In the last two weeks as an LMS selection consultant, I have been on the receiving end of 24 hours of live LMS demos from eight different vendors. The vendors were competing for two unique, extended enterprise LMS opportunities.
Selling learning platforms is very tough because of vendor plenty and parity. Like always, good selling habits will put the winner on top. I thought I’d share some of the best “do’s and don’ts” from the recent sessions.
LMS Buyer Background
Since LMS can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and can range in cost from free to millions of dollars, let me quickly frame out the size and scope of each sales opportunity for context.
The first buyer is a cloud software company developing a channel partner certification program. The average five-year vendor bid for all licenses and services was $725K. The buyer anticipates an increase in channel partner sales, new stream of revenue from sale of content and decrease in time to market for new products to “pay” for the new LMS.
The second buyer is a non-profit healthcare association providing continuing education to members and non-members. The average five-year bid was $900K. Key drivers of the new LMS purchase are an increase of revenue from the sale of accredited content to healthcare organizations and individuals, along with global expansion of the association.
For both opportunities there was a range of almost a $1,000,000 from lowest to highest five-year bids! At this level, choosing wrong has serious political, fiscal and career consequences.
LMS Demo Dos
After receiving the vendor RFP responses and confirming we were only evaluating highly qualified partner options, we invited the four vendors in each opportunity onsite to present their company and solution. We provided each company a guideline agenda and the functional use cases we definitively wanted to see and discuss, but generally left it up to the vendors on how best to present.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.” In LMS speak, doing your homework on the company, their business, fiscal state, business lines, main product, current learning environment, desired future state and using that research throughout the demonstration is akin to sharpening your ax. Out of the eight vendors, I thought only three honed their ax competitively and not coincidentally all three are still in the hunt.
Learn in advance about who is going to be in the room, who are the decision makers, influencers and general audience. Tailor the demo approach accordingly. If you have a room full of administrators, a more in-depth click, click, click approach works great, but that approach is shunned by most executive audiences who are more influenced by the bigger picture.
The best vendors are pulling me aside a week in advance and picking my brain on their demo strategy, most important drivers, compelling events, decision-making criteria, etc. Really good vendors are asking again immediately before their demo to see if previous demos revealed approaches or strategies that completely failed or succeeded and then make last minute adjustments.
Seasoned veterans spend the demo break time soliciting feedback, building relationships, coaching upcoming presenters and not snacking on bagels.
Believe it or not, buyers still love to get printed company packets of information to peruse before, during and after the presentation. Only one vendor provided printed marketing materials and everybody was oohing and ahhing like they never did in 1999.
Warm up the room with some quick ice-breaker introductions. The best of the eight asked the audience to introduce themselves individually and reveal one thing most people don’t know about them. The result was lots of laughing, re-invigoration of the room and immediate comfort with the presenter.
Bring an executive to speak for the company. If a buyer is going to shell out hundreds of thousands for any particular LMS, they want to meet senior folks and get very comfortable with the idea of working with them. If a vendor is “too big” to bring senior executives, then the buyer is really “too small” for them and neither will be happy.
Follow up after the presentation demo to say thank you, clarify unique differentiation, answer open demo questions, facilitate client reference calls and suggest next steps. One vendor even sent a handwritten follow-up thank you note via snail mail. The buyer loved that one!
Ask clarifying questions back to the audience if you are not sure what they are asking. Buyers don’t always know how to ask the question in the right jargon, so it is best to clarify vs. blither on down a wrong answer vein.
Be humble. There is a fine line between establishing credibility and being a blowhard. An equally fine line exists between being confident and cocky. If you think you are great, love to hear yourself talk, but are not selling as much as you want, you are probably a cocky blowhard.
LMS Demo Don’ts
I joke often with my kids about rules that should not have to be spelled out but unfortunately, I’m compelled to define. For instance, “Don’t ride your scooter while playing with your iPad” or “Don’t juggle steak knives.” Some similar LMS demo “don’ts” that I can’t believe I have to define include:
Don’t forget to comb your hair, iron your clothes and shine your shoes before going on a client site. It might feel cool to be a grungy techie, but execs are not impressed and openly wonder about attention to detail in the implementation and support phase.
Don’t rely on generic company differentiation! I can’t stress this enough. I heard the terms “flexibility, partnership, highly configurable, scalable, secure, everything you need and easy-to-use” from all eight vendors to describe their product and solution. Although those terms may accurately describe your organization – yawn.
Don’t defend a perceived product gap. I really hate this self-inflicted wound. Admit the gap, say what you do and move on. Recently, my buying clients learned that they are wrong for wanting all kinds of things like social learning, text notifications, ad-hoc reports and tighter webinar integration. One of the best ways to talk yourself out of a sales opportunity is informing the buyer that they are foolish for wanting what you don’t have.
Don’t give your standard demo. Demo what is asked for and what is relevant to the buyer. It is foolish for a sales team to waste presentation time on nice-to-haves without knocking out all the must-haves.
Don’t depend on client technology. Although an audience may feel bad if your presentation technically bombs, there is no grading on a curve. If you are going to take the time, effort and money to travel onsite, it is wise to pack a projector and hot spot. Slow guest internet, short VGA cables or grainy projectors are only obstacles for rookies.
Don’t avoid eye contact. You can’t stare at your computer or the screen while presenting. You have to look each member of the audience in the eye and build rapport. When presenting virtually, it is easy to get in the habit of staring at your screen while speaking, but in real life – look up or go home.
Don’t quote customer retention rates without giving real context. I think this is the fluffiest, most meaningless and egregiously exaggerated stat in the history of LMS vendors. Really? You have a 98% customer retention ratio? How do you measure that? Can I see the data? Who left and why? If you can’t prove it, don’t use it.
I could go on and on. If a buyer is smart, defines their requirements professionally and only evaluates qualified vendors, winning on functionality, price and status quo is really tough to do. Achieving true competitive separation is only possible with old-fashioned, highly-responsive, consultative, solution selling and demoing. It will tip the scales every time.
John Leh is Founder, 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.