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Why Knowledge Base Articles Aren’t Enough for Content-Based Enablement

One major gap as products come to market — and even once they are established — is the internal and external content strategy for customer enablement. And while most organizations have come to understand the importance and power of user experience (UX) and “ease of use,” many organizations grow far beyond $20–50M+ in annual recurring revenue (ARR) without a comprehensive, end-to-end strategy for effective content-based enablement.

In reality, a product cannot be considered a successful “solution” (a means of solving a problem or dealing with a difficult situation) unless the people using the product have the resources they need to ensure they fully derive value from the product; taking advantage of as many of the features and value drivers as possible.

The importance of effective user enablement

Consider the purchase of a modern refrigerator that doesn’t have effective instructions on how to use it. This likely means the customer will never use the embedded Wi-Fi capabilities, control its various functions with the mobile app or know how or when to replace its air and water filters. The bottom line? Without truly effective user enablement, the value of that new fridge begins to resemble that of a fridge from 1990, which in turn raises questions about its incremental value to the buyer!

Unfortunately, when it comes to how companies approach technology, there’s a similar problem. Many technology providers build great solutions, but the “instructions” that ensure customers derive full value from its capabilities are not presented effectively, or worse, were never documented at all (internally or externally).

Knowledge-based articles are just a start

Once customers start to complain that the cost-to-value is not adding up because the product is hard to use, companies often react by working to deploy a predictable set of items:

  1. Live in-person training offerings
  2. Text-based knowledge base articles (KBA)
  3. Structured online training curricula (typically traditional v1 online certification courses, which tend to be long and drawn out)

It’s a good start, but unfortunately, it’s just not enough in today’s digital market. In some ways, the three items above have become more limited in value over time.

In today’s world:

  • Most customers are no longer willing to pay for onsite live training, especially as more companies go remote
  • KBAs are a last resort for many end users, as they are flat, text-based on-click outputs and are hard to sort through and select
  • Most online certification courses are simply too long and cumbersome

Lastly, even when done well, these resources are typically not centrally located, making it difficult for customers to find and navigate to what they need to successfully use the product.

A holistic view of customer enablement

There is some good news! Instead of investing resources on building out the three items discussed above (and expecting them to change the game), you can deploy these resources faster and cheaper.

Instead of focusing on “documentation for enablement,” organizations need to focus on providing a holistic customer enablement experience in a unified central location (and no, it does not have to be built into the product!)

With new modern technologies, you can purchase a simple customer portal (and partner portal) that can be set up in weeks. These portals can be branded, organized, and easily hyperlinked into a company’s product lines and websites. Setting up these portals usually requires minimal to no engineering or technical resources.

Lightweight solution examples include:

  • Magentrix
  • mindtouch
  • SalesForce Community

Building out an effective customer portal

What should be included in a customer portal? A lot. The density gives the central location credibility and the variety gives the site practical utility.

A useful taxonomy of enablement content includes the following:

  • Knowledge base articles
    • Passing the test of time, this online documentation answers frequently asked questions
    • Can be categorized by tutorials, general information, troubleshooting, and use cases
  • Grab-and-go videos
    • Enablement “magic” to a population of users now increasingly familiar with turning to
    • YouTube for all things handiwork
    • Bite-sized, solution-based learning videos, and tutorials (up to 10–20 minutes)
    • Can include mini quizzes at the end of each video
  • Courses
    • Online courses, either short courses that address specific product use cases or long courses with a simulation that enable superusers to become end-to-end product experts
    • Short courses by use case with certifications (up to 30 minutes)
    • Longer certification courses with simulation for deeper topics like admin training (up to 60–90 minutes)
  • Release and hotfix notes
    • Quick, easy-to-digest product update information, so no customer falls behind on the latest and greatest enhancements
    • A place for users to see the latest release information and know what tech debt has been addressed
  • Installation and product guides
    • Weathered the storm PDF tutorials that many customers still seek to advance their product expertise
    • PDF guides on how to install the product based on the version number and use different features
  • Playbooks
    • An easy grab-and-use “bundle of material of goods” to help execute on a use case that quickly unlocks product value for customers and solves their true business problems
    • Based on a specific use case, build playbooks that bundle the various items above so an end user has a selection of content to choose from
    • Support assistance section (get away from email burnout and phone tag between customers and support reps to a true support experience with real-time updates and statuses
    • Include a section where end users can ask questions; hopefully, their question is answered with an existing piece of content (if it is not, allow them to open a support case that can be monitored in the portal)
  • Webinars
    • Thought leadership at the fingertips of your customers in an organized library
    • Highlight webinars that could help users with best practices
  • Blogs
    • Provide best practices and practical use cases on a consistent schedule
    • Highlight your latest blog posts that could help users with best practices
  • Other useful items customers may need:
    • Cloud uptime statuses
    • Calendar with upcoming releases or webinar information
    • Use case library
  • Customer Community
    • Peer-to-peer expertise collaboration spot
    • Once the above items are established, and you have the resources to maintain the new customer portal, it’s time to consider turning on the community features
    • A community can enable end users to ask questions to other end users and experts, start chat groups, take surveys and polls you have sent out, and interact with other users in real-time (i.e. the stack overflow model)

Here are two examples that demonstrate this strategy:

Did you notice anything that these examples have in common? Both are public sites — No need to hide your “secret sauce” anymore! Well, you may want some basic authentication for certain areas on your new portal such as your certification courses and community discussions.

We hope you found some of these tactics helpful for your own customer enablement strategy.

By John Brennan and Pejman Pourmousa. For more from John, listen to this podcast on scaling product led companies. For more by Pejman, read Why Create a Customer Advisory Board.

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