With dozens of business-focused learning management systems available, it can be a challenge to identify an LMS vendor who will perfectly align with your needs. There are a number of things you can do to avoid making the costly mistake of choosing the wrong provider. Perhaps the best place to start is with what you should not do. Through years of experience, we have identified five areas that will increase your chances of choosing the wrong LMS solution.
1. Blind Faith
You are sure to choose the wrong product if you put too much trust in (1) marketing slogans (you are not choosing a marketing firm to partner with); (2) verbal descriptions of a key feature you need ("I believe you, but show me how that works"); or (3) your assumptions.
On this last item, let me offer an example: We have a customer who used to work with a well-known LMS. When they selected their previous LMS, they asked the question, “Can we add custom fields?” The vendor answered, “yes.” The customer assumed they would be able to report on custom fields that they add. Oops! They found out later that they couldn’t do anything with the custom fields. Ask that next question.
2. Use an RFP/RFI Template
An RFI (request for information) can be helpful in narrowing the list of solutions you are evaluating, but we have seen significant problems with the traditional RFI/RFP process. It frequently leads LMS buyers to the wrong solution. Here are some of the problems with this process.
First, sometimes buyers find an RFI template online, with a pre-populated list of LMS requirements. Sometimes these templates have been created by—but not credited to—specific LMS vendors and they list their own functionality in the list of customer “requirements.” This obviously will not allow responding vendors to outline their unique functionality. Also, sometimes the responding vendor will review your RFI template and disqualify themselves because of some of the things on the list that they may not have available. We have seen many situations where we ask a prospect about specific features listed in their RFI, and they tell us they “don’t really need that feature.” If we had accepted the list at face value, we would have withdrawn from the process. Instead, we frequently win their business in spite of not being able to mark yes on every single item in their initial RFI list.
Second, RFI templates are often written with a yes/no answer, with a comments column that is optional. This approach may help identify whether the vendors have specific functionality, but it doesn’t really allow for how the feature works. You can get a “yes” from the provider with highly limited functionality, and a “yes” from the provider whose functionality is incredibly cumbersome.
Third, vendors are not always honest in how they answer. Our product has been disqualified in the RFI process because we were completely transparent with all of our answers (we want a good fit too, not just a deal!), but saw competitors with inferior functionality move to the next stage.
Finally, there are some providers who do not respond to RFIs/RFPs because the process is burdensome and because of the issues listed above. You would be leaving these providers out of the process if you take this approach.
Using a list of system requirement for your organization is a great idea, but be careful with using a pre-populated template.
3. Let Your Selection Rules Trump Product Fit
Sometimes procurement professionals set up rules that cause vendors to be disqualified for the wrong reasons. For example, we once had a prospect who had us at the top of their list, but our sales person had internet problems that caused our submission to be late (within minutes!). As a result, we were disqualified by the procurement team, while their training and development team was devastated. I have likewise seen providers disqualified for not having the exact format that was requested by the procurement team. This begs the question, “What is the real objective, folks?”
I realize that some organizations have to have a fair and structured approach to procuring software, especially public entities. The important point here is that the selection process should measure the right things instead of choosing vendors based on how well they play procurement games, without regard to their product.
4. Make Price the Top Consideration
Another way to ensure that you choose the wrong solution is to make price your sole criterion. You often get what you pay for, and if you are price conscious, you may end up disqualifying products that might add significantly more value to your organization than the less expensive options. It is not true that all solutions provide the same value and it should simply come down to price. What if you could automate more of your activities and save a lot of time and frustration? Would you be willing to pay a little more for this? We have had many customers leave a less expensive product and pay a little more to adopt our product because of the many pains it resolves.
5. Embrace the Bigger-Better Fallacy
Finally, you can be sure to find the wrong solution if you accept the “
It is always good to start with your business objectives and your corresponding must-have functionality. From there, focus on seeing how that functionality is handled during product demos. You will be surprised at the variability in how different systems handle basic features—sometimes it is very few clicks and highly intuitive, other times the opposite.
One thing I can promise you from our business: We will be as dedicated to finding the right fit as you are.