How to Pick the WRONG Learning System

Posted by

This post covers what you SHOULD NOT DO when buying any type of learning system, regardless if it is an LXP, LMS, Learning Platform, SEP, DLP or even any type of talent or performance management system (for the folks who are not looking at learning, but are looking at PM or TM).

Before diving into the post, I’d like to present to you, two situations that I believe everyone who has worked at some place of business, school, government office and so forth can totally relate.

Holiday Potlucks

We have all been there. The once a year holiday potluck where you fellow workers bring food or buy it because they are too lazy (we know this to be true).  The previous year, you were ambitious and tried Josh’s five-layer bean dip. Afterward, no one saw you in the office for the next two days.

Josh is back, the bean dip is back and it is the following year. Knowing full well that you paid the price for eating it, you say to yourself, “maybe it was the donuts that Marge bought, that caused my distress,” so you go ahead and indulge in the bean dip. Once again, no one sees you for two days.

Ordering a meal at a restaurant not knowing the native language.

You travel to a destination where you are unfamiliar with the local language and have no idea what you are reading on the menu.  You are afraid to ask what does this mean OR you recognize that the server speaks very little of your language, and thus saying or attempting to ask what this is, will go nowhere. 

Others at your table, are searching on their smartphones trying to decipher what flajhbui8s actually is, but you, ignore that approach.  You know this is wrong, but your buddies are saying you should pick this, and you go ahead and do it.

You end up ordering Lamb’s brains. 

As you see sometimes ignoring what your brain is telling you, or listening to others who have no idea, isn’t always the brightest idea.  It may sound reasonable, heck they may force you to do it, but by doing so, you suffer the consequences and not them.

If you want to always pick the WRONG system, here is what you will always want to do. And if you already are regretting your decision, because you realized you bought the wrong system, fear not, because someone else out there in this world, did the exact same thing.  Think of it this way – at least your not eating Lamb’s brains. 

Top 10 Ways to Pick the WRONG learning system

I should preface this by saying and recognizing that there are times, where it is out of your hands, and you have to follow company policy. That said when it involves your employees (and retaining them) and your customers (and increasing sales), you may wish to think of another way to solve the problem, rather than just acquiescing.

1. Ask everyone at your company, etc. what they would like to see in the learning system you plan to buy.  

This happens quite a bit and it always ends up bad. When sending around or asking people who do not work in training, L&D or HR what they want to have in a system, you are assuring that what they pick will either be redundant (happens quite a bit) and thus a time waster and/or what they seek is relevant only to them because they either just like it, or read something on the net and it sounded good, or they have some sense of superiority to you and know more than you.

Aaron in sales, Frieda in Accounting, Paul in IT, Sandy in Marketing and so forth are not experts in training, L&D or HR.  Yet, you are saying to them, “yes, your feedback is vital to us making a decision”. 

I understand you do not want to hurt other people’s feelings or you have been notified that you have to ask all these departments for their suggestions, but no one ever says you have to take all that stuff and stick it into your RFP or documents or make it an important component of the decision-making process.

Yes, listen. Yes, accept their ideas with a smile and a polite thank-you e-mail.  Then, hit delete or toss it into the trash. 

You can always say afterward when they wonder why their amazing idea (it isn’t) was not in the system (and to be frank, the majority forget or are too busy to care), you can retort back that it was a “great idea” and will be added in the future.  The future is vague, just like that roadmap the vendor tells you, their feature will be in, in the wait for it, future.

Plus, when your end-users are upset about something or there is an issue, they are not going to reach out to anyone in your company; except you or your administrator.

2. The committee makes the final decision. 

Guarantee to fail.  Too many people are swayed in a committee, especially if higher-ups (senior execs) are part of it. Regardless of the size of the committee, group communications data has shown that you will always end up with one leader, and the rest are followers.  Sure, you might have a squabble between two folks with very strong opinions trying to hijack the committee, but in the end, one will always win out.

I hear to tell you, that you must be that leader.  Even if Mark the CTO is sitting there, he will never have the same level of expertise that you have.  Even if you are a milquetoast, you can still take control. 

The best way to achieve it is to come with facts and focus on those. They didn’t hire you because they felt you were just a warm body, they hired you because of your knowledge and expertise in all things, training or L&D or whatever your role is in HR.  

Again, listen, take notes, smile, be polite, but stay firm to your convictions.  I’ve been on committees where there was push back, where people did confrontation approaches, and in the end, I won out. 

First, never go into details about what LMS means, or whatever you are buying with jargon.  Focus on what it can do, what problems it will solve with your organization, how this or that, will boost productivity and or sales, or whatever you are trying to accomplish. 

How it will be for the better good then what you currently have (if you do, and it is not achieving the results to solve that/those problems), and how it benefits everyone.

Stick to the facts. Stick to your knowledge and utilize it without being an egomaniac or condescending.  You have to be the winner here, otherwise, you will end up, being the loser, when this system fails to solve the problem/problems. 

Impact of Learning, which is an ideal metric, works because it ties directly into the company’s goals for that year.  Leverage that.

BTW, the same approach works with member committees at associations. I’ve had my fair share of these, and won in the end, even with members who had XYZ or was told by others that ABC was better.  If you are not seen as credible, not seen as an expert, and not willing to stand for what you believe is the right solution, then you will lose and your members will not use the system, which is a bigger loss.

3. Never ask the right questions when seeing a demo and/or never have them “test” the system during the demo.

Look there are some vendors who pull the smoke and mirrors game when it comes to demos, which I will explain how to beat that, so they can’t, but it is a fact, that not everyone plays fair.

Every vendor is going to tell you that their system is awesome, can do what you need, blah blah, blah.  They wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t.  Many will ask what is your knowledge with whatever learning system you are buying and/or e-learning. 

