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There is a lot of discussion in education services organizations over what content should be free, and what should be fee-based. I refer to this as the “free to fee continuum." While it’s becoming more common to offer free content, the age-old fear has been that if content is available for free, it will negatively impact the fee-based business. Fortunately for education services, there is a concept that can help counter this fear called “land and expand.”

Land and Expand

In a land and expand sales model, product is offered for free (land) and then based on upsell and cross-sale opportunities, other products or features are sold (expand). The land and expand concept is akin to a gaming model in which playing at the basic level of the game is free, but to advance to higher levels, a fee must be paid. Here are a few ideas for how your education services business can encourage customers to transition from consuming free content to paying for fee-based education offers.

#1: In-Product Performance Support

In-product-performance-support (IPSS) is a tool that provides users with content-based help if they encounter problems while using the product. The type of content they receive is context-sensitive and is based on the point within the product at which the user “is stuck.”

In an example case, a TSIA member company uses IPSS technology that the company developed, called “Learning Connector.” The Learning Connector connects the user with the e-learning library, which is the repository from which the context-sensitive content is served. The user receives up to 20 free “accesses” to content. If the user attempts to access content after the allotment of free accesses has been used, they receive a pop-up message indicating that a subscription can be purchased that enables continued connection to context-sensitive help from the e-learning library. This is akin to the “try it you’ll like it” philosophy and is a viable option for exposing customers to useful content that is available for purchase.

#2: Learning-as-a-Service

In another example, a member that developed a learning-as-a-service (LaaS) offer used a similar approach. Access to the LaaS content is available through a variety of subscription offers. Low-level, basic content is provided via a free subscription, while all other content is provided via various types of fee-based subscriptions (e.g. individual, enterprise, etc.), This model parallels online gaming models, where users may play Level 1 of a game for free, but must pay to gain access to more advanced levels. In the world of education, the concern with this approach has been the cannibalization of other education offers. Fortunately, the TSIA member who provides this LaaS offer has not experienced cannibalization above and beyond levels that have occurred historically.

#3: Social Media

In an increasingly more connected world, social media is a great way to generate interest about your products and services. Education organizations are using social media to set-up certification communities on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These platforms can be used to make announcements about the certification program, create study groups, drive engagement and share content that enables users to interactively prepare for certification exams.

YouTube is another social media channel that can be leveraged in the free-to-fee continuum. Posting short training videos is a great way to whet a learner’s appetite. It provides a snippet of information that is useful, but leaves the learner wanting more. In addition to learning a tip or trick, the video provides visibility to your fee-based offerings. In the case of one TSIA member, they found that posting content to YouTube increased their classroom training enrollments.

Looking at the Big Picture

The common theme in each of these methods is to provide free content, but with a clear, beneficial upsell or cross-sell. By enticing your learning community with a sample of what they can expect from your fee-based offers, it will be easier for learners to estimate the ROI, and easily make the decision to buy.

For more about these tips, be sure to check out my on-demand webinar, “The State of Education Services: 2015,” where you’ll learn the key trends affecting education services, as well as how to land new and expand existing subscriptions.

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Maria Manning-Chapman

About Author Maria Manning-Chapman

Maria Manning-Chapman, is the distinguished vice president of education services research for TSIA. She has more than 25 years of education experience in the high-technology industry. Maria is well versed in the dynamics of running an education services business and has held leadership positions in operations, virtual learning, business development, curriculum development, delivery, and partner management over the course of her career.

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