How to Start an Academy with Limited Resources, Bandwidth & Budget

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Andrew Brown ·

Feb 07, 2023

Customer Success professionals are under more pressure than ever.

Manage more accounts. 

Secure more renewals and customer expansion opportunities

Increase retention and recurring revenue.

Drive product engagement through the roof. 

The list goes on. 

Here’s the thing: The economic headwinds and premium on efficiency mean company leadership is asking Customer Success Managers (CSMs) and other customer-facing teams to do more with less. They want to scale, but they don’t want the extra headcount—or salaries—that come with it. 

This need for scale in a cash-strapped world is why we continue to see the rise of digital customer education and customer academies. CSMs need help, and that’s what these functions aim to deliver. 

Here’s the problem: Resources are few and far between. Budgets are tighter than ever. Leadership teams are more risk-averse than they’ve been in years. 

Said another way, launching an academy in today’s climate won’t always come built on a foundation of resources, bandwidth, and budget. 

And that’s ok. 

While companies like HubSpot and Salesforce have set the bar exceptionally high—a bar they’ve set with big teams and even bigger budgets—you don’t need a blank check to get your customer academy off the ground. I promise.  

Here’s how to launch a digital customer academy without a ton of resources, bandwidth, and budget.

Run a Needs Assessment 

One of the biggest benefits of digital customer academies is that you can mold them into what you, your business, and your customers need. 

Trying to speed up onboarding? You can tailor your academy to that outcome. 

Want to reduce support costs? You can focus on that. 

What about scaling your Customer Success team? You bet. 

No outcome is out of reach with a digital customer academy, but starting out with such a wide scope can feel overwhelming, which is something you can’t afford (literally) at this stage of the game. 

So, instead of trying to be the answer to everyone, run a needs assessment to determine what you really need to get started.. 

What’s a Needs Assessment? 

A needs assessment is an evaluation of your customers’ knowledge and understanding of your products as well as the skills they require to achieve their intended outcomes. A needs assessment for digital customer education helps identify gaps between customers’ existing skill sets and those needed to unlock the product’s full potential. By understanding the needs and gaps of your customers, you can develop targeted learning content that helps them succeed. 

Here’s how to run one: 

  • Identify your target customer: This may sound obvious, but don’t fall into the trap of saying you’re “training your customers.” Of course, you are training your customers, but when you’re starting with limited resources, you’ll want to narrow your sights. For example, you could target new customers who need help with onboarding. Conversely, you could target existing customers to help them use advanced features.

    From there, you can pinpoint their unique challenges, product use cases, and the content—and experience—they’ll need to achieve their goals.
  • Define your objective: Again, your objective isn’t simply to train your customers. It’s bigger than that. What are you really trying to accomplish, and what’ll have the most tangible impact on the customer experience and your business? 

    Are you trying to decrease support costs? Certify more customers? Drive product engagement through the roof?  Offload responsibilities from your CSMs so they can manage more accounts?  Get a higher percentage of customers to access and complete basic and advanced training? 

    The options are endless, but pick one goal and run with it. Don’t try to move mountains from the beginning. 
  • Gather and analyze data: There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s one of my favorite sayings. When it comes to running your needs assessments, don’t be afraid to connect with customers and ask them what they need.

    Are they struggling with certain features? Does onboarding take too long, or is it too manual and labor-intensive? Does their CSM seem too overwhelmed to truly dedicate time to them?

    Data from customer feedback, support calls, surveys, or other relevant sources will help you understand where your customers currently stand and, most importantly, what your academy needs to look like for them to find it valuable. 

With your needs assessment complete—at least this one—you can start laying out your plan, creating engaging content, selecting your learning management system (LMS), and launching your digital customer academy. 

That may still seem overwhelming if you’re on this adventure alone. But it doesn’t have to be. 

Instead of operating under the assumption that you must roll out a “world-class” academy from the start, focus on building a minimum viable academy (MVA)

How to Build—and Launch—a Minimum Viable Academy (MVA)

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was your academy. While it’s good to have a “dream” academy with all the bells, whistles, and integrations you could think of, that might not be on the table right now. And that’s fine. 

Don’t focus on what could be. Instead, focus on what can be today. That’s your MVA. 

Here’s how to launch one: 

Define Core & Essential Features

Learning management systems (LMS) come packed with features—and they can all help you deliver the best outcomes to your customers. But you don’t need them all right now.

Remember: The more features you want from the get-go, the more resources, bandwidth, and (maybe) budget you’ll need to get your academy off the ground.  

For example, many academies are completely customizable, including Northpass, allowing you to tailor the look and feel of your academy to other brand touchpoints, including your website and app.

Should you customize your academy? Absolutely, but maybe not at the beginning, especially if your budget isn’t massive and time is of the essence. Instead, tap into the LMS’ out-of-the-box and ready-to-use templates to get your first few courses off the ground. 

Use What You Already Have

Content creation is a huge pain point we repeatedly see from those launching their academy without much support. 

And I get it. You want a vast content library, in-depth courses with detailed learning paths, and certification programs that help your customers achieve product mastery.

You’ll create these eventually, but don’t operate under the assumption that you need to create this level of content to get your academy off the ground. 

Instead, see what you already have—think of existing help articles, decks, and webinars. These assets are free game and can provide a treasure trove of content. 

For example, you can take a demo video your sales team uses and break it up into microlearning lessons separated by quizzes. Similarly, you can take existing blog posts or articles from your help center and put them into your LMS’ rich text editor. Boom. Content. 

If you are truly lacking content (which is fine), you’re not out of luck. An ever-growing list of free tools are at your disposal to accelerate the content creation process and enable you to churn out engaging resources without a ton of bandwidth. 

ChatGPT, for example, can help you write video scripts, outline articles, write course descriptions, and more. Meanwhile, tools like iorad make it easy to create interactive product walkthrough videos you can in lieu of full-blown video production. 

Launch Early & Iterate 

Now take your out-of-the-box LMS and the content you have, and launch your academy with some promotional tactics, e.g., post on social media, send an email or two, and ask your CSMs to bring up your academy during their meet customer meeting.

Again, you don’t need a ton of bandwidth or budget to let your customers and company know what you’re up to. 

Once your MVA is off the ground, prioritize feedback from a small group of customers who you know are actively engaged with your academy. Ask them what’s working and what’s not. Is the content hitting the nail on the head? What would they like to see moving forward? 

Take these nuggets of wisdom and make small iterations—your academy will grow quickly. 

As you learn and iterate, keep your eye on the prize (the goal you set earlier). Look to prove your academy’s worth and share your early successes with the leadership team; engage them early and often.

I bet you’ll be surprised how quickly they get on board—and how quickly they’re willing to give you more resources and budget.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Even the most successful companies are finding themselves in a pinch right now—just Google “recent layoffs.” While the widespread layoffs are unfortunate, they’re painting a clear picture—one that’s telling a vivid story about efficiency. 

Moving forward, but especially in 2023, as the world weathers the down economy, you and other customer-facing teams will be asked to do more with less. A digital customer academy can help you do that. 

And the good news is that launching one doesn’t take a crazy amount of resources, bandwidth, or budget.

About the Author
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Andrew Brown

Andrew is a Content Marketing Manager. When he's not creating, you can find him watching the Buffalo Sabres, obsessing about Scandinavia or exploring NYC.

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