Free Training

If you try to give something away, people will turn up their noses. But if you charge for the same thing, you’ll deliver more. And the more you charge — up to some point — the more you will ship.

I learned this lesson in the training, or Customer Education, department of high tech companies. For example, at my current employer (not the one whose “product” is visible in the computer display), when a customer buys our software, they automatically get a certain number of “training credits”. Spend more dollars on product and you get more training credits. Those credits can then used, and are valued, exactly like dollars except they can only be used for training. They expire in one year and, if not used, they’re gone.

But a surprising number of those credits are never used. Customers let them expire and they’re gone.

Why?

I would have to say that, apparently because the customer didn’t buy spend money for them, because they didn’t say, “I’ll spend more money so I can get some training,” their perception of the quality of training they can get with those credits is very low.

“If they’re being thrown in without my having to pay for it, those ‘credits’ must not be worth anything. If it was valuable, they’d charge real money for it.”

Our training is expensive. If you don’t have any of these credits, we’re top dollar. The minimum booking is for six people — if you have fewer than six, you still pay for six — and two days duration. You can pick and choose chapters for us to train you on but if the run-time drops below two days, you still pay for a full two days.

The bill will be more than $5000. Often — very often — it is many times that. On rare occasions, we’re up into six digits for an extended program.

We’re expensive. (And we’re good, I should add. Very good.)

At an earlier employer, management decided all the training would be free. All you had to do was call to reserve a seat and then show up. We even included lunch. And we had a dismal record. Nobody signed up. Nobody came.

“It’s free. It can’t be any good.”

One customer actually said that, word for word.

“But we will be glad to pay you if you can have someone sit down and show us how to use the software.”

So we changed the web page that described each of the courses. Where the web page used to say “Free” it then said $2500 or $3500 depending on the course and, within a month, we had to start scheduling additional classes; we were booked solid.

Sometimes when I get fed up with some of the less-than-stellar decisions a company makes about how to run a training business, I think of quitting and starting my own. The biggest impediment to doing so is getting through the sales process with all its approvals and “Who is this?” and “Why aren’t we talking to the company we bought the product from in the first place?”

Those questions come from senior management who has to approve the expense, not from the engineers who will receive the training.

So I ask myself, why not go directly to the consumers, the engineers themselves?

Why not price the product so those engineers won’t need to get a manager’s approval? Why not price it so they’ll spend their own money because this is good for their career, not just for this job? They can expense it later, after the fact, and see if the company will reimburse them.

How much would you spend, from your own pocket, without getting a promise — ahead of time — that you’d be reimbursed?

Would you spend $5000 for two days of training out of your own pocket?

No? You wouldn’t?

Neither would I.

That’s just too much. I can’t afford it. I fear it would just take so long to earn the additional money back that the training helped me to get that I would never know for sure if it was because of that training or not.

Ok, so how much would you spend?

Would you spend ten bucks?

Sure.

How about a hundred?

Maybe.

So, what do you think of a $10 course versus a $5000 course on the same subject? Which one do you think would be more valuable?

See what I mean?

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