Customer Education: Paid vs. free education. Which is better?

Customer education is an activity you do to help your customers as well as yourself. You educate them to get better business results.
However, education comes at a cost. For example, if you create a customer academy, you pay for strategy, content creation, content maintenance and optimization. You may need an internal or external specialist to handle the education. You might even need an entire team – depending on your needs and ambitions.

How will the educational activities be paid for?

Education is intended to back up sales, marketing and client support. So you’ll be looking for funding resources in the budgets of these departments – in short, you’ll be increasing costs. Alternatively, clients can pay for the education on their own.

Pros and cons of each option

There is nothing in the world that would be just black and white. The same applies when it comes to Customer Education. Both options – paid and free – have their merits.

different directions

Free training

What are the advantages?

Most of you have experience with free training. The advantage of free customer education is that it is affordable. The customer doesn’t have to pay for it, and there’s undoubtedly a greater chance that many more people will see your educational content. Digital content that doesn’t require registration or login will also be easier to find through search engines and boost your SEO. These are big positives.

If you require registration to a system or filling out a form, you’ll create a barrier, but on the other hand, you’ll get the email address of a potential customer. In this day and age, when web cookies in browsers are becoming more complicated to work with (read more at, email contact to a potential client can come in handy.

What are the disadvantages?

The main disadvantage of education that is free for your customers is, of course, that it is you who have to pay for it.

Another disadvantage is that people who don’t have to pay for the training are unlikely to complete it. In short, even if your educational content is perfect, their motivation to finish is lower if they haven’t invested money in it. People are curious and happy to sign up, but completing an online course, for example, takes time and some effort – and that’s also an investment on the clients’ part.

Paid training

What are the advantages?

If customers pay for the education themselves, it doesn’t put a financial strain on your budget. Plus, if your education courses and training become popular, they can bring additional revenue into your business. Customers may also assume that paid products have more value.

What are the disadvantages?

In addition to the disadvantages already mentioned, such as reduced accessibility, there are other issues to consider. Offering a paid product also creates higher expectations for quality and support from the side of the paying customers. This may therefore incur additional costs for you in terms of course production and maintenance.

A model of sustainable customer education

Customer education is a key activity for the success of a business, but it also should not negatively impact the company’s operations and put a strain on the budget. Education should be sustainable for both sides.

Let’s scale the intensity of each type of educational content according to productional and operational costs. Of course, the quality of content production always matters.

We ranked content types from the cheapest to the most expensive:

1. Web articles

2. Webinars

3. E-books

4. Knowledge bases, FAQs

5. Onboarding in SaaS (depends on processing)

6. Filmed training videos (depends on processing)

7. Self-service online courses (depends on content)

8. Assisted online courses (online course with tutor support)

9. Group trainings and workshops

10. Individual consultations and trainings

How to create a sustainable customer education model?

Let’s start with a few questions. What is the potential of a business with the customer? At what stage of the company-customer relationship are we currently at (onboarding, acquisition or support in using the product, etc.)? How many customers can potentially participate in the educational content?

Typically, in the customer acquisition phase, you need to reach a larger number of potential customers. At the same time, you need the content to be easily accessible. Therefore, educating potential customers through articles, e-books, webinars, videos or self-paced courses seems like a good solution. Except for webinars, these are all automated activities that can work for you day and night and can have a large impact.

It always depends on the type of product that you’re offering and the value every single sale has for you. Is it a license for €20? Or is it a €100,000 contract? Calculate how much would each of the training activities cost, how many clients could potentially participate and how much value they can bring.

Customer education that requires in-person participation of your experts will be more expensive than scalable digital courses, articles, etc. There is certainly an important question to be asked: whether these activities should more likely be paid for.

Every business model has its own specifics, and it is impossible to find a perfect one-size-fits-all model for sustainable customer education. However, it makes sense to invest your time and energy in developing a strategy for financing it.