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How Marketers Can Use Certification to Drive Retention, Upsell Results

May 2nd, 2024 Michael Mayday

The past decade’s shift towards digital engagement has transformed continuing professional education programs, or CPE, from endless one-off sessions in hotel conference rooms to dynamic, interactive and engaging digital experiences accessible anytime, anywhere — whether live or on demand. 

So, it’s no surprise that this evolution makes running CPE programs much more enticing to digital marketers. In a digital-first context, these programs are easier to run, more scalable and more cost-effective to deliver. 

How to Turn Professional Certifications into a Lead Gen Machine

Digital certification programs also directly benefit organizations by:

    • Boosting brand reputation and credibility 
    • Creating and nurturing brand advocates 
    • Reinforcing product positioning and messaging
    • Providing sales with stronger, more qualified leads 
    • Gaining better insights into industry trends
    • Categorizing and segmenting audiences based on maturity level

Not to mention that they’re also powerful tools that companies and associations can use to build loyalty, upsell, cross-sell and train customers as well as increase membership retention rates. 

Still, running a continuing professional education program takes a lot of preparation — from identifying topics to selecting the right tools to promotion and more. Read on to learn how you can get started with your program.

How to use certification and training to retain customers

Man smiling at tablet

At its most basic level, a digital certification program should provide audiences with two things: something to learn, and a certificate highlighting their comprehension of the subject matter. 

But successful digital certification programs do more; they amplify educational courses by building a holistic digital experience around the program. In other words, it’s not about the webinar issuing certifications; it’s about the content hub your audiences use to find additional courses, the personalized CTAs they see in your events and the shared community experience that keeps audiences coming back to your brand. 

Let’s take a look at how you can create this experience. 

Educate customers on how to use your product

A course on how to use your product is an effective and simple starting point for a certification program. All a digital marketer needs to do is show attendees how to use a tool and how it can be incorporated into a company’s strategic approach. 

How to Turn Professional Certifications into a Lead Gen Machine

If you have multiple products and solutions, consider building a course library that walks visitors through how each solution works and how each tool connects with each other. You should automatically issue participants with a certification once they complete a lesson or  course. 

Show customers what peers are accomplishing with your solution

A continuing professional education course isn’t limited to passive lectures. Workshops — particularly ones featuring brand advocates — are also powerful CPE tools you can use to entice and retain audiences. 

That’s because your community of users and customers possesses a wealth of experiences other customers want to learn from. Work with your customer success and marketing teams to identify possible candidates and recruit them to participate in your program. 

Why use certification for upselling and retention in the first place?

Female staring past laptop

Certification programs provide you with a wealth of insights into audiences, whether an account or association member. These insights, in turn, can help you nurture relationships, position offerings and ultimately drive revenue. 

Certifications are also important simply because they are necessary for some audiences. In fact, according to a report by Marketing General Inc., 40% of association members say certifications are a top benefit in deciding to renew membership. 

How can I retain customers and members with a digital certification program?

Using digital certification programs to retain customers is a multi-step process.

For associations, this means being accredited by a governing agency so you can offer the CPE credits that attract audiences. It also means having a dedicated team that can quickly stand up CPE webinars in response to industry news, developments and trends. 

For more generic companies, like B2B SaaS or even manufacturing, creating a certification program to retain customers should follow a logical order. For example, it could start with a course on how to use your product followed by a course exploring industry strategies and developments. You can even offer lessons and certifications on product updates, workshops and more. 

How to Turn Professional Certifications into a Lead Gen Machine

Regardless, any continuing professional education certification program will need a reliable solution that makes it easy qualify participants and issue certifications. 

Build a center of excellence that scales your certification program 

Once you have the basics of your certification program down, you can start to get creative with your offerings. One effective strategy is to provide value to customer or members by organizing your on-demand courses by topic in an easy-to-use content hub.

For example, the National Association for Continuing Education uses a combination of webinars, content hubs and breakout tools to host virtual symposiums for life sciences professionals. 

These virtual symposiums provide NACE’s members with the opportunity to learn, network with peers and earn certifications. NACE found so much success with this approach that it estimates it has doubled webinar registration, quadrupled attendance and certifications and saved $300,000 in studio costs annually. 

How to use certifications to personalize experiences at scale

We know audiences want certifications, but they also want to feel a connection with a brand or association. In fact, according to Community Brands’ 2022 Association Trends Study, 66% of professionals and 45% of members say targeted, valuable content is one of the most important benefits of associations. 

Certifications provide you with a convenient means of segmenting audiences — from beginner, to intermediate and expert — which opens the door to a variety of personalization options. It also provides you insights into which members care about what topics and what types of content — from webinars and virtual conferences to e-books and reports — they care about most. 

For example, with these insights, you can: 

    • Use Dynamic Content to notify highly-engaged members of new courses, content
    • Create highly relevant content hubs that align with an audience’s learning journey 
    • Put together targeted landing pages for members specializing in a field or sub-field
    • Provide personalized CTAs within your webinars, virtual events and content hubs 
    • Automatically present audiences with new and relevant information via Dynamic Content 

Obviously, a certification program can provide a lot of handy information to use when it comes time for renewal. With this information, your CSM or account team can remind the customer of what they’ve accomplished, how advanced they are in the use of your tool and open the door to taking the relationship even further. 

How to Turn Professional Certifications into a Lead Gen Machine

You can also use these insights to trigger nurturing activity. For example, once an account hits a certain threshold, you can use your marketing automation platform to send that account additional content, offer previews of upcoming solutions or invite them to an incentivized meeting. 

In this way, certifications can help you personalize every audience member’s experience with your brand at scale. 

For example, AAA, The Auto Club Group, qualifies leads based on audience participation in its educational program. As participants work their way through the course, insights are gathered and shared with the sales teams, who can then cater pitches on specific products to course participants. 

This process — incentivizing audiences with an educational offering, identifying qualified leads from participants, and then connecting those leads with a sales rep — has helped to boost its overall sales by 41% year-over-year. 

A quick guide to getting started with certifications

Female typing on laptop 

Getting started with a certification program may seem daunting, but it is actually pretty simple. If you have a webinar program up and running, you are already 90% there. 

Here’s a quick cheat sheet on getting started with certifications: 

Use your target audience to develop a course

Know who you’re trying to reach with your program. If you’re trying to retain customers, develop a course that showcases advanced uses of your solution and how to fold it into tech stacks. Likewise, associations can provide certification opportunities covering niche topics and/or industry developments for highly engaged members. 

Build a calendar

Plot your certification events on a calendar aim for one or two a month. Once you have your dates set, create a webinar template that includes the webinar console design you want as well as the engagement tools you’ll use. 

Get accredited (if applicable)

If you are offering CPEs, make sure you gain accreditation through a governing agency. For example, the NASBA provides resources where accountancy firms can learn how they can issue CPE credits.  


Promote your certification course! Share upcoming events over email, social media and wherever your audiences are most active. 

Publish on-demand

Make sure each certification opportunity is available to audiences on demand. Follow-up emails are a powerful tactic, but content hubs and target pages can provide you steady longterm traffic. In some cases, on-demand certifications have different requirements. Check with your governing body to ensure your on-demand CPE program meets compliance requirements. 

Certification programs are incredibly powerful tools. Once you feel confident in your program, try running some experiments to see if you can drive even more engagement from your events. Good luck!

How to Turn Professional Certifications into a Lead Gen Machine