Over the past few months we have been conducting some intensive research and analysis of our customers. We conduced a large survey to our mailing list and received over 800 responses, about 50% were customers who had purchased a course for $1,000 or more and 50% were leads who decided not to buy but did take some of our free courses.
After completing this survey and analyzing the results, we continued to dive deeper by conducting phone interviews with over 20 individuals. This group had a similar profile of those who had purchased vs those who decided not to purchase.
What we learned has been incredibly helpful and has helped us to change our business and deliver more of the kinds of product our customer want.
The biggest takeaway: The majority of our customers think our courses are too expensive. When asked about the option of removing instructor interaction, most think we should do so if it means we can lower the price and offer courses in a more on demand or self-study format.
How we have reacted: We’ve already started converting some of our top courses over to this new format starting with Marc Rosenbaum’s renowned Deep Energy Retrofits Course. Instead of a scheduled session which happens once a year, this course is now offered as a self-study on demand course which students can begin anytime. Replacing hand-graded assignments with quizzes and self-study work untethered Marc from having to participate in the course, which in turn made it possible for us to lower the sales price over by over 60%. This drastically improves both cost and availability for this course for our customers.
Changes at HeatSpring: The past few months have been a difficult time at HeatSpring. Our business has slowed considerably, with the second half of 2016 at about 50% lower revenue than expectations and than the same period in 2015. As a result of this, we’ve had to lay off all of our wonderful staff,and cut costs wherever possible to stay in business. We have now been in business for 10 years and this is the second time we have been through a slowdown like this.
In the past few years we have seen a convergence in online training among media publishers, industry associations, manufacturers and competing training organizations. There are now many low cost, or free online training alternatives available and this is a big reason why we have seen our enrollment numbers fall in 2016. This is combined with a general slowdown in business for our customers due to pre and post US election uncertainty, causing their customers to delay projects. In addition, our customers have seen flattening in growth in the commercial and residential markets within the green building industry.
We are not alone in experiencing this slowdown, we have confirmed with four other organizations within the solar and green building industries that their training business was down in similar numbers in 2016.
This was a big reason why we decided to conduct this survey of our customers, to try to understand the situation from their perspective and solicit their advice on what we should do.
Despite all of the difficulty, I am still feeling very positive about HeatSpring and our business. The positive news is that our students still love our courses, with average student ratings among all courses at 8.6/10. The survey results indicated this as well and there is a huge amount of valuable knowledge in our course library that can continue to make a difference. The need for education is not going away, but being receptive to the changes in the market and adapting are a necessary part of staying relevant.
We’ve started off 2017 at a strong pace and are seeing exciting interest in our solar courses as we begin the year. We will continue offering instructor led sessions of our most popular courses and begin transitioning less popular courses to self-study on demand style courses at lower price points. I believe this transition is in the best interest of everyone, both our expert instructors and the students within our industry.
I would like to thank everyone who has responded to our survey and especially those students who took the time to speak with us on the phone about these decisions. I’d also like to thank our wonderful instructors for their understanding during this time of transition and for all the work they have done building these great courses that students continue to love.
Summary of Survey Results
Who are our customers – job titles: Most respondents (57%) are at the top of their company and are either business owners, c-level executives or managing directors. Engineers make up approximately 30% of the survey respondents.
Experience in solar or green building: Years of experience was fairly evenly distributed, but most respondents have been working in solar or green building for several years as opposed to entry level. The largest segment (27%) had 2-5 years of experience, 21% had 6-10 years of experience and 23% had more than 10 years of experience.
Reason for taking training courses: Most people (78%) take training course for self-development, followed by career development and promotion (51%) or future job opportunity (35%). Less than 30% people use the courses to get continuing education credits. Accordingly, similar percentage of people (76%) are paying for the training by themselves.
Typical pricing for training courses: Most people (39%) are paying less than $200 per course. 23% pay between $200 and $500 for training courses. Only 20% people typically pay more than $500 for training.
Features people care for training course: 1. Most important one is interesting/ relevant topics 2. Followed by qualification of instructors and proper design of the course/ workload. 3. Continuing education credits are considered less important among all the features.
Experience with HeatSpring and satisfaction with our courses: In general, students are very satisfied with the HeatSpring courses they have taken.
Opinion about changing instructor involvement: The majority of the respondents (60%) think it is a good idea to instructor interaction from the courses in order to lower price. More than 50% of students think cheaper price will actually make the course more attractive. 15% consider instructor interaction too important to remove.
Paying separately for instructor tutoring: Most students (50%) would not want to pay separately for instructor session. Even within others who are willing to pay, their expected rate is less than $50/ hour.
Pricing for courses without instructor interaction: In accordance with the current prices students are paying for training, most people (63%) are willing to pay less than $200 for HeatSpring courses without instructor interaction. Approximately 20% would pay more than $200.
Which continuing education credits are important: Out of 94 responses for this questions, NABCEP, BPI and AIA are the three major credit people are taking training courses for.
Would you be interested in purchasing a “HeatSpring Membership” for continued access to the course materials after the promised ‘1-year of access’ for premium courses purchased?: 39% of responders would pay less than $20 per month for an ongoing subscription to HeatSpring course materials. One third of responders are not interested in paying for the membership.