Jim Obsitnik is the chief executive officer at Cadmium, a software-as-a-service provider that brings events and education technology together. He believes in the higher social calling of learning and education and has spent many years in the learning space. Jim also holds an MBA from the Wharton School with a focus in marketing, which makes him an excellent guest lecturer in our learning business MBA series.
In this midpoint episode in our seven-part series, Jeff talks with Jim to get his expert perspective on strategy, product development, the commonalities of software-as-a-service and learning businesses, the relationship between revenue and learning portfolio diversification, and more.
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[00:20] – Introduction of Jim
What It Takes to Succeed As a Learning Business
[01:21] – What do those leading and working in a learning business need to know or be able to do to be successful?
Know your customer really well and whom you’re trying to serve. Also, know what value you bring to the table. For learning businesses specifically, it’s about knowing who that learner is—not only by the types of content they engage with but also the types of customers they are, particularly generationally, because different generations engage with content in different ways, according to Jim.
First is knowing your customer. Then understand what your product is. In the case of learning businesses, the product is the knowledge and the content. If your product isn’t of the highest quality, then chances are your learners will go find the content somewhere else. And, even if your content is accurate, if it’s not engaging and compelling, then you’ll start to see drop-offs. The move to on-demand learning and leveraging the Internet and digital technologies has helped to evolve the overall learning landscape.
I’d encourage [learning businesses] to always think about the connection back to the business, about the mission that your organization is on, about your customers, and, ultimately, how revenue is generated. If you can connect the dots there, then you can have a much better conversation with your executives about how you are helping to achieve the mission and generate revenue. But you’ll also have a better understanding of what is going to move the needle for your customers in terms of compelling, value-added content and how you deliver that….Jim Obsitnik
Knowing Your Customer
[06:20] – When it comes to knowing your audience and perspective customers, how do you know you actually know them? What are some of the signs to look for?
Because customers are ever-changing, Jim doesn’t know if a learning business can ever fully know them. Rather, knowing the customer is an iterative, on-going process. Cadmium, where Jim is CEO, is a software-as-a-service technology provider. What Jim loves about the SaaS business model is that the focus on service forces you to put an emphasis on your customers. The good thing about the Internet and Internet technologies is how easy it is for someone to engage with you. The downside is, if you don’t get the service part right, you can quickly lose people.
With service, you have to build your organization focused around understanding the customer while being very agile in that understanding. You have to focus on getting to know your customer and understand that if you don’t truly engage with them throughout your entire process, then you will miss out on something because customers are ever-changing.
SaaS is relevant to learning businesses because, fundamentally, learning businesses are building technology products and digital assets. Especially when it comes to things like on-demand learning programs, it’s important to get representative users and customers engaged in the development process as early as possible. Also, make sure that whoever’s work touches the development process in your learning business hears directly from the customer rather than a product manager or someone else who’s interpreting what the customer is saying.
What I have found in my career is that having filters is not a good thing because people are people, and people interpret different things differently. And if you truly want to innovate, if you truly want to create, if you believe that having multiple minds come together to create something is better than having one mind creating, then you need to have everyone listen in on what customers are saying.Jim Obsitnik
Awareness That Revenue Diversification Can Equal Learning Diversification
[12:04] – In a learning business, revenue diversification can equal learning diversification, but organizations have got to see that connection and connect the dots. How conscious are organizations of both the challenge and opportunity?
Jim says it runs the gamut. Some customers know their strategy and understand why it makes sense that learning happens in multiple formats and at different times (some on-demand, some live), and they see that is linked to their revenue streams. For other customers, Jim and his team need to help connect those dots, both at a strategic level in conversations they have with executive directors, CEOs, and COOs and also with people who are the “feet on the street” doing the actual work.
They’re trying to help both people who are doing it day in and day out and the executives understand how portfolio diversification is intimately intertwined revenue streams. Ultimately, it correlates back to the business and generating revenue so you can achieve whatever mission is that you’re on as an organization.
[17:55] – If you’re looking for a partner to help you achieve your mission, check out our sponsor for this series.
The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed the merging of events and education for organizations across the globe. Organizations have realized that synergizing their education and events strategies produces immeasurable benefits, but they need a technology solution that facilitates that merge.
Cadmium is focused on providing a full suite of technology solutions enabling organizations to meet the changing environment head on. From a host of event technologies to integrated learning management and content creation tools, Cadmium offers everything an organization needs to generate revenue and drive engagement.
Learn more, and request a demo to see how Cadmium can help your learning business at gocadmium.com.
Learning Technology and an Overarching Strategy
[18:49] – When you think about your most savvy customers and how they’re using learning technology as a leverage to get a return on investment, are there things they do that you wish other learning businesses would embrace?
Jim says some customers have a good understanding of their entire strategy. Oftentimes, the biggest disconnect he sees is that many organizations think of their events (whether physical, virtual, etc.) as separate from what the learning team is doing. While they require some different skill sets, he sees organizations deliver so much more value when events and education are thought of together. Organizationally, events and education may still be separate, but there should be an overarching strategy that links the two.
Check out what the recent data says about what percentage of organizations have a formal, documented strategy related to their virtual events in The Virtual Conferences Report 2021.
You can create a comprehensive strategy that ultimately diversifies your revenue streams. I believe diversification of revenue streams leads to lower risk for your company, so you’re not reliant on just one single revenue stream.Jim Obsitnik
Advice for Learning Businesses
[21:48] – What advice do you have for a learning business that’s looking to grow to the next level?
There has been such dramatic change since early 2020 with COVID. Jim empathizes with organizations and learners. It has been and still is difficult because of the uncertainty and disruption that has occurred in our daily lives. Having said that, he thinks learning businesses can help calm things down by coming back to strategy. Strategy sometimes is viewed as overly complex, but it can actually be quite simple. Strategy is simply a methodical way of how you view the world.
Jim recommends the simple act of writing down your strategy as a first step. Although it will be imperfect, you can iterate. But, with it written down, at least you’ll have an anchor point when it comes to strategy, and you can then make better decisions about your technology and who you want to partner with.
Jim recommends learning businesses “don’t try to boil the ocean.” Rather, find the immediate pain points that are connected to your strategy, and go solve those. As you’re looking at whom you work with to help you execute on your strategy—especially when it comes to technology and service providers—make sure you know what value they bring to the table now and also think about their future-proof potential as well.
[26:28] – Wrap-up
Learn more about Cadmium at gocadmium.com, and you can find Jim on LinkedIn. Jim welcomes the chance to talk, and he can bring his years of experience in the learning space to bear in any conversations.
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Other Episodes in This Series:
- Learning to Get Down to Business
- The Strategy and Marketing Episode
- Studying Innovation with Mary Byers
Episodes on Related Topics: