Case Study:Thinkful

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3.5+ million
B2C, SaaS, EdTech
Mar. 2013

Thinkful teaches people programming and design through online, project-driven courses and 1-on-1 mentorship sessions with experts. Founded in 2012, Thinkful boasts a stellar 70% graduation rate for its classes.

The power of relationships is integral to Thinkful’s success in getting people to stay the course — from face-to-face mentoring, weekly Office Hours, and supportive student communities. How does Thinkful convince people to sign up for those relationships?

How do you convince more leads to sign up to start customer relationships?

Reducing hurdles to signup is one main challenge for Justin Cudmore, Product Manager in charge of growth. He and the Thinkful team turned to Customer.io to nurture student relationships from top of funnel to enrollment.

Build Trust by Focusing on One-on-One Relationships

Selling an education product is all about building trust with individual people, not a bunch of numbers in a database. Rather than referring to potential customers as leads, Thinkful calls and treats them as students — real people, with unique learning goals, who might need a human to guide their decisions.

While automation has its place, nothing beats talking to a real person — and that’s a practice that email helps to scale. Justin explains, “That 1-1 connection is vital. With Customer.io, we’re able to segment prospective students and assign them an education advisor on our team who will talk to them, send them newsletters, and reach out when they visit a course page.”

Thinkful 1-1 connection email marketing example An education advisor is just a message away, even in Thinkful’s newsletter

“After picking a course, they’re assigned a mentor. Most students go back to them with questions down the road and update them about new jobs — our favorite emails!”

One of the benefits of using Customer.io is being able to map emails directly to our sales funnel.

Map your emails to your sales funnel

Deciding whether to enroll in a Thinkful course, which takes two to three months to complete, is deliberate. “Education is a large commitment due to the price and time — so there’s a larger hurdle,” Justin points out. “For someone looking to spend $300-$1000 dollars per month on a course, we need many different stages than just ‘lead’ and ‘current student.’”

Thinkful tailors its communication with drip emails that respond to context, relationships, and engagement rather than just time elapsed. “One of the benefits of using Customer.io is being able to map emails directly to our sales funnel,” says Justin.

Thinkful segment trigger condition example example of Thinkful’s Customer.io segmentation for triggering emails

Thinkful sends people down different campaign paths depending on various attributes and levels of interest — whether it’s a newsletter subscription or getting someone back on the phone after a missed call.

Assigning a specific stage to any prospective student is really easy to set up. We look at our emails holistically to make sure [we take advantage of] different touch points but also try not to email too much.”

Nurture more customers, all in one tool.

The Thinkful team didn’t want to juggle these different stages with separate tools. Justin explains, “We were using three different email tools. My main goal was to consolidate under one, which is what we did with Customer.io.

Now Thinkful uses Customer.io to send its “The Weekly Fill” newsletter, incorporating it into their funnel and bridging the divide between acquisition and activation. Following a short drip series, prospective students receive Thinkful’s newsletter — with curated educational links and showcasing success stories to “add context and make Thinkful real.”

“We’ve gotten a great response to The Weekly Fill,“ Justin notes. "We’re nurturing this list of people who are not necessarily interested in a class right now, but may be in the future, so let’s find a way to draw them down the funnel with engaging content.”

Thinkful newsletter example click to see full newsletter sample

“The more we can share Thinkful’s values, the better prepared a potential student is to choose Thinkful. We’ve found it’s about when the timing is right for someone to take a course.

Get the timing right while showing your value

With the ability to impact its sales funnel in one system, Thinkful can communicate its purpose and value proposition, while nurturing people towards their learning goals. “We’re trying to keep the community engaged and stay top of mind, but not be annoying. I want people to look at Thinkful as a place for continued learning,” explains Justin.

That strategy is paying off. After consolidating tools and mapping its sale funnel stages into Customer.io, Thinkful has seen overall open rates for its drip emails rise by 27%. What’s more, engagement with emails have shot up, with reply rates increasing by 67%.

“Every day I work to show potential students what the Thinkful experience is like,” Justin says. “Every product person’s job is to strip the clutter away and make things clear. That’s what we’ve tried to do with our email setup with Customer.io — give leads the right information at the right time.”