If you subscribe to this blog, or listen to our podcasts, or attend our webinars, you probably think of Talented Learning as a free source of fiercely indeperndent information for LMS buyers and sellers – but that’s only part of our story.
We actually earn our living by providing comprehensive learning software selection services. For nearly 5 years, our consultants have been on a mission to help extended enterprise LMS buyers make better purchasing decisions. We obsess about every facet of the LMS market so our clients can more effectively attract, engage and educate learning audiences of all types – B2B and B2C customers, channel partners and contractors, employees, association members, continuing education students and the public-at-large.
Learning Software Selection: A Matchmaker’s View
Of the 700+ solutions that comprise today’s LMS landscape, we continuously track details about 175 vendors, including:
- Learning platform functionality and roadmap
- Breadth and depth of technical and services capabilities
- Business model and licensing strategy
- Company history and brand reputation
- Ideal client scenarios and results
We document these details in a living database – and we never forget what we learn about vendors over the course of a software selection project.
LMS matchmaking isn’t just about introducing professional friends and hoping the relationship sticks. It’s a rigorous process that starts with a thorough needs analysis and a detailed definition of business, functional, technical, service and licensing requirements.
With relevant LMS requirements as our guide, we can confidently recommend 4 “best fit” vendors who specialize in the kind of solution we’ve specified. This “shortlisting” service is highly valuable because it frees buyers to focus on evaluating only a few highly qualified vendors, rather than trying to qualify the many vendors that might be worth evaluating.
Software Selection With No Shortlist = Mismatch
When buyers pick their own finalists, the shortlist often looks like a mismatched assortment of apples, oranges, pears and grapes. Finding and comparing apples with apples becomes even more time-consuming and frustrating.
So when time pressure makes it impossible to dig deeper, they pick the best solution among the fruit salad of vendors they identified, rather than picking the best solution for their unique needs. Although this method may fill the immediate need of selection, it is also likely to be a recipe for long-term LMS disaster.
Software Selection With Shortlist = Success + 5 Stages of Grief
So what happens when vendors are comparable and all are qualified to earn the business? First, buyers can be ruthlessly subjective in choosing an LMS partner. Second, vendors that tend to win in mismatched deals find themselves losing and not liking it.
Thus far, Talented Learning has helped approximately 50 organizations select an LMS. For each opportunity, we’ve shortlisted 4 qualified vendors. However, only one could win each bid. That means we’ve had to break the bad news to runner-up vendors about 150 times. It is never a fun task, but it is predictable.
The reaction is almost always the same – denial, anger, bargaining, sulking and then acceptance and a willingness to learn how to improve for next time. It’s understandable. Everyone works hard. Every vendor thinks they are the best. But that’s not possible of course. Eventually, smart vendors choose to learn from the experience. With each try, they get better and better and better.
18 Winning LMS Software Demo Tips
If you’re a vendor who wants to increase your win rate, I have some simple advice – focus on upping your LMS demo game.
Over the past month, I’ve organized and participated in 24 hours of demonstrations from 8 vendors. I’ve paid close attention. You may have heard me talk about this in the past, but I’m still surprised that so many vendors overlook demo basics. Trust me, vendors who sweat the details stand out. So here’s my latest list of demo tips, based on best practices and worst missteps I’ve seen on the LMS selection front.
1) Arrive 30 Minutes Early – Nothing is worse than starting a 3-hour meeting late because you aren’t ready. Give yourself the time to sign-in, set-up and work through inevitable technical challenges.
2) Bring Your Own Internet Access – Connectivity is non-negotiable. Saying “imagine this…” and tap dancing your way through a demo can’t replace the real thing. Carry a reliable portable Wi-Fi hotspot device as a backup, in case you hit a speed bump with guest Internet access in the meeting room.
3) Research Your Audience – Find out in advance who’s likely to attend the demo and invest some time learning about them through LinkedIn and the buyer’s website. One vendor I know creates a briefing file with images and bios of expected attendees. This prepares the sales team to greet attendees by name and interact with them more effectively throughout the session.
4) When Location Works In Your Favor, Use It – Since long-distance travel time and expenses can be steep, most vendors don’t visit buyers until the final demo. However, if a buyer is located in your vicinity, don’t hesitate to begin developing rapport and demonstrating value-add earlier in the evaluation process.
