The Cornerstone Effect

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First off let me be clear, this post is not about the  Cornerstone OnDemand LMS in the sense of whether it is a good or bad platform. Nor is it about the company itself, rather it is about the effect the system has on the entire LMS industry.

Several months ago I picked up on a few items other vendors would mention about other systems.  I also picked up on statements made by consumers. buyers or those just following the space.

The statements were eerily similar.

And I knew who they were using as their reference, without realizing it as so.  Cornerstone is not to blame because they didn’t do anything wrong.

It was those statements, which based on the Cornerstone platform, created assumptions that those folks had misinterpreted as being universal, when in reality, they were not.

Fast forward to this past week. Those statements, perceptions have never gone away. More have appeared and when you really listen to each point, you will as I did, come to see they are referring back to COD.


If there is one word that will create panic in the LMS industry it is this word, “traditional”.  Its effect is the same one you would get if you saw a mouse scurrying past you as you ate at your favorite restaurant.  And that result would not be, “Can I have extra droppings in my soup?”.

In the LMS space, it has become the one term that if cast upon your platform is the sign of death, at least to many other vendors.

“We are not your traditional LMS”,  “Our LMS is not traditional”,  “We are not a traditional LMS”, and so on.  

The term implies to those who pitch it, as that their LMS is something new and out of the box, not like those traditional platforms.

Yet when you ask what they see as traditional, you clearly get an idea on what they are or more importantly whom they are referring to.

What Traditional Means to a LMS vendor

Talk to the vendors who pitch this term as if it is similar to your city being destroyed by Godzilla, and you will find that it similarly aligns with Cornerstone OnDemand’s platform.

  •  Focused on HR (more of a perception than necessarily a reality)

Focuses on TM/PM with learning as secondary OR  learning is a part of it, but contains other HR oriented components

  • Geared towards the HR, OD professional – in other words, the system is not focused on Training Directors/Managers and others in training, but more on the L&D side of the house, including HR individuals (I would concur that the platform IMO is aligned in such a way, only because the system itself is geared more towards a soft HCM – Human Capital Management – system, rather than a flat out LMS)
  • Does not have a modern look nor has any modern/latest features (It should also be noted that systems who pitch traditional vs non-traditional, many do not have the latest features, let alone most of the standard features)
  • Follows the old way of doing things in terms of support, service, etc. (Again, support and service should not be associated with traditional, rather you either have good or bad service.)
  • Reminds you of your grandmothers house/apt. and not in a good way (Okay they don’t say that, this is my vibe only. One of my grandmother’s apt stairwell always reminded of old people – as a kid – you pick up these things)

The Cornerstone Effect on Traditional

Take a deep look and you see as I did, that the traditional moniker is in reference to Cornerstone and similar systems.

Similar thoughts are often associated with SumTotal (although they have vastly improved their UI, but they do see themselves at least from my take, and even through a Google search as a HCM, especially after the acquisition by Skillsoft), SuccessFactors, Oracle Learn, Saba, Kenexa and a few others.

The leader though is Cornerstone and when you drive more into the traditional comment it becomes quite evident.

On the UI piece, Cornerstone has improved and included a Modern UI, but it is not throughout the entire system. Rather it is in bits and pieces.  

The system uses a modular approach, which get ready, comes into play with other statements on the industry.

We are all in one platform

If you hear this statement about the system being all in one, or everything is included or its one platform and has no modules, they are directly referring to Cornerstone.  Again, the effect comes into play, loud and clear.

When I talk to vendors who mention the all in one platform (which hey for marketing makes sense), at some point they will bring up the modules angle.

Despite what you may have heard, the vast majority do not use modules nor have modules.

I would say that less than 30 systems do have modules (based on what constitutes a module in my book).  The biggest name of who offers it?  Cornerstone.

Cornerstone and some of the bigger name others including SumTotal, etc., offer a module option.

You can pick and choose what modules you want or just go with one module.  Learning is one module, Talent/PM is another module and so on.  Some vendors will have a recruiting module or a compensation module and again, etc.

But when people say modules, the initial vendor they are referring to is Cornerstone.

Thus the effect is in play.

We are getting a lot of customers who dislike Cornerstone

Since I am not on the calls on why people leave Cornerstone, nor read their minds, I cannot state why people leave Cornerstone to go somewhere else.

I can surmise from my point of view, but I am just one person, not the numbers that seem to be jumping off the Cornerstone ship.

Here are some reality facts that vendors who toss this comment, fail to realize

  • COD is a big system with lots of users and clients, so it is not a surprise that people leave – BECAUSE people leave all the time from one LMS to another, regardless of who they are – albeit some seem to have larger numbers in a per capita angle with customer base of their system
  • Loyalty in the LMS world is not as strong as compared to other e-learning industries such as Web Conferencing and Authoring Tools
  • There are so many factors on why someone might leave, sure support is big, but it might be price, lack of features, system fails to deliver or work as it is supposed to, and so on..
  • Sometimes a vendor will state that they are getting a lot of customers who want a new modern system and approach – uh can you guess who they are subtly referring to?

Once you hear the jumping from Cornerstone statement, invariably the next perception quickly jumps out of the gopher hole,  that the vendor is somehow a competitor to Cornerstone.

I’m a competitor to Cornerstone, they just don’t know it yet

This pitch always irritates me to the core. Hey if you want to see or think that you are a direct competitor to Cornerstone, then I am happy for you, but here again, reality seems to indicate otherwise.

  • Cornerstone is more of a soft HCM, vendors who make this direct pitch to Cornerstone are not anywhere close to Cornerstone.  That said, if you have an extended enterprise (a term I hate), and match or surpass feature sets to COD, then yeah, you would be a competitor.

What I find though, is that vendors who make this direct competitive hit are doing it based on the number of people they are getting that were former COD customers.  That’s it.  Nothing more.  And often, when you look the pricing differential is significant.  

If my system has the features you want and is less expensive that COD, and you have had some issues with COD, then yeah, you probably will walk.  Just as you might with any other system that fits that build.

But if you are targeting SMB and do not have offer similar features – standard ones that is – along with some of the more “latest” feature sets, and you make that claim, sorry Charlie (tuna reference), it doesn’t apply. 

I always find it interesting that vendors who get folks that were former Cornerstone customers will mention that in conversation, but never with other vendors.

I mean sure I hear we got folks from SumTotal or Saba (heard quite frequently of late), but by a hug margin, Cornerstone comes up way more.

I surmise it is part of the Cornerstone effect. In fact, I will say it is a direct result of the Cornerstone effect. 

You see, people have heard of Cornerstone and in some eyes, Cornerstone is the MAN, as in THE SYSYEM.

So if  show that your system just got a few from the GIANT (no doubt mean and eats people), then yeah, take a real good look at us.

This is not because Cornerstone has done anything, in fact, if I was Cornerstone, knowing that my system is seen in such a way and its perceptive influence, I would be pretty stoked. 

It is a lot better than being seen as ant compared to the shoe about to crush it angle.  

Bottom Line

Perception can go a long way in any industry.  It can make or break any product.  Back in the days, people perceived the Edsel in a not positive way and you know what happened there. 

Apple I think has achieved what Microsoft achieved and most likely disliked back in the days of PCs.  You are either a huge Apple lover or you hate them.  

You either buy all their products or as much as you can OR you go against them and buy Android OS devices and non Apple products, including Microsoft PCs.

Mention Apple and the world turns.  Mention how you are beating them and heads turn. 

Bring up how your product does this and that and without saying the brand Apple, people already associate it with Apple. 

The same applies to Cornerstone. 

Cornerstone whether they are aware or not, has created this effect similar to what Apple and previously Blackberry (Research in Motion) and previously than that Microsoft did.  

Create a solution. Create an approach and move forward.  Perception will follow.  Maximize your marketing and grow your business and influence will follow. 

Become an entity within yourself. A Goliath to others.  And see yourselves as change makers. 

And others who feel your strength and power, will follow and eventually replicate. 

But in all of this, comes something else.  

Something that more often than not is so subtle, so hidden that no one can see what it really is. 

The Cornerstone Effect. 

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