Once the LMS use case demonstrations are done and your team has ranked and discussed the pros and cons of the finalist learning platforms, it’s time for vendor customer reference calls. Why? References provide the final “sanity check” before committing to a particular vendor. It is typically best to conduct reference calls with your final two vendors.
Asking the right questions
You may have conducted reference calls in the past when hiring for a position. It’s a fairly easy process. And like checking references for a new hire, it’s important to ask the right questions during customer reference calls to get at important information from another customer’s perspective.
Often, buyers of LMS or learning platform want to talk to references early in the buying process. However, that timing doesn’t usually work since vendors want to save references for buyers who are closer to making a purchase.
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Vendors who proactively offer up references should be noticed because it’s difficult for them to ask their clients to commit time to respond to reference requests. After all, they’re paying for the product, and now the vendor is asking them to help sell it. That’s a big ask. Also take notice of vendors that resist and delay in providing references, hoping you will run out of time.
Making customer reference calls offers these benefits:
- Reference calls often reveal issues that you may or may not be suspecting as you go through the buying process. These issues may be make-or-break for your organization.
- Calling LMS vendor references helps you build a supportive peer network of others who use the same system. They may be able to help down the road if you select the same learning platform.
- Customer reference calls can help you avoid pitfalls as you negotiate with a vendor, and can highlight key tactics for successful negotiations or for working with a vendor.
- Occasionally, a reference will be brutally honest and advise you to not buy the solution. This is not a desirable outcome, but at least you got the warning.
- References are the last opportunity to disqualify a vendor before your organization’s financial commitment has been made.
Don’t neglect to make customer reference calls
Once again, you may be tempted to skip this step and many buyers mistakenly do. But, what if you missed something that will ultimately cause project failure? If a customer reference call reveals a red flag, isn’t it better to see it now, rather than after signing on the dotted line? A reference provides information you will never find on a vendor website!
Buyers of learning platforms often skip reference calls because they run out of time. The system needs to be implemented and the clock is ticking. You may have every intent to make customer reference calls, but in the excitement of getting a deal done the calls get put off. Hasty purchases often lead to issues, more expense and dissatisfaction down the road. Speed is never a key ingredient to success, and not doing your final due diligence is risky.
Customer reference calls can be revealing, especially if you ask the right questions. Sometimes vendors offer up references who are not stellar or super happy with their system, but the vendor doesn’t even know it. That’s insightful information about the vendor’s system, as well as customer service and support after the sale.
Or, a reference indicates that, had they known about a certain glitch they never would have purchased that system. Wow. That’s a big statement which raises a red flag. Without making a few calls, you may buy a solution and encounter problems and pitfalls that could easily have been avoided. This means your organization suffers and you, personally, may suffer from the wrong decision.
How do I conduct customer reference calls?
Similar to hiring for an open position, each reference call should follow an established format, so there is an apples-to-apples comparison afterward. Ensure that a set of standard questions are asked, and follow-on questions should be noted in a document. You may also want to do a web call and record it, so others can watch it later.
Before dialing, some decisions should be made by the team, including:
- How do we schedule the call? Web conference? Phone only? Should the discussion be recorded?
- How much time should we ask of each reference? 15 minutes? 30 minutes? One hour?
- Who should be invited? If your LMS Selection Team has ten members, should all of them participate? Is that intimidating to the person you’re calling?
- What questions should we ask?
- Get specific with the questions you want to ask according to your use cases: What integrations must occur? What courses will be implemented? What do we want the learner experiences to be? Can we create an onboarding program?
- What do we really want to know about the LMS or learning system that could make or break our decision?
- Should the vendor attend?
The answers to these questions are important to successfully conducting customer reference calls and selecting a learning system. Planning the calls and questions in advance will provide the clear answers you need to make the reference process relevant and the information useful to your final decision.