Getting final budget approval for a learning management system (LMS) is kind of like pushing over a Coke machine. It usually takes a few tries.
The buying cycle for a new or an upgraded LMS averages 12-24 months – and can easily take much longer. This elongated buying cycle is almost always due to the challenge of obtaining executive budget approval for the purchase and ongoing maintenance.
Once you’ve submitted your budget requests, there is really nothing else to do other than hope and prepare. Yet surprisingly, most LMS buying organizations don’t take advantage of the calm before the storm – despite having ample available time to move their agenda forward.
This means that once they actually do receive approval to proceed with a purchase, buyers are often woefully unprepared for LMS implementation.
There is a perception that the implementation process is the time to figure out the small details of the project, but you should define as much in advance as you can to streamline the implementation and maximize your odds of success.
Preparation is never lost. Even if your LMS budget gets delayed for a year or two, any preparation work you do will be leveraged at that time, and you’ll be stronger because of it. So what exactly should you do while waiting for a green light?
Below are five activities that will be valuable, no matter when you buy, or what learning platform vendor you choose.
5 Ways to Invest Your Time While Waiting for LMS Budget Approval
1) Start Researching – Yesterday
If you are researching LMSs in the same year you’re going to buy an LMS, you are most likely running too fast for comfort. When you choose a learning platform, you’re most likely staking your professional reputation on the outcome. Most LMS buyers don’t get a second or third opportunity to get the vendor selection and implementation right.
That’s why it pays to do your homework, early and often. You really can’t know too much about the learning systems industry, best practices, trends, pitfalls, case studies and vendors if you want a successful outcome when you buy an LMS.
My best advice is to start early with the research and do a little every day. If you spent just 10 minutes every workday reading blogs and websites about LMS you would read over 40 hours in one year!
When was the last time you read information about a single topic for a total 40 hours? Just imagine how smart you would be about learning systems if your core team read 30 minutes a day and shared results and ideas weekly?
2) Create a Measurable Business Plan
If you can’t define and predictively measure how the purchase of an LMS is going to help your organization make or save money – way more money than the cost of the LMS – you aren’t ready to buy a system. Nor are you likely to receive LMS budget approval.
A metrics-based plan doesn’t need to be a complex, MBA-level affair. It can start as small as monitoring one business metric such as sales volume, support requests or compliance violations and comparing changes in trained vs. untrained groups or individuals.
The measurable differences in performance can be attributed to use of the system. Once you have identified a historical trend, you can make future predictions about the impact of the new system.
For example, how much will access to a new system increase your learning program reach? How much faster/easier will it be for users to complete courses or certifications? You get the idea. If you start measuring from day one, winning an incremental budget for new projects will be easier than first-grade math.
3) Sort Out Your LMS Governance
A governance plan should define all the related training (collaborators and competitors) and the business rules for their interactions with the system. It should also consider how decisions are made and prioritized, and define standards for system and related data usage. As you develop this blueprint, it’s important to balance the needs of your organization with the needs of individual business units.
If you don’t have a governance plan, you need to create one sooner, rather than later. Governance rules will not only help you manage global LMS adoption, but are also useful in educating potential vendors about the scope of your implementation.
This kind of insight helps vendors develop more realistic bids and guide you more effectively toward your desired outcomes. For example, if LMS vendors know that your governance structure is centralized with relatively few decision-makers, they can reduce their implementation bid to accommodate a smaller scope than an organization with, say, dozens of federated training stakeholders who must work collaboratively.
Either way, if you don’t define governance clearly at this point, you will have to do it during the implementation process. And more likely than not, that effort will happen too late and be too hurried to be effective.
4) Master Your Historical Data
When vendors provide quotes on LMS licensing, implementation, hosting and support, those estimates are based directly on usage assumptions. The more an LMS buyer knows about historical and predicted usage patterns, the better the vendor can estimate and accommodate the appropriate level of pricing and support.
If you give vendors too little data, they’re likely to bid too high or too low. But I can assure you, they definitely won’t bid correctly, unless they’re lotto-winner lucky.
As part of your data collection, define specifically the amount of content you have, the types of media formats you use, how often that content is used and by whom.
The ideal time to identify bad content and remove it is when you are switching LMS platforms.
5) Build a Reference Network
Vendors hate sharing client references. They never know what references are going to say. Plus, it’s tough to ask the same clients to repeatedly provide hour after hour of uncompensated reference information.
This means that vendors must maintain great relationships with many clients or they will never have enough references to satisfy all the prospects in their sales pipeline. And that is exactly why you need to ask for and conduct client reference calls before selecting a partner.
Most clients are happy to share their experiences when asked. And many do so freely online. If you start your research early, you will be able to create your own informal network, learn best practices and pitfalls, and identify high-quality vendors as well as those you definitely want to avoid.
Whether purchasing automobiles, real estate, smartphones or learning systems – prepared and educated buyers buy better. That means you’re likely to be more successful in achieving your business goals in the long-run.
Unless you’re a C-level executive, it’s really tough to accelerate the LMS buying cycle. But if you can’t speed it up, at least you can make the most use of your downtime by getting smarter and becoming better prepared to move forward as soon as the funds are available.
Thanks for reading!
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John Leh is 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.
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