sure you’re thoughtfully using content in a great way, which I think you guys have a great plan by the sounds of it. I’m excited to see what the Docebo community comes up with next year with that content plan.
Anika Zubair (24:45): But you also mentioned earlier, and I want to come back to this because it’s so important, is building a community with your customers, not for them. I totally agree. I think a great community thrives when you’re building together. You mentioned this time and time again, but as one last question for our listeners, can you maybe give them a little bit of insight into how to build a great community with your customers? You mentioned surveys before, but any other tips that you might have?
Adam Ballhaussen (25:12): Yeah, totally. I think this also goes back to the very beginning, what I mentioned around getting close alignment with customer success or customer experience, professional services and support. Talk to those teams that have the closest relationships with your existing customer base and get an understanding of how to identify not necessarily even the happiest customers, right? Because you don’t want to just like only have good feedback coming in or customers who don’t have any criticism for you or any areas for improvement that they can identify.
Adam Ballhaussen (25:46): It’s not just fine, you’re happiest customers, but it’s finding your customers who are committed to the partnership and the relationship that you have with them as a vendor and who are willing to be productive and be constructive in their feedback and criticism. We found a couple of helpful tools there. One was just looking at our NPS scores and was sponsors over time.
Adam Ballhaussen (26:09): We identified a few different segments of customers based on our NPS data that we then followed up with their account managers or their CXMs to see if they might be willing to share some feedback and get involved in our community planning. Another is our CSAT scores from professional services or support.
Adam Ballhaussen (26:29): Customer satisfaction surveys have both quantitative and qualitative data and filtering through some of that and seeing the types of feedback that certain customers were providing were really good hints and insights into who we might want to involve in those early round of beta users or what we ended up calling community founders. From there, we identified that list of customers.
Adam Ballhaussen (26:51): Worked with their CXMs to help identify the champions of those organizations and s