The process of finding an LMS vendor can be just as taxing as the whole LMS implementation process in general. In today’s market, there are many providers who are looking to add you to their satisfied client list, so your due diligence and patience in the selection process are absolute requirements. One of the first items on your vendor selection list should be to conduct thorough research, so let’s look at how to start.
First, go to your industry network, such as colleagues in the training and development business or your local ASTD or ISPI chapters. Find out who is using an LMS and whether they are truly satisfied with their vendors. You’ll find that a conversation definitely occurs with clients who are extremely happy or fairly disappointed, so be aware of the “horns and halos” effect. Look for patterns in LMS vendors in relation to your networks’ industries, business needs, organizational size, and training needs. When you have a sizable list of vendors, begin your research on your own first.
Visit vendor websites to determine if any of them serve your industry or companies within your industry. That may be a good place to start, since industry knowledge is a definite plus when it comes to your provider. Most LMS vendors include a client list on their websites, so it may be easy to look over the list and find similar organizations. One way to use the information you find is to contact the companies who are listed as clients on the vendor website. Some people may be wary of talking to you, but some may not be. This approach may give you quite a bit of information regarding the vendor.
For the initial contact with a vendor, you may want to conduct short interviews yourself. Use the list you created from the business analysis in order to construct a list of features and be sure to ask the vendor representative about their ability to provide what your organization needs. And don’t forget to run a “hard line” when it comes to getting answers from potential vendors regarding your organization’s business needs. Try to avoid allowing a vendor to “gloss over” the more minor needs; additional functionality can cost both time and money after the implementation has begun.
While you are looking at potential vendors, be sure to create an internal search committee. This group should consist of members of your organization’s technology staff, an executive sponsor, potential LMS users, department managers, and staff from within the training and development function. Be sure to explain to the group that the interview process should be like finding the right person for a job – and that there should not be a rush to conclude the search. Once you have your group, create a general interview template for the group members, so that they will know what kind of information you will be looking for when the LMS vendors begin to appear in person for meetings and demonstrations.
When you have narrowed down your vendor choices, begin to schedule demos and meetings, ensuring that a majority of your selection committee members will be able to be present. Impress upon the committee that they will need to do their own research and prepare a list of questions for the vendors. And remind the committee that questions need not be general – they can pertain to each committee member and his or her area. Questions can be tough, as well. There should not be a problem with putting a vendor representative “on the spot” or requiring him or her to ask one of their experts for help. After all, the vendor’s goal is to transform your organization from a prospect into a client.
After the first round of demos, meet with your committee to narrow down the choices. Remember that the fewer choices you have the easier the final decision will be. Once you and your committee have narrowed down the field, have the committee come up with a plan for a final meeting and demo before the selection. By this time, each committee member should be encouraged to come up with more questions to ask the vendor.
When your selection is made, it’s time to move on to further due diligence.