There are vendors who will utilize this information, if you say “none”, and it won’t be to your advantage. 

Most won’t, but let’s be real, there are plenty that will.  This is why, you should always read up on what e-learning actually is (and no it was not defined as a course or content, it is actually an umbrella term, where systems slide under it. Vendors today refer to it as an online course, though)

Too many people don’t or they rely too heavily on what they heard at a seminar/webinar where the person isn’t an expert, but between dozing or staring at your smartphone, you think, yeah they must be.

 You wouldn’t buy a car without out doing research these days, spending the time and learning everything you can, so why do it, when you are seeking a system (I’ll cover more on this with the Blast RFP approach). 

Demo Rules

Want to ensure that your demo truly reflects what you are trying to do and thus stop the madness of the demo doomsday machine, which will result in you buying the wrong system?

  • If you have any content, ideally a course you have used or built, but it can be a video, PDF, etc. (I’d recommend at least a video or two), send it ahead of time to the vendor’s salesperson and tell them you want them to load it into the system before you see the demo. 

By doing this, you are going to see first hand what it actually will look like and run in the system.  Have them add end-users to the content, show you what it appears as in their player or whatever they use for end-users to see the content.  See what the data looks like with the reports (and I say reports because showing one means nothing), what about the metrics?  I always send at least two pieces of content, because you want to see what it looks like in their catalog, etc.

  • Have them add “dummy data” to the system before you see the demo. “Dummy data” means fake end-users and some fake content or content they have, they can put into the system. 
  • When they ask you what you want to see in the system, change the narrative and tell them you want them to show you how they will solve the problem(s) whatever that may be.  The vendor should ask you ahead of time, in their initial discussion, what are you trying to solve, what is the company culture and other details, including if you have a past or current system.

Clearly, if you have the latter, it is not solving your problems, hence you looking.  The “show me how to solve my problem(s)” approach is achieved by this manner (and if not it is a RED FLAG)

  • The vendor cannot follow their usual script.  This is huge.  They do so many demos, that many follow the same approach every single time.  They always say if you have questions, feel free to interrupt and then when you try to, some will ignore you, why? Script.
  • The vendor should address your problems as they go along in showing the system.  Any vendor that focuses first on your problems as though it is an agenda before they dive into the system, is, wait for it – following a script.  We will show you how to solve it, then script time. 

The best demos I have ever seen, address the problems while showing the system – most of the time, thru what you want in the system to achieve the results you are seeking.   The worst demos? They go point by point with your problem results, then dive into the system, and in many cases, go off tangent, because, they think this is important for you to know, when uh, you do not care.

When I bought systems back in the days though (when running training at various companies), I did exactly what bullet point (above) says to do. 

  • Ask tough questions, see if the vendor goes to a screen quick and then bolts quickly as well, maybe showing an item or two and ignoring the rest.  Tell them, to go back to the screen and keep asking questions, on whatever intrigues you.  I’ve seen vendors go to a screen and it doesn’t load, and then they blame the net, even though everything else is working.  Let’s remember training 101 – always be prepared ahead of time.

You would eviscerate your trainers if they did not make sure everything was working before doing a training session, so why allow that type of behavior when you are seeing a demo?  Being prepared isn’t about being a boy scout, it is about caring about the customer and having the professionalism to make sure everything is working ahead of time.

  • In face to face presentations, see whom the salesperson or whoever is focusing on, if you are the final decision maker (and you have to be) and they are spending more time on so and so, that is bad.   
  • Regardless of the demo, see how fast the salesperson sends you a thank you note.  I get it if they are traveling, but nowadays you can do it while in a cab or uber or before you leave. And online, you can do it in just a few minutes.  If it takes 24 hrs or longer -RED FLAG.   If they do not send you one, RED FLAG.  I’ve had salespeople, who sent a quick thank you via e-mail, then followed up with a snail mail letter.  I admit I was impressed.  
  • Do not get into the “buy now” with the demo.  Review on your own what you saw, if others are in the room or watching, have them provide feedback.  I recommend creating a one-pager rating list, with very clear directions and use of statements (Likert Scale).  Then tally.  In the end though, to be quite honest, you have to be the final decision-maker.  So, everyone can pick ZBD demo, but in your gut, you know this is not a good idea.  Always go gut. Because if something is not working, Bob from Procurement isn’t going to be there to help you. He will magically disappear.

4. Blast an RFP or send your requirements directly to a vendor because you liked their web site, or you asked a question on Linkedin, which is never fully detailed, it is always somewhat ambiguous and you go, “ok, that seems like a good fit”. 

This is a very bad idea.  The other day, someone asked on Linkedin if any LMS worked with smart equipment (as in manufacturing equipment). One vendor, name withheld, said yes, and then went into them having an LRS.

The respondent followed up asking for white papers, etc.

Now, what does an LRS have to do with smart equipment (in the field)? Nothing. They totally dodged the question or more likely, didn’t understand the question and retorted thinking something else.

No system can tie directly with your smart equipment in the field.  It doesn’t work that way. And having an LRS has nothing to do with smart equipment. 

Blasting out an RFP to everyone or dozens of vendors is an awful idea.  I’ll make a suggestion, and yes, it is tied to my FindAnLMS platform, but I designed it to solve all these issues. 

I added a mini-RFP component, so you can first look at the systems you are interested in (via details, web site, viewing materials they have, etc.) and then submit a scaled-down RFP for more information and if you so desire, request a demo.  It asks what you are trying to solve, and thus I recommend providing those details.  Then click and send. 

Now, you are driving the process. If you like what you see, you can send them your full-blown RFP or use my RFP Template, available for download – for LMS/Learning Platform OR for LXP/DLP