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Why do so many software companies make it painfully difficult to understand how to use their tool?

I’m sure you’ve experienced this. In fact, it just happened to me yesterday morning.

Someone tells you about an exciting new SaaS tool that is going to help you grow your business. But when you pull up the website you quickly end up banging your head against your keyboard because you have NO IDEA where to start. “Nice promo video, but what exactly does this do again?”

For too many SaaS companies, the information about their products consists largely of generic, indistinguishable value propositions with a sprinkling of unique product feature that you don’t really care about.

But there is no clear explanation to get up to speed on what it is, who it’s for, and how to get started using it. MAYBE (if you are lucky) there is a cheesy promo video which doesn’t really tell you what the tool DOES.

You start to get frustrated, and then you see that they have a 14-day free trial.

“Great – I’ll just jump into an account real quick and figure out how it works. Should be easy enough!”

60 seconds later you have your account opened…and you stare at an unfamiliar dashboard, quickly losing hope as you realize there is no quick way to get up and running – it’s going to take you an entire day of trial and error just to get a general sense of what the tool does.

So you immediately cancel your free account and never go back.

If you are running a software company, chances are that you are losing a large percentage of potential customers because they are experiencing something similar. It’s hard to clearly explain what your product does and educate your customers on how to use it.

That’s why most companies don’t do it well. Not even Google or Facebook, which is why there are hundreds of courses that have been created to fill that gap, teaching people how to use Google AdWords and Facebook ads. Try logging into the Facebook ads dashboard and setting up a campaign, relying only on tutorials directly from Facebook. It’s basically impossible.

Related: The Top Customer Success Strategies Used by Successful Companies (Complete Guide)

What if there was a way to create a completely different experience?

A new customer signs up, and they get professional guidance on exactly how to get set up and how to see a positive result as fast as possible. They not only get educated on the particular features of your software, but ALSO come away knowing more about sales, marketing, finance, or whatever industry you are in.

Good news…

There is one main thing that the best software companies are using to immediately decrease churn and increase profitability. And by the way, it’s a BIG difference…

According to one study, a 1 percent difference in churn can have a 12 percent impact on company valuation in 5 years.

This is article will guide you through what that solution is and how to get started with it.

How online courses spur dramatic growth

Two of the main factors that contribute to a SaaS company’s success are customer retention and net promoter score. Basically, you want to make sure your customers can comfortably use your software well enough to stick around, AND have an amazing experience that forces them to share it with everyone that they know.

The secret sauce that helps with both of these? Online courses.

Outcome #1: Courses increase customer retention & decrease churn

For every customer that you lose to churn, you have to pay the cost of customer acquisition to replace them, which is generally 6-12x the monthly fee

And In your customer’s mind whether they stick around or not is a pretty simple equation – can they productively use your tool well enough so that it’s worth the cost and time of using it?

The biggest barrier to that is pretty obvious as well – not being able to figure out how to use the tool to get positive enough results to justify keeping it. Usually, this takes the form of them being confused, not doing anything with it, and then just giving up and canceling.

Improve the success of your customers, either during onboarding or on the back end, and you improve retention.

Outcome #2: Courses improve net promoter score

Online courses not only create a more positive experience when using your software – they also make your customers come away feeling like they took a ton of value from the whole experience.

It’s not enough to have a product or service that is decent – as Seth Godin says, your product must be remark-able (meaning it makes people want to talk about it) to be remarkable. You want to blow people away. Make them go “wow”. Be unforgettable.

For example, a couple of years ago I started using Leadpages to build landing pages. At the time I took several of their courses about Facebook advertising and email marketing and several other topics. I was blown away by them – they were the best courses I’d seen on those topics, and they were free!

Their courses led me to me using their software more, created an extremely positive experience for me, and made me refer all kinds of people to Leadpages. In fact, I STILL recommend people to Leadpages because of their courses. That has inevitably led to a ton of new customers for them.

More on how Leadpages and other companies have used online courses to achieve world domination here in a second.

Why online courses are the BEST solution

So now you know that online courses are a great option for reducing churn and improving net promoter score. But lots of things can help with churn. How do we know this is the BEST option?

The best part about online courses is they hit at least 4 different birds squarely with one stone.

  1. They reduce churn, as discussed. Particularly helpful with overcoming that initial sign up and get started barrier.
  2. They’re a major value-add for customers. Your email marketing software costs $47 / month, and then you build a world-class course about email marketing (that sells for $500 on its own) which you throw in for free to all your customers. 10x value added, instantly. Makes it a bit of a no-brainer, right?
  3. Content marketing. People come for the free courses and stick around once they start using your software. “Here are the 10 fundamentals of business finance…and here is how you can apply them using our software…”
  4. They’re extremely cost-effective. You only pay to create them once, and you can deliver them over and over again.

When you build a course, you build it once and it helps ALL of your current and future customers. Imagine how cost-effective that is, especially when you compare it to another common strategy that companies use, such as a free 30-minute demo or onboarding session.

You can invest in making a great course once. Or choose the route of recruiting, interviewing, hiring, training and paying full-time salaries every month to support the onboarding calls.

