When it comes to the e-learning market, specifically the LMS space (and you can toss in LCMS, CMS, Learning Portals as well),  there are a lot of traps that customers fall into and can’t get out.

Sometimes it is a result of the vendor, other times it is a failure of due diligence on the part of the soon to be customer.  And yes, there are times it is both parties.

Trap #1 Snake Oil Salesperson

The vendor’s salesperson tells you want you want to hear. They come up with fanciful information that can be misleading or downright lies. Favorites include

  • Interoperability – “Yes, our system will work right out of the gate with any course, any 3rd party course..no problems, no issues” – To learn the real truth about Interoperability
  • Integration with ERP solutions – “We have never had any issues with any ERP system. Never!” OR “We work well with every system out on the market, every one of them.” Then, you have a system that doesn’t work it.. hello?
  • Integration with 3rd party tools – “Yeah, typically we haven’t had a problem. It depends of course, but rarely has it been an issue.”
  • Response times – “We respond quickly. E-mail within 24 hours or less. Our tech support is superior, they always call back the same day.” SCORM – Assuming they do not support SCORM 2004 3rd edition, thus all SCORM levels below it, you will find salespeople who have no idea on a) what it is, b) just say yes they do – even if their product does not
  • Social Learning (if they do not offer it yet) – “It is on our table for X year or a future upgrade” some angle with mobile learning if they do not offer it, – I would rather they say, “no, we have no plans at this time.”, but why do that – if that is what you want in the product – after all – HOPE goes a long way
  • APIs – (again, if they do not offer it) “”Yeah our system can integrate with them” then when I ask what that is – they have no idea  – I hear that frequently, when I make random calls

Trap #2  We Are the Best – We have 200K users and 1000 clients

I expect nothing less from the vendor. Seriously, who wants to say, “We stink, so buy from us.”  But when they tell me how many users they have and how many clients, I really don”t care.  Here is why

  • I am focused on my needs and wants – what I need from a system, can it do what I need it do – are you innovative or you seeing the market, are you nimble? Do you listen to your customers? What if I have a problem or an issue, who takes care of that? Upgrades – free? What do I get for what I am paying, etc.
  • If I am in a specific vertical market, then I am only interested in how many clients they have in that market – not any others – again, I’m happy you have Financial companies, but I’m a 501(c)3, so who do you have that is like me?
  • Okay, you have 45,000 users – but this might be one client, more importantly, if you tell me you have Ford or someone like that – it screams you are targeting Fortune 250 or higher; so I’m a small size client – how important am I to you?
  • If I am a Fortune 250 or Fortune 500 – hearing the big name droppers is great, but again, are you going to meet my needs
  • I’m out of your home country market – who do you have in my country or region?  You may have a global conglomerate, but that is not the same as a big company that is located only in Brazil, for example – especially if my company is in Brazil
  • What products are they using? If the vendor offers a couple of solutions, not all of those clients are going to be using the same solution – so who is using the solution like me? Don’t forget, you want your system to be you – so you may turn on or off features, you may want to integrate APIs, they may not use them – their other clients – take that into account

Trap #3 White Papers and Case Studies in the Space – inc. any E-Learning product

At one time, vendors were honest, stating “white papers” as marketing materials. Sadly, those days are gone.

A white paper is a marketing tool. A marketing material. Nothing more.  Case studies:

  • Marketing Document
  • The vendor selects customers who have used or using their product to solve a problem/issue/etc. – the customer loves the product; they will never select a customer who dislikes or hates the product NOR
  • Will the customer state in the case study anything about the product they do not like (I created one of these things once for a vendor a long time ago, and a customer mentioned to me that they did not like x and y about the product; guess what – it wasn’t in the case study)
  • Any vendor who pitches these things as proof on how great their system is, and fails to mention the above facts is bordering IMO on ethical issues – and there are those at some vendors who concur – it is misleading
  • The customer is aware ahead of time that the vendor is going to create this case study, because the vendor has pre-notified them. Even if it is multiple customers; same thing.
  • Pitched under the guise of “research” from the vendor perspective
  • The customer who is asked to provide the information – is providing it – honestly; in many cases, they may be unaware of what a case study really is – in terms of “marketing” from the vendor’s approach

Trap #4  Demo Time!

There are plenty of vendors out there – across the entire e-learning market mind you, who will show you a demo and fails to mention the catch.  LMS – it is often showing all the bells and whistles of the system; not necessarily the items you are going to purchase – this is if the system has add on modules or add-ons or extras you can purchase.

Unless you ask, many will not state this key bit of information. Thus imagine your surprise when you receive your system only to realize that those extra bells and whistles are missing.  Oh, they are available, but you have to pay extra for that.   Always ask – don’t be afraid to do so.

If the system comes as is, you should still ask questions – about whether you can do this or that – turn on or off labels on the back end; change the text, etc. Thankfully, many salespeople will tell you upfront, but there are plenty who won’t- why? Because they are following a script – i.e. a standard process for all their demos.

Trap #5 Bogeyman Data

My personal favorite and wow, it is used a lot by vendors. Here is how it works and the goal is to scare you into staying with their system – even if you absolutely hate it and do not want to renew:

  • Your learner data cannot be transferred over to another system (fields will be missing, the data can become corrupted, not possible, difficult to do..blah blah)
  • Your courses cannot be transferred over (these are the ones you created with your own authoring tools – a key reason, by the way, why I recommend using a 3rd party authoring tool, rather than one built-into a LMS)
  • Courses cannot be transferred over – 3rd party course content – from your 3rd party vendor
  • Inability to keep the records of where your learners are, etc. – Very often true, but you can do it, by generating reports ahead of time to know who has completed what, who is in progress etc.
  • It will take a lot of time and/or cause you headaches

Now, lets face reality

  • If they can download the data as .csv file – and they all can – then you can upload it into your new system – heck, nowadays with the SAAS systems, you can actually download the .csv information on your people, including in some cases the courses they were assigned, etc. – again, reports in some systems can be exported as .csv files – and .csv can be viewed in Excel or Google Spreadsheets or any Spreadsheet program.  The missing fields is a scare tactic. The only reason it wouldn’t show up,, is because they failed on their side of the plate. Again, downloading the learner data information as .csv file is not difficult to do, and it will appear with fields as the column headers.
  • Course Transfer – 3rd party content by other vendors can easily be transferred. Your new vendor talks with your current/soon to be old vendor and then transfer the courses. The new vendor makes sure the courses work in your system. Now, you – i.e. the administrator, will need to re-populate the learners who are in the course, but again, a quick upload of a .csv file, inputs all the end users and then using reports or exports of completed, in-progress or curriculum paths of those courses – you can add them quickly using a batch or whatever the new system has to group and add the users.
  • Your course content – You have the files already, a result of you building the course in your 3rd party authoring tool, so you simply use the wrapper, zip and upload into your new system. A caveat: You need to make sure that your new system supports the SCORM version you are using with your 3rd party content authoring tool.
  • What if you used your vendor’s content authoring tool? No problem. If they truly valued you as a customer they will give you the wrapped SCORM course and files so you can upload it or give it to your new vendor. And by the way, a lot of vendors – will upload your courses for you, when you are moving from one vendor to another. Best of all, they won’t charge you for it.

Time and headaches? For who? You? Uh, no. For your current vendor – sure. The headache that is. The time for the data file – come on, maybe 7 days depending on the number of end users.  Most can do it, in 48 hours depending again on the end users, and data fields.   The 3rd party course content transfer – give them a deadline of 1-2 weeks. Trust me, they will meet it.

One note about 3rd party course content transfers

Lets say you purchased the 3rd party course content via your current LMS vendor. Don’t worry. All this means, is that they have a partnership deal with the content vendor, that’s it.  So, if they try to play hard ball with you, here is how you take care of it quickly:

  • Contact the 3rd party content vendor directly – end of discussion. Your problem is resolved.  The vendor will talk with your soon to be X-LMS provider and solve it, OR work with you directly to get the courses in your new system – directly from the 3rd party course content vendor, and you can re-negotiate the seat pricing too, sometimes getting a better deal – especially when you quote what the LMS vendor charged you – which is often a tad higher then the 3rd party content vendor (if you had went to them directly).   BUT
  • Remember that the cost you paid for with X-LMS for the 3rd party content is not going to be the same price as your new LMS vendor – this is assuming that you purchased the 3rd party business courses for example, through your X-LMS vendor and not directly through the content vendor themselves

Example: Skillsoft sells content – business, soft skills, etc. You can go directly to them and say you want this and that, and break the bundle and this and that, and they will work with your LMS vendor to move the courses in there. You negotiate the price for the course content with Skillsoft, not your LMS vendor.  This is just for the course content, which typically uses a seat approach – i.e. one user name/password = 1 seat. They sell in packages/bundles – min. 50 seats, etc.

Now, what some LMS vendors do – is they sell this content directly to you – rather than having you go directly to Skillsoft and talk with them – they are removing the extra step; and typically they charge a tad higher for the content.  So, you are paying for convenience.  I rarely followed this angle. I went directly to the content vendor and always struck better deals with the provider, incl. extras tossed in too.  Best of all, they deal directly with the LMS vendor, so you are not stuck in the middle – so really, the convenience is still there.

Bottom Line

It is interesting to note, that there are lots of people who will tell me they are unhappy with their LMS – because it won’t do this or that, but then they renew.

This could explain, why so many vendors are touting they have a 95%+ renew rate, after all, all their customers love them.

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