Many associations came out on the other side of the pandemic stronger than when they went in. The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research increased their online education revenue by 20% for the fiscal year ending in 2019, so they were already on an upward curve. But for the fiscal year ending in 2020, that revenue grew 101%. The Alliance’s president and CEO, William Hold, told their success story to Michelle Brien, vice president of marketing and product strategy for TopClass LMS by WBT Systems, during the Non-Dues-A-Palooza webinar, Revenue Success from Scratch.
Design thinking + TopClass LMS = digital transformation
Over 150,000 professionals have gone through the Alliance’s insurance and risk management courses, which are taught by insurance practitioners. Five years ago, the Alliance started their transition from classroom to online education. They invested the money once spent on manual tasks and processes—like paper evaluations and exams—into their TopClass LMS, instructional designers, and staff positions. Now, the Alliance develops content that works in both virtual and in-person environments. Classroom programs rely on digital resources, such as attendance and performance tracking, exams, and learning guides built into the LMS.
Will said, “Embracing a design thinking methodology in the production process was a total change in how we do business and it’s had immeasurable results. We have teams coming together, thinking through how the content is going to be taught, resulting in a huge improvement in products—ten to a hundred times better than what was produced in the past.”
We’ve all seen how associations that weren’t prepared to shift to online learning missed the boat during the pandemic. Will said online was a tough sell for the insurance industry’s older population, but the Alliance took advantage of the crisis and “did really well during the pandemic.”
A discovery about employers leads to a new focus on B2B sales
When you ask the right question, what you learn can lead to new strategies and revenue sources. In its course evaluations, the Alliance asked about employer reimbursement. They learned 96% of participants were reimbursed by their employer.
The Alliance decided to strengthen their relationship with insurance agency decision-makers: training managers, learning and development managers, and agency owners. They met with these people and learned about their challenges:
• Agencies needed to track employee professional development but couldn’t afford their own LMS.
• They didn’t have the resources for content creation.
• They found it too difficult to keep content updated and relevant.
• Because of budget cuts, they were focused on onboarding, not in-house education.
Will asked some of these decision-makers to serve on the Alliance board and help them design learning paths. The Alliance already had a few corporate pricing models—bulk purchases of registrations or credits, and custom course creation—but “one of the reasons we selected TopClass was to resell training.” He said, “We can host SCORM packages through TopClass and sell agencies access to a branded learning portal using a partition. I personally have not seen any other LMS replicate that as well as TopClass where you can literally carve out whatever courses you want, brand that to a client, and offer them their own instance of an LMS.”
The Alliance went to market as an outsourced provider of a corporate learning portal. Agencies can now create unique learning programs that are easy to track and customize. They can spend their time focusing on employee development and less time on administrative tasks. They can also build course plans for employees that are specific to their training goals and initiatives.
Subscriptions increase revenue while reducing administrative work for customers and staff
Some companies expressed interest in having the Alliance bundle content for them so they didn’t have to buy it on a one-off basis and deal with the administration of regular bulk purchases. Bulk registrations require lots of staff time going back and forth about seats and credits, plus having to manage different billing formats. In response, during the pandemic, the Alliance launched subscription-based pricing that gave an individual or company unlimited online access to designation programs and courses. They plan to offer a hybrid subscription for unlimited online education plus one classroom registration in a 12-month period.
They’re still evaluating the pricing formula. Since the subscription includes dues, they came up with the subscription price by adding the price of dues plus registration for 1-1/2 courses. Certification exams are included in the price. Members and customers prefer paying for subscriptions because if they don’t pass the exam (30% usually fail), they don’t have to pay for the course again—or ask their employer for that money, like they do with one-off pricing.
Subscribers save up to 62-67% a year when earning designations. They can also earn designations more quickly. Most companies only pay an employee for one course per year, so it usually takes five years to earn a designation. Now, motivated people can take more than one course a year with no extra cost to their employer.
Once someone earns a certification, they must come back every year for the continuing education they need for annual renewal. “Without that, I don’t know that we’d price subscriptions so low.” With a 96-98% certification retention rate, the Alliance enjoys a healthy recurring revenue.
Marketing to job roles with learning paths
Will wasn’t sure the Alliance could get traction on the learning path idea because it “wasn’t in the vocabulary of the insurance industry.” Employers associated the Alliance with specific programs or certifications, but they never thought about the Alliance from a learning path perspective. “Although our whole program is built on a competency framework, no one knew that was how it was set up. We learned a lot from that surprising feedback. We had to hand feed them these learning paths since no one was looking at us in a holistic way.”
The numbers tell the tale. The Alliance made a persuasive case for learning paths based on research on the sales and compensation of producers and agents. “For a $400 course, the potential ROI is $100,000 income for individuals and 100% growth in book of business or revenue generated for that agency. The ROI is insane when you put pen to paper, like 1000% on the cost of getting the designation.”
The learning paths are structured on job roles: account managers, producers, and underwriters. The Alliance made learning paths available with subscriptions to guide learners on what courses they should take. They’re also focusing their marketing campaigns on these job roles and using learning paths as a lead magnet on their website.
Will said agencies and individuals were thankful the Alliance invested in online education before the pandemic so they could pivot quickly. “We would have been dead in the water without it. During the pandemic, we added more content and sold it in a different way. We added more new people at a higher rate with subscriptions. Our registrations per user went up too.”
“I can’t say enough about our experience with TopClass,” said Will. “Without TopClass as a foundation behind what we were able to do and its flexibility, we would be so far removed from where we would need to be to be competitive in this digital landscape. We still have yet to find a learning management system to provide all the benefits that TopClass does at the price point at which they can provide all those benefits. WBT Systems really allowed us to leap frog and helped us elevate our game.”