Courses can increase engagement and while simultaneously reducing the burden on customer support, in a way that the customer actually prefers. Reserve your customer success manager for the top 10% most valuable clients. And when a customer has a question – instead of them having to email support and wait 24 hours to get their question answered, they can watch a cool 3-minute course video that answers the question immediately.

3 examples of SaaS companies achieving world domination because of their online courses

Example 1:  Leadpages

As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of the way Leadpages uses online courses in their business. A few months back at a conference, I spoke in depth about those with the original CTO of Leadpages, Simon Payne. Apparently, they fueled the entire growth of the company with online courses for the first several years. It was one of the primary ways they built their customer base and a fundamental tool in minimizing churn.

You can check out how Leadpages uses online courses here and here. Some are free, and others courses cost $1,995!

How Top SaaS Companies Increase Customer Retention & Success using Online Courses

Example 2 – Hubspot

Earlier this year I spoke with Hubspot’s head of marketing about how they use online courses in their business. Hubspot invests a LOT in content marketing – chances are that you’ve experienced this yourself by reading some of the great content they put out.

Like Leadpages, Hubspot has an entire learning center of courses, and they even offer certifications.

How Top SaaS Companies Increase Customer Retention & Success using Online Courses

Example 3 – ClickFunnels

ClickFunnels uses courses a bit differently. They still have some courses and webinars that they use to get new customers, but they do two things that are slightly different.

  1. They use courses as a temporary value-add to create urgency. For example, when I signed up with them, they had an offer to include a marketing course that is usually sold for $500.
  2. They have really a fantastic support database which is essentially individual course videos that were made to show specific features or answer a specific question. This is a slightly different strategy than making a start to finish course but is also extremely effective. At first glance, these support videos might not seem like course videos, but they are pretty much the same thing, just structured slightly differently. For another company that uses this support database strategy well, check out Xero.

How Top SaaS Companies Increase Customer Retention & Success using Online Courses

Bonus Example 4 – Design Pickel (Service as a Service / Productized Service)

Not only software companies are using these kinds of online course strategies – productized service companies are also using online courses to grow their businesses.

Note: a “productized service” or “service as a service” is in reference to a company that offers highly structured and standardized services that are often recurring. Design Pickle offers unlimited small design work for $370 per month (and has been exploding since its inception).

Russ Perry, the founder of Design Pickle, wanted to create a course for lead-gen and as a new revenue stream. It was a perfect example of “here’s how our process works and how you can do it yourself, or you can sign up with us”. Essentially, it was training people to become customers, in an extremely valuable way, and also a lower-priced option for those who could not afford the monthly design services.

Here’s how he did it, and how it went:

  1. Russ pre-sold 15 spots to test the idea
  2. Then he created the content every week (using a weekly webinar for v1.0)
  3. After it was complete, he put it on autopilot. “Everyone is loving it and it’s great at showing the behind the scenes at our company” – Russ
  4. The first push for the course made $22,000
  5. The second push made $11,000
  6. Part of his strategy was to bundle the course with a free month of Design Pickle so that a certain percentage of the course customers convert into long-term design clients

How to get started making an online course for YOUR SAAS company

Ok, now you are convinced that an online course would be a game-changer for your company…where do you start?

1. First, to get your brain juices flowing, start thinking about these questions:

  • What is your customer’s biggest point of confusion? What’s their main sticking point?
  • What is the biggest obstacle preventing them from using your tool? For example for LeadPages, customers need to know marketing and how to drive traffic to the landing pages they create with LeadPages, or else they won’t get results and will inevitably cancel their account
  • Take a look at any analytics that you have – are people canceling right away? (typically because they can’t even get started). Is it 3-6 months later? (because they aren’t getting results).
  • What are your most common customer support questions/requests? (This is a great way to get a starting list of topics to cover)

Pro tip: Don’t just guess at the answers to the above questions, survey your customers! You can use tools like Typeform to make it super easy.

2. Layout a framework for the whole course at a high level

  • Here’s a simplified version of how we approach this with clients:
    • Who’s your customer avatar?
    • What’s their starting point?
    • By the end of the course, the client will be able to / will have accomplished…
    • Why do they care about that outcome?
    • In order to do that we need to cover these 10 points…
    • What compelling anecdotes or customer success stories can you share that are compelling AND informative?

3. Start recording

Once you know what your course should be about, it’s time to start recording!

The easiest way to get started is just hit record with screencasting software and start talking about your product, speaking to some of your answers to the above questions.

Some tools you can use to do this:

4. Upload your course to Thinkific Plus

The most important suggestion? Don’t wait to get started on this.

If you don’t start creating online courses to help your customers use your product, then they will go to your competitors who are already doing this.

Don’t want to mess with this yourself? Not super confident it would turn out well if you tried?

Book a call with us to learn how you can have a team of online course experts take care of it for you, building something far better and faster than you could on your own. Just bring your idea, and we will take care of the rest.

Grant and his team have been very, very good – I won’t lie. I’m impressed with their work. They’ve nailed every project I’ve put in front of them.” – Peter Shankman, NYT Bestseller, founder of HARO and FTN

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Grant Weherley is the Founder of Monetize My Expertise, an online course production company that helps entrepreneurs build, launch, and scale premium online courses.