LMS Demos: The difference maker

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I want you to imagine a warm sunny day.  The sky is blue with a few big puffy clouds floating aimlessly.  You gaze to your right and see a turquoise sea along with a white sandy beach.

Now let me ask you a question.

After my detailed description, how many of you actually could see that?  Down to each detail, mind you?

If you said you didnt’ you are not alone.

In fact, for most people the brain cannot automatically assign such particulars related to colors and details (and equally – accurate specifications for each).   For example, I said white sandy beach.  You would have to seen such a white beach before to truly get an understanding, otherwise the colors would be off. 

I mention this because this is a perfect example of how a simple demo can fail.

It fails because it lacks particulars and items that enable you to get a better sense on whether it is right for you. 

Demo for me and you

There are a few ways to be successful in a demo and lots of ways to fail.  As such, I’ll cover some of the basics from the vendor perspective (what they should do) and from the buyer perspective (what you should require of them, prior to, during and post demo).

The following is for an online demo and not a final two or three pitch demonstration, which is a tad different.

Vendor Goals – Show me, Tell me..Let me

Here is a typical way most vendors show their product.

1. Once you request a demo, and assuming the vendor says sure (and 99% of the time they will), they should ask you what if any areas are you specifically seeking.  They may ascertain just from a series of questions, but honestly, they should also inquire.

2.  You see the demo.  Often it is vanilla looking or generic.  They either focus only on the areas you were interested in OR show the whole thing.

3.  During the time, they say to you, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask (or something along those lines).

4. After the demo, they may or may not ask if you have any additional questions, but they will often ask what are the next steps.

5. Call Ends

Here is the way they should do it

What you just saw above is quite common and yet, it has been set up to be a lackluster experience.  Most folks who have never had demos, specifically LMS demos, may not realize this, but for those of us who have seen our share of them, the above scenario is not something ideal.

Remember the beginning of the post where I asked you to see those colors and details in your brain?  And if you were like the majority, you unlikely either saw it or if you did, it was not 100% to what I envisioned?

Well, as noted earlier – it is not you, it is how your brain operates and as a result, if I (the vendor) show you a generic or vanilla LMS demo with my standard colors and then tell you to imagine it looking like this or that, with these colors or those, what do you think is going to happen?

Correct. Nothing.

You will try to get an idea, but for most folks, it just isn’t going to happen.  Rather than saying, I see nothing – most folks just go, “yeah, okay, got it.”

What Should They (Vendor do) Demo

Prior to doing the demo, go to the consumer’s web site and take a look at some of the colors.  Grab their logo.  Maybe mimic their header bar colors and so forth. Next, put that into your demo, prior to showing it to the customer.


Before you kick further into the demo, let them know here are some additional examples of what you can skin or do color, font wise, etc. – out of the box (and you show some customer examples).  Out of the box means, what is included when I bought the platform. It does not mean, showing me something awesome that someone dropped 5K or whatever for it look that way.

And here is another key item – Show me the best of what you got or what you think will wow me.

I’ve seen vendors who do the screen colors and then show me some examples and the examples look lame.   What this says to me is that your system even skinned will look lame.   What you should do – is identify those sites that you see as full power possibilities with your product.  And here’s the thing. If you don’t have one, create one.  If it can be done in the product, without someone paying extra for it, then show it off.

What Should They (Vendor do) Questions

I do like it when vendors ask me what I want to see, but there are plenty of times, where I will say, I want to see it all and then when you start, I may ask for some specific areas, rather than you showing it all to me.  I will always though request they show me

  • Learner side – From when I log into the system, to my home page to what I can see and do
  • Social options – If they have it, let me see it
  • Navigation – I want to know how a learner gets from Point A to Point B
  • Catalog and catalog options (i.e. filters) and what it looks like (it is icons or not).  Funny thing is that most folks regardless of age prefer icons and yet, I often hear salespeople go, “well the 20 somethings like icons”, uh no..we all do. Clearly, they have never seen some work instructions or training reference materials. 
  • Learner takes a course – how do they do it, what steps are involved
  • Mobile – Show it off. What can I do? What can I see?  And yeah, they can do it.. and they don’t need an actual device to show it.
  • Nav bar – This gets back to navigation, but what does the learner see?  What can be hidden? Can I change the labels – remove, keep or change the text? What about the text on the screen, fonts and so forth.
  • If they use blocks or widgets – can I select which ones the user sees? Can each learner have their own visual look – i.e. Fred gets six blocks. Steve gets four. Carolyn gets nine.
  • Administration side – HUGE.  These are the folks who are going to be using the system every day. 
  • Admin side – Assign courses, assign users to courses or materials, create a learning path or curriculum
  • Does the admin side start off with a home dashboard? To me, that is important.   Others not so much.
  • How easy is the admin side to figure out and work with?  If you are already being overwhelmed, trust me it won’t change.
  • Reporting – How many canned reports?  Do you have ad-hoc?  How do I do the ad-hoc?  Can I create my own filters?  What options are available for output?  Can I send reports to various managers if I need be..
  • Do you have any drag and drop capabilities with your admin side (in other words, what do you offer to streamline and enhance the processes).  I mention drag and drop, because many vendors are now incorporating that option via HTML5 or similar.  It is nice and sharp

Take a real look at the admin side.  Look at the icons they use (if they have any).  Does it look like it came from Windows 2000? 