5) Own the Executive Summary – All customers think their organization and their learning challenges are special – and they’re right. Before you talk about your company and your solution, briefly describe your understanding of their business, their challenges and their objectives. This situational snapshot is the most important 10 minutes of your entire presentation. It establishes common ground and sets the tone for the rest of the day.
6) Clarify the Top 5 Reasons to Buy – Why should this buyer choose your solution over all others? They might be able to figure it out on their own, but it’s smart to tell them upfront, and again during the session and once more in your summary comments. NOTE: If you think the same top 5 fits every buyer, you might as well skip this step.
7) Emphasize the Buyer’s Requirements – This is a critical demo success factor. Want proof? Here’s what happens when you ignore it. Recently, an LMS vendor talked about Salesforce.com integration throughout their demo and the accompanying proposal. Great stuff. However, the prospect doesn’t use Salesforce.com. In fact, LMS/CRM integration wasn’t even a requirement! This wasted precious time and made the vendor seem clueless.
8) Follow the Buyer’s Script – For buyers, LMS selection is typically not a frequent process, so their demo strategy may not be ideal. Regardless, stick to their agenda so their team can follow along – and rate you – as planned. You may know better, but if you’re wise, you’ll keep it to yourself.
9) Stick to a Tell > Show > Confirm Presentation Strategy – Think carefully about how you illustrate use case scenarios. Prospects are likely to rate each step in the workflow, and you don’t want to lower your score by skipping steps. Start with a PowerPoint slide to introduce capabilities you’ll demonstrate. Next, walk through that functionality in the demo. Then return to PowerPoint and summarize what they’ve seen. Cover every requirement before moving on.
10) Add Visual Interest – Presentations and proposals that integrate relevant screenshots in the right places draw more attention and engagement. For a memorable “wow” factor, take time to add a branded environment in your LMS prior to the live demo and include screenshots from that working prototype.
11) Speak the Buyer’s Language – To reinforce your understanding of their business, include relevant industry and company terms, content names, locations – anything that creates a familiar context. These details may seem unnecessary, but they separate great demos from the rest.
12) Minimize Unforced Errors – Recently, I attended a demo where the wrong logo appeared on some slides. Another was plagued by spelling errors. With such tight competition, buyers will use any excuse to dismiss vendors. Don’t make it easy to eliminate you!
13) Show Mobile Experiences On Mobile Devices – Learning apps are back in a big way. If you have mobile functionality, put your best foot forward by running your demo on a mobile device. Engage participants by inviting them to download your app, scan a QR code or pass around a tablet featuring sample content.
14) Include an Implementation Plan – Unbelievably, many vendors fast-forward through this part of the presentation, letting boilerplate content, generic answers and project schedules from 2015 carry the load. But buyers are scared you’ll make them look bad by blowing the budget and schedule during the implementation phase. In a close competition, a conservative approach and risk mitigation beat feature sizzle and price, hands down. Work with your professional services team to create a set of custom slides with realistic timelines and terms.
15) Simplify the Pricing Discussion – Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” If he were here today to comment about LMS pricing, I’m sure he’d say, “If you need more than a few sentences to explain your license model, you’ve just lost.” Enough said.
16) End Strong – Don’t close the meeting with an open-ended whimper. Wrap it up succinctly. Behave like a lawyer delivering a closing argument and organize key points so they lead to a clear conclusion — why you.
17) Don’t Forget Thank You Notes – An old-fashioned idea, yet it’s still remarkably effective. The same day you deliver a demo, craft a simple, personalized email message to everyone who attended the session. Express your appreciation for the time they’re taking to define their requirements and evaluate your solution. Then send it to every contact on your list, so they know how important this process is to you.
18) Follow Up Fast – Did you capture a list of questions and issues that require further research or clarification? Treat it as an opportunity to demonstrate responsiveness on behalf of your brand. If you don’t close the loop your credibility will suffer, along with your chances of sealing the deal. Even if the “to do” list is short and seems insignificant, don’t let it linger. As you leave the meeting, line-up relevant resources and fill-in the blanks immediately. I guarantee you, that extra effort will leave a lasting, favorable impression.
Vendors, how do your demos rate? You can hope that you’ll be shortlisted with mismatched competition and win some deals through attrition or luck. But hope isn’t a reliable strategy.
When you go head-to-head with comparable vendors, you must differentiate your solution wherever possible. The final software demonstration is an excellent opportunity to shine. It will take extra time, but those incremental investments can pay off in a big way. I look forward to seeing you deliver that killer demo sometime soon.
Thanks for reading!
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