With almost 700 LMS vendors in the world, competition for every sales opportunity is fierce. I know because I spent 13 years selling learning management solutions.
For the last 2.5 years, I have leveraged that software sales experience as an independent LMS selection consultant. In this capacity, I’ve helped dozens of buyers purchase the right LMS for their organization. Along the way, I have seen more than 100 salespeople from multiple vendors compete to win legitimate business opportunities. It has been fascinating to observe the range of sales skills, styles, tactics and habits. Relative rookies can be stupendous, while grizzled veterans can be horrendous.
To win, an LMS vendor must vanquish a minimum of 4 to 20 others and be the only one left standing – with each and every new customer. Though blind luck sometimes prevails, the winning sales strategy is usually characterized by hard work, shrewdness, preparedness and ability to add value at every step in the sales process.
LMS Vendor Sales Tips
If you want to improve your win rate and boost sales, here are my top 10 tips:
- Know Your Unique Specialization – Hundreds of LMS vendors claim to be easy to use, economical, focused on learner needs and unlike traditional LMSs. You need more! It’s critical for you understand and articulate your unique specialization, and how it is going to benefit potential customers in their business mission. If you are a generalist, you will generally lose to specialists!
- Know Your Prospect, Industry and Situation – Never initiate a first interaction with a prospect without doing homework on the company and the individual contact. The company website, SEC filings and LinkedIn should give you all the ammo you’ll need. The best sales people do extensive research on the buyer organization and leverage that information to frame their solution at every interaction, email, demo, proposal and discussion.
- Be Logistically Easy – There are often many stakeholders in an LMS selection process, commonly from different business units, departments and leadership levels. Getting the internal team to agree on demonstration dates and times is a Herculean feat. When a prospect offers up some time slots for a virtual or onsite demo, drop everything, line up your resources and book a time. You will become a favorite, while inevitably some procrastinator drags the process along and forces a new round of internal cat herding. Be easy.
- Minimize “Boiler Plate” Errors – You wouldn’t believe the boiler plate copy-and-paste mistakes I see in formal RFP responses. Take extra time to personalize the executive summary and even more time to personalize the pricing section. Inexplicably, vendors make the most prose mistakes in these two areas of their proposals, yet these are the sections that every executive spends the most time reviewing. It is silly to spend dozens of hours on a RFP response, only to let this kind of careless, sloppy oversight define you and your company.
- Avoid Gray Matter – Buyers will tell you what is important and how to win. It is your job to listen, understand, and determine if the requirements are a tight fit for your organization. If not, walk away. Toeing the gray line, giving ambiguous, half-answers in RFPs and winning a customer that doesn’t know limitations that will sink their investment only leads to an unhappy customer who will be vocal about their displeasure. (It also leads to irritated LMS selection consultants with elephant-like memories.)
- Simplify the Pricing – Recently I saw pricing from an LMS vendor that took four Excel spreadsheet tabs to explain. Ouch. I worked with an extraordinary sales manager a decade ago who constantly vented against “confuse-a-sale” pricing. LMS pricing needs to be simple and logical. If a prospect has clarifying questions, you need to do better job next time making it simpler to understand. For example, just pitch your solution at $75,000 a year and identify what is included, rather than setting a price at $70,000 with 10 options that customers must sort through, discuss with their team, decide if they want, etc. Complexity is your enemy.
- Be Consistently Responsive – Want an edge? Always be super responsive as a sales professional, and demand responsiveness from your organization. For buyers, it’s the first indication of how they will be treated as customers. If you receive a prospect email inquiry at 5pm Friday, respond right away. If an RFP response is due and you knew well in advance, don’t ask for an extension. As a representative for LMS buyers, I am amazed at how much time it takes to move through every step of the sales process when I have to run down vendors for answers and follow-up. Salespeople, if buyers are chasing you down, you are losing.
- Introduce Your Family – You do not want to be the sole point of contact for your organization. You need to call-in your best strategic resources at key times in the sales cycle and well beyond. Ensure that customer references proactively contact the buyer. Arrange for your CEO to meet the executive sponsor for every prospect. Introduce your VP of Professional Services to talk through the implementation process. For years, many customers have hated their LMS, so now they prefer to buy from true business partners. Lasting partnerships are built on more than the power of one.
- Go Light on Update Requests – It is smart to check-in on a prospect periodically, but don’t overdo it. Daily is too much. Weekly is aggressive, unless you’re in the heat of an active sales cycle. Email is the preferred contact method. Unscheduled phone calls and texts are intrusive. The time to be an eager beaver is when a prospect asks for some information or other assistance with the sales process. When a buyer’s business inertia or other internal issues slow the selection process, repetitive contact from vendors becomes annoying. The best salespeople know how to back off before contact fatigue sets in.
- Lose with Grace – Narrowing the field from hundreds of potential LMS vendors to one finalist is a monumental achievement for buying organizations. In many cases, it has taken years of political arm wringing and budgetary yoga to make it all happen. Acting condescending and telling a buyer who doesn’t choose your LMS that they are making a mistake may feel satisfying, but it is short-sighted. The impression you leave will be lasting — regardless of the immediate sales outcome. I have found over the years that at least 10%-20% of RFPs lead to no purchase because of internal politics, change of leadership, market conditions or unforeseen roadblocks. Losing like a jerk is a terrible strategy to get re-invited when conditions stabilize.
It is possible to do everything right in the LMS sales process and still lose. I see it every day. The decision always comes down to little things and budget. Winning professionals do the above to gain and maintain competitive differentiation at every stage of the sales cycle. It is a wild jungle out here. Avoid the self-inflicted wounds and maximize your chance of sales success.
Thanks for reading!
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