The issue today is that for many vendors when they do a refresh in terms of UI, they often focus first on the learner side and not the admin side.  So, if you see a system like that, ask them how long or where they are with redoing the admin side.  And do not be afraid to ask the tough questions.

I’ve seen some amazing front ends (learner side) and then go to the admin, and end up being stunned – and not in a good way.  I know of one vendor who I jokingly said to them, “Those icons look like they came from Windows 98.” Their response (seriously), “Yep, how did you know?” 

Question Part 2

There are vendors who will ignore your inquiries. Yeah, they say, stop me if you have any questions OR you state what you want to see and they say okay they will do that and then they ignore you and follow their path (i.e. internal script).

I have told vendors I know a lot about LMSs, give some background and get detailed, only to have them ignore me and talk to them as though I do not even know what is a LMS.  Clearly, the listening aspect does not apply. 

If you are not getting an answer to your question, be more blunt.  We all go the nice route, “Excuse me,” or wait until they end their points and then try to jump in – but for some people that just doesn’t work.  Rather than just say to yourself, oh, forget it – jump in.  I have had to do it, and while it is not ideal, at the end of the day it is about ME (i.e. the customer) and not a song and dance from them (the salesperson). 

You are going to be the one (or your admins) using the system, so if people just blathering non-stop and ignore – stop them and ask the question or questions. 

After the demo ends (vendor)

Besides asking next steps, I would find out how they prefer communication – is it by phone, email, both and so forth. Never assume.  You can lose a deal, just by making that simple of a mistake. 

In the asking next steps, find out the process without being belligerent.  It is more than fair to ask if they do not select you or other vendors, if they will notify you by e-mail.  Vendors love the line, “well so we know what we can do better next time”, which is fine and dandy, but it is just human nature to learn why you were not selected.  As the consumer, you can simply just let them know they were not selected and move on OR you can just say we had concerns about blah blah and thank and move on. 

As the vendor this should be sufficient.  I hate it when a vendor who I politely let them know they were not selected and why, follows up and asks for more info or a call.  Why?

Unless I offer, accept and move on.   You pitching me on whatever is not going to change my mind.

One more thought

When consumers fire off RFPS to lots of vendors and then vendors respond, many never hear back one way or another.  It is always nice to let them know one way or another.  They just spent considerable time filling this thing out and at least you can do, is just say something as a follow up.

Think of it this way.

If you were on the other side, how would you feel if no one followed up with you?

Vendor Bonus for showing me you care

After that demo is done, the next thing I should get from you is a quick thank you. 

It can put you up over someone else, because as you know, the number one reason jump platforms is support and service.  What a great way to show you “care”, by sending a quick thank you. 

As the Consumer what you need

Besides the aforementioned, here are a couple of items, I always recommend to my consumer clients when they are going to view a vendor demo.

  • Send the vendor one of your courses and have them upload it into the system, prior to showing you the demo.  If you do not have a course available, ask them to upload some docs while you are seeing it in real time and then have them assign them to blah blah, and blah blah.   If it is a course – take a look at what it looks like in their system.  Have them assign users to it, and go forward from there. 
  • Afterwards, have them show a couple of analytics and reports
  • If you are unsure what documents to upload, I recommend a video file (mp4), a PDF and either a PPT or word doc.  If you use Office 365 make sure their system can accept those files.  It should, but I have run into systems that cannot.  With the mp4, have them run it in their system and take a look at what it looks like.  If you have a lot of videos, it is important to find out what data can they track – who has viewed it and so on.
  • If you are interfacing with a 3rd party API that is common, see if they can show you an example of a system that has that API turned on.  Some vendors have that ability to do so – you won’t know unless you ask.
  • Find out if what you are seeing comes with your product that you are buying.  I have seen demos where everything is turned on and the vendor has modules.  It is up to you to ask, and many people don’t – they just assume everything they are seeing is included. NEVER ASSUME.  I see it all the time and those who don’t and then get the system and see it does not have everything ends up unhappy.

What to ignore during the demo

  • Retention Rates and Customer Satisfaction rates

Why?  Because even it is is poor, no one will ever tell you that.  I have never heard a vendor say to me, my retention rates are 93% or customer support is 85%. 

Bottom Line

A demo can make or break a deal.  Often times it is the little things, the miniscule things that can make the difference.

A difference

between moving on

or falling off.

E-Learning 24/7

There will be a post on the 29th.  Have a happy holiday!