Published On: March 27, 2014By
What is the top mistake when buying an LMS? Independent learning tech analyst John Leh explains

I’m going to help you avoid the #1 stupid decision when buying a learning management system (LMS). I probably won’t make any new friends on the vendor side but you should listen to me because I sold and led sales teams selling over one hundred high-end LMS solutions generating over $50,000,000 in revenue.  I’ve seen every trick that vendors use to conceal holes and inadequacies in their LMS products or capabilities.  I’ve seen customers make absolutely horrible vendor selections for almost every conceivable reason but usually, it’s from being unprepared and uninformed.

Here is the #1 stupid decision when buying an LMS — Skipping the RFP.

When Buying an LMS, Thou Shall Not Skip the RFP!

Vendors know.  They know well.   If a vendor can get in early, educate you, and get you to skip the request for proposal (RFP), then they get to shape the solution, cover their own holes and set the pricing negotiation.  Knowing the consequences of choosing a wrong solution, I was always baffled when I was doing my initial discovery with prospective clients and they told me they were not going to issue an RFP.  The reasons were usually about fast-tracking the project, being experienced in LMS or organizations claiming they do RFPs.  Taking that kind of risk with business software selection seems short-sighted at best.

No matter the reason, really is a stupid maneuver.  Here’s why — Buying an LMS is a career-defining (or limiting) event.  The cost, in time, money and brand, to select, implement, roll-out, maintain, market and grow an extended enterprise LMS is significant.  Choose wrong and you’re on the hook for the mistake.  Choose right, and the success is just beginning and you and your decision are making a measurable business difference.  In my experience, when someone makes a bad enterprise software decision, they are seldom given the opportunity to make it a second time.

Shape Your Own Solution

Sometimes letting the vendor shape the solution may be beneficial, most times it is not.  In the end, vendors only can sell what they have, so your “shaped” solution –just like water — always has the shape of the vendor’s container.  When buying an LMS for the extended enterprise, you should look at your partnership with your vendor as an arranged marriage with a prenuptial agreement designed for both parties to profit — and not as a romantic love story.  If you need help defining the solution and requirements, engage an experienced LMS consultant.

You must ask vendors direct questions and get a direct answer to be sure they have functionality.  It is not the vendor’s responsibility to point out any potential holes or gotchas in their solution.  It is not the vendor’s responsibility to answer any questions you don’t ask.  It is your responsibility to find out what is important to you.  If left to a vendor, they are going to revert to their core competency –the few things they do better than the competition — which may not be the best solution for you.  RFPs give you a much clearer comparison of everything you need and allow you to make the best business decision.

You will also pay too much without an RFP.  No kidding.  Not sometimes.  Always.  You will always pay too much when buying an LMS if you can’t compare apples to apples with other viable solutions and use that in the negotiation.   Trust me.  I know.  Smart clients would always get significant discounts from me by being well armed with alternate, capable choices with better fiscal terms.

Easy RFP Process for Buying an LMS

So how can you avoid this stupid decision of skipping an RFP?  Easy.  Document where you are now and what you are trying to achieve.  Craft the handful of use case scenarios that you have to achieve based on your business.  Take the time to identify your requirements to achieve each of those scenarios and make vendors respond to each requirement and the scenario.  There is your RFP.

An RFP does not have to be some mega-affair.  The best ones are straightforward and targeted to the mission at hand.  Prequalify vendors based on publicly available information,  phone interviews of mandatory functionality and send the RFP to the best 3-5 vendors.

When vendors have to formally respond, it is much harder to gloss over thin or missing functionality.  Making them formally respond and demonstrate in context of use case scenarios,  gives you and them a crystal clear view of their potential fit. When you are sure you have identified the right potential solutions, you then can compare and negotiate the best fiscal terms and eventually your choice.

If you do not have a formal written record in the form of an RFP response, when problems arise in the implementation, and oh yes they will arise, you will inevitably get into a “he-said/she-said” argument resulting in living with the functional gap or paying to close it.  If you don’t take the time to document what you want and how you want it when buying an LMS, it’s not the vendor’s fault.

Use an RFP when buying an LMS.  It’s not that many extra steps nor does it have to consume lots of time.  It will help you make an informed decision that is defensible with executive management.  It improves your odds for project and professional success.  Please, don’t be stupid.

Thanks for reading!


Want more LMS insights? Check this on-demand webinar:

Insider’s Guide to LMS Selection Success

The LMS landscape is crowded, complex and difficult for potential buyers to navigate. What should learning technology buyers do?

Join Talented Learning Lead Analyst John Leh and Docebo North American Sales Director Corey Marcel as they explain what you should know before you choose the right LMS for your organization. You will learn:

  • What an effective LMS selection process looks like
  • The factors that matter most in choosing a learning platform
  • Where to find the most reliable LMS vendor intelligence, and
  • How to avoid common LMS selection missteps

If you’re selecting a new LMS this year (or are only thinking about it), replay this on-demand webinar, and start putting your selection strategy to work!


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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

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