Building the business case for customer education at Heap

How Christy shifted Heap’s mindset, won over executives, and added headcount

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Jonathan Anderson
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This is part of our Best Of series: Who better to discuss tracking metrics for customer experience than the experts at data companies? We rounded up a few experts and quizzed them on what they’re tracking, how they’re tracking it, and how all of us can make the most of those metrics.

Christy Hollingshead runs Heap’s Customer Education team which covers everything from training to documentation and in-app guidance. She built Heap’s department from the ground up, including setting strategy, hiring, and executing the programs. This post covers how to build the business case for scaling a robust customer education program.

When Christy joined Heap, a new world of data analytics opened up to her. A Customer Education veteran, Christy had seen how siloed data could be across teams and systems, and how difficult it was to get insights from. But because Heap lives and breathes data, it wasn’t an afterthought—data was front and center. 

Christy was Heap’s first Customer Education hire, and her goal was to build a world-class education program. To succeed, she needed to define what “world-class” meant. Based on prior experience, she knew one thing for certain: world-class did not mean covering every topic. That approach only overwhelmed users. To Christy, “world-class” meant a program that drove company OKRs. That meant her program would need to kickstart the SaaS flywheel: from user adoption to renewals, and, ultimately, to subscription revenue.

Christy's headshot in front of a brick wall
“It’s easy to generate ideas about what you could do to solve any given problem. But…you haven’t put parameters on how you might solve the problem…starting this process with the goal in mind limits the scope of idea generation and instantly allows you to prioritize the ideas that will get you there.”

Creating killer content

To figure out what content would impact those metrics, Christy focused on two components: the people and the data. She ran user interviews internally and externally to discover what lessons people believed were important. Then she looked at the Heap’s behavioral data to see what actions led to long-term success, for both individual users, and at the account level. These two sets of information often gave her a greater understanding of her users, but they could also contradict one another, and she realized that common knowledge was not always based on hard evidence.

As Christy worked through this research, she began each project by consulting Heaps’ overarching goal —retaining customers. From there, she worked backwards to uncover which product actions lead to renewals so she could discern when users saw value. This allowed her to prioritize the specific user actions that spur success, and she built her first Customer Education course, Heap 101, to drive those actions.

Building the business case for Customer Education

As users began to engage with the 101 Course, Christy was able to utilize the behavioral data set to prove the value of her content. Beyond the personal satisfaction (and it was satisfying), how better to make the business case for a Customer Education team?

  • First, she focused on the company’s OKRs. What is the executives’ main concern? Revenue.
  • Next, she created a data-driven storyline, showing the correlation between the users that had interacted with her Customer Education content and those who later renewed.
  • Finally, Christy spoke to what she had already accomplished, and more importantly, to what the future could look like with a larger Customer Education team.

By speaking the language of the executive team and showing them how customer education content impacts adoption and leads to renewals, Christy was able to shift the Heap mindset: Customer Education wasn’t a cost center, it was a revenue driver. The Sales team began recommending education content within their process, and Christy was given headcount to build on what she had accomplished. 

Christy’s experience offers a few insights for the rest of us: 

Don’t set the goal. Find the goal. 
  • Beware of the distraction of vanity metrics—the number of users who visit your education platform doesn't matter if the content they consume doesn't cause them to act. Reframe the problem, and find the metrics that matter to your organization and to speak to them.
Work backwards to move forwards. 
  • Once you've found the goal, build content that supports it. 
  • You don’t need to show new users everything and you can’t simply build content for your most popular features. Instead, find which features drive adoption and renewals, and build content to support them. 
  • Speak in the language of your executives. There’s no better way to make your case.


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