LMS Proposals – It is more than saying “I do”

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Few things in this world are universal.  Taxes, Death, Bad food, irritating salespeople, people singing who have no right to do so, and overpriced goods and services.

Yep, they are all universal.  But did you know, there is another universal item for those in e-learning?

If you said, proposals, then you deserve to have someone sing at your office – I would say me, but while I am popular with the neighborhood dogs who howl, when I belt out a few, I’m not sure that would work at your place of business.

Anyway, within e-learning you can be assured of a few items when it comes to proposals:

  • Some vendors loathe doing them, actually more than you might expect
  • Very popular with LMS/learning platform and web conferencing vendors
  • Tend to range between a few pages to an encyclopedia in size
  • Vendors always stick the numbers (costs) in the back of the proposal
  • Vendors assume that you as the decision maker are going to read the entire thing – of course you won’t (admit it)

Do the Numbers

During my days as a Director of Training, I would seek out and purchase learning management systems. And each time, I sought and received a proposal.

I did it for a couple of reasons (even if I already knew the price)

  • I wanted to gauge the true level of interest by the LMS vendor – beat my deadline, and you go up the ladder
  • I wanted to see whether it was truly built for me, or merely a template with loads of pages about who they were (didn’t care), who were their other clients (didn’t care), their approach (curious to see if it was based on our discussions or just generalized), project process including implementation strategy (a must for me), itemized pricing and details (important), listing all the features they had (nice to know, but since I already had those details ahead of time – otherwise they would have never been considered, not really useful to me), and any other pertinent information related to me (sensing a pattern here?)
  • Viewable screen shots of your product – while not really relevant to me, it might be of use, if I have to show the proposal to someone else, who hasn’t see the product.  But, do not create screenshots that require me to use a magnifying glass to see them.

What I did not want to see

  • A contract – It creates a presumption that a deal is imminent. Since I always negotiated beyond what they priced out to me, I found vendors who did this to lack professionalism.  That is like saying, hey you test drove this new car – here is the contract, let’s sign (all before you actually sit down to discuss whatever).
  • Estimates.  I stated what I needed, I listened and responded to your inquiries.

I viewed the demo and asked questions. I sought additional insight and you did as well. So, why did you give me an estimate?  You already have run the numbers and know your profit margin.

  • A book – in terms of length of pages

LMS Proposals that fail

There are two kinds or proposals – ones that people want to read and ones that cure insomnia. Ideally you want the former.

However, in many cases, potential customers receive the latter and here’s why:

  • They are excessively long.  I have seen ones that are over 40 pages in the length. One time I had one that went nearly 60 pages.  Who is going to read that? Oh, wait I know – no one.
  • They have a Table of Contents, but it is not clickable – thus you are forced to go through the document using your forward button on your PDF viewer.  It takes just a few minutes to create hyperlinks within a PDF.  Invest the time.
  • The pricing numbers are always in the back of the document.

Let me provide you with a little secret. Any person who is buying a LMS, goes first to see how much it will cost, before they read anything. I mean if it is not even near their budget (even if they do negotiations), then why read the proposal?  So, why shove it in the back of the proposal?

I’ll tell you why – because that is what we have learned via books, seeing other proposals, etc. and thus we do it.  But the days of someone reading the whole thing no longer exists. People do not have the time or inclination to do so.  You don’t have to list the pricing on the first page, but it should be within the first two or three pages.

As someone who receives proposals for my clients who have hired me to find them a learning management system, I am always appreciative of vendors who follow my request on doing so.

LMS Proposal Length

As mentioned earlier, the number of pages on some of them, can be outrageous. I often wonder if the salesperson creating the proposal, would (if they were on the receiving end) actually read the entire document themselves.  I seriously doubt it, so why are they forcing it on the prospect to do so?

Take a look at any LMS proposal and you will invariably will see loads of pages that is nothing more than a “shove in the documents, we already have created for other prospects.”

Besides the eco issues that exist today – how much paper is really needed to present the key information?  I say paper, because there are plenty of people who print them out to read elsewhere.

I am a fan of getting right to the point, presenting the key and important details that I need to know to make an informed decision.  This can be done in as few as four pages to eight pages. 

I see no reason, that any LMS Proposal should be more than 10 pages, unless the customer asks for additional information that must be included in the proposal.

Wait, did I just say “customer requests” it?

As a LMS vendor there is nothing wrong with asking the customer what information they would like to see in the proposal, besides the pricing and timeline of the project (or project process/implementation schedule). 

In some cases, they may not want the project timeline, but you wouldn’t know that unless you ask them.

Vendors will always tell you that they ask the prospect what they would want or like to see in a demo (even if they actually don’t do it), so why isn’t this included in the proposal?

Think Differently

I have created proposals that included video and other elements beyond just text, to potential clients.  Does it make a difference? Maybe yes, maybe no, but it stands out.  It shows this is not the same ol same proposal they get from everyone else.

As a LMS vendor you are telling prospects that your system is different in so many ways, so how about showing it your own proposal? Go beyond just text and tables.

I can’t speak for all people looking/considering a system, but for me, having the salesperson on a quick video, recognizing my value as a future customer and providing some specifics all in less than three minutes, would impress me. 

It shows I am special to that vendor and they actually care about my business.

Go the extra mile

Follow up.  I’m not talking about hounding someone a day or two later, rather wait five business days and then politely follow up. Find out what is their preferred method of contact (this info should be asked even before the proposal is sent to them). 

In my days as a training executive and even now, I prefer e-mail contact and always state so.  However, in the case of a LMS proposal, I always requested that the proposal be sent via e-mail and as a hard copy via mail.

Again, I wanted to see what does my business mean to the vendor. If I am not worth UPS, FedEx or DHL overnight, then I am probably not as important to them, as they say I am.

Yeah, I admit it can be seen as a jerk move, but here is the thing – you as the LMS vendor are still in the “wooing phase”.

Bottom Line

If you have ever proposed to someone, you do not ramble on for an infinite number of hours.  You do not treat the person as though they are just like everyone else.  Present information that is basically, “Enter their name” and use the same content as your friend did with his proposal.

You want them to feel special. You want them to be a part of your life.

You care.

As a LMS vendor you can present your proposal in the same manner

And you don’t need a ring to show it.

E-Learning 24/7


  1. Very well written, it’s so true about lengthy proposals being read by decision makers. “Right, now its time to shut the curtains, put all calls on forwarding, brew up a nice cup of Rosie and read Sean’s 25+ page proposal. I wonder what the huge twist is at the end, will they fit, wont they fit, time to dive in and find out!’…………..’Ill just quickly look at the pricing first though.’

    On a more serious note I agree with the additional effort purporting to previous conversations that take place prior to the release of a proposal, adding personal touches shows you have listened.

    Such detailed information (videos, screenshots of a decent size, language tailored to a previous must have or conversational note etc..) stand out to a decision maker and can be the winner if the finished document doesn’t give War and Peace a run for its money.

    One thing I will say (as a non irritating sales person) is that the reluctance to participate or tailor said documentation is reflected in the initial inquiry as well.

    I can think of many times where I have had a call from someone who sometimes is, sometimes isn’t a decision maker, who claims to love our LMS, says they have put us on the top contender list, but who then fails to engage in any form of conversation around needs, must haves and short / long term strategy and just sends over an RFP with vague, generic or has requirements that require a proposal that resembles War and Peace.

    This does have an air that suggests the purchaser has made a decision and is just doing the necessary due diligence before shaking hands and signing on the dotted line.

    I agree on the length of a response, but sometimes the length of the response is reflective of the length of the request….

    I actually quite enjoy writing these when there has been some informative opening dialogue before the document is sent, I have created certain templates in the past and still use them for the generic details / links but each case and need can vary so much that I tend to try and start afresh with each one. Needless to say it can keep the team here very busy!

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