As the certification becomes well known and gains traction, sales volumes will increase. Sponsors will now have two audiences to manage: prospects and certificants.
Each will require its own messaging. Both, however, will need to be constantly reminded of the value that certification and recertification offer. Value invites participation and encourages recertification.
Growth is proof that a market exists for the certification. This favorable condition may attract competitors. To defend its market position, an existing certification program should use its head start and more intimate understanding of the target audience to assert its unique benefits in order to differentiate itself from the claims of newcomers.
This is also the time to survey the market to discover any unmet needs and to introduce new features and possibly new products, certificates or badges. The sponsor must continue to be agile, responsive and opportunistic.
Per Laura Knapp, author of The Business of Certification, a common mistake that sponsors make during the heady days of certification growth is to rest on the program’s laurels. Staff is busy, sometimes harried, just trying to manage the daily challenges of a popular and growing program. Meanwhile the test goes on auto pilot, but the market doesn’t.
The certification ecosystem reflects the constantly evolving forces of supply and demand, hiring trends, advancing technology and new job specialties. The growing certification must be prepared to evolve as well.
The staff’s day-to-day interaction with prospects, candidates, certificants, employers and other channel partners is an invaluable window to market needs and expectations. Staff must communicate freely with those responsible for certification marketing and share observable trends, needs and gaps.
Exams should be reviewed on a regular basis during the growth phase to make sure that they continue to be valid, reliable and legally defensible. Changing job roles, informed by regularly updated job task analyses, will require adjustments to the exam.
The maturity phase follows the growth phase. Per The Business of Certification, the maturity phase in the certification life cycle is characterized by increased competition and flat test volumes. Revenues from initial certification and re-certification may plateau. Reasons for this leveling off can include the following:
- The profession or occupation is contracting
- Traditional exposure to the field is changing
- The target market has been thoroughly penetrated
- The certification’s value is declining
During the maturity phase, other sources of revenue may need to be explored and cultivated. The most common additional revenue sources for professional associations are:
- Practice tests and study guides
- Approval or accreditation of professional development, continuing education or education providers
- Branded products
Lenora Knapp recommends two remedies to combat stalled test volumes and revenues.
- Stimulate new growth by:
- Expanding into new markets, possibly global markets. Just keep in mind that redefining a certification as a global one can have implications on operations, psychometrics, marketing and governance.
- Promoting new uses for the certification (e.g., marketing the credential to academic programs for inclusion it in degree programs) and
- Attracting competitors’ customers
- Extend the maturity phase by:
- Maximizing revenues while retaining market share
- Encouraging cross-selling, bundling and discounting
- Promoting new uses for existing products such as licensing retired products to academic institutions and prep providers.
- Creating new micro-credentials that can be added to the portfolio of program products.
Two of the most common mistakes during the maturity phase are failing to act quickly enough to investigate the causes and possible solutions of the plateau and waiting too long to initiate cost-saving measures.