LMS Vendor Eyes Only: Getting Past 1st Base

LMS discovery - How to get to first base with a sales opportunity - for learning systems vendors - by independent LMS analyst John Leh

I’m an instructional technologist who sold learning management systems, focusing on the extended enterprise, for over 13 years.  I worked for two major LMS companies and both had LMS systems primarily designed for internal employee training with some extended enterprise features.   I always enjoyed and chased the extended enterprise audiences of the solution because of the measureable tie to the business and the relative lack of competition.  Over time, through winning new clients, promising new features and building new customizations, both solutions developed into leading external user LMS solutions.

I developed a personal specialty and sold customer, sales channel, public sector, ecommerce and association learning technology solutions better than just about anyone in the LMS industry.  In all, I sold approximately 100 LMS solutions and generated over $50,000,000 of LMS license and service revenue.  I learned how to “translate” fluently between LMS, eLearning, IT and business languages.   Seems simple, but so many LMS sales people just can’t shut up about integrated performance management or using APIs to facilitate SSO via SAML2 while speaking to business owners.  I needed this fluency to get my team to understand the business and get the business to understand the solution.  If there was a breakdown in communication, the end result was always the client buying some other LMS or nothing.

The sales cycle for a LMS system is 6-24 months in my experience.   No matter how long, it always starts the same way with a phone discovery call to learn about the project and for the vendor to screen you in or out based on high level parameters.  I found that I could jump out in the lead right from day one by doing something almost no other salesperson did – listen and keep my mouth shut.

I found in a lot of instances over the years, that the people I was selling to in extended enterprise solutions were from a non-HR or learning background.  These people needed a training or LMS solution to support their business, but didn’t really know the language or how to ask their questions.  As a result, they endured many tortured sessions with my competitors learning about all sorts of internal employee HCM stuff.

In my discovery calls, I spent a lot of time asking questions, listening and not talking which led amazingly to me knowing about their business, goals and objectives in great detail.  I spent an hour before every first discovery call reviewing the publically available information about the organization so that I could ask intelligent questions about the connection between their LMS project and their business, customers, channel, countries and products.

In addition to the business, I learned the language they used to describe the LMS and learning technology.  Since there are so many synonyms in the industry (take eLearning, online learning, web-based learning, virtual learning for example) it is best to use the terms your prospective client uses.  It builds rapport and clues you in to where they are at on the “understanding” scale and allows you to adjust accordingly.  If a client is throwing around the term computer based training (cbt) for example, it’s best not to hit them with the “adaptive learning being driven from a real-time LCMS integration” solution.  Conversely, if someone is asking about Tin Can support for user actions taken on their AMS (Association Management System) member portal, you better not say you are not experienced with it.

My goal was never to talk about our company, solution or myself on my first discovery call with a client until the final 5 minutes of the call.  And then, I only very briefly summarized their main goals and how we aligned (if we did) and planned for next steps.  Until you understand the company, the business, what they are trying to accomplish, speaking about yourself or your company is somewhat foolish.   By aligning from minute one to their business you can assume the role of trusted adviser through the long sales cycle vs. pain in the butt salesperson.  Don’t worry, there will be plenty of opportunities to talk about yourself.

There are 500+ LMS solutions in the world.  You need to stick out of the sales crowd if you want to get to first base and eventually win.  As a vendor, you have done this a hundred times.  As a buyer, this is their first or second time and most likely their biggest purchase ever.   You need to get in sync with the customer and not the other way around.

Vendors, here are 5 tips on how to get past 1st base in an extended enterprise LMS opportunity:

  • If you haven’t read the publicly available information about the organization you are selling to, don’t bother calling.  You may win a deal without doing this from time to time but you won’t win many.
  • Although it seems crazy, not every customer needs every feature you may have as a vendor — even the really cool features.  So if you just talk about those features and solutions that are relevant to the problem they are trying to solve, they actually listen.  No kidding.
  • Gauge the level of LMS, eLearning, business and IT understanding of your prospect and tailor your speak accordingly.  Just like a teacher, you have to sell at the level of your class and do it without being demeaning.
  • Don’t use LMS, IT or eLearning jargon first.  All too often, people are ashamed to admit they don’t know the term and they immediately dislike you as a result.
  • Listen, ask questions and try to shut up 200% more than you think you should.  Kind of like drivers, most salespeople think they are good and interesting.  Trust me, you need to shut up a lot more.

Thanks for reading!

 

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John Leh
About John Leh (211 Articles)
John Leh is CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning, LLC. Named among the “Top 20 Global Elearning Movers and Shakers” in 2018 and 2017, John is a fiercely independent LMS selection consultant, blogger and podcaster who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies – primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based on more than 20 years of industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to more than 100 learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $65 million. You can connect with John on Twitter at @JohnLeh or on LinkedIn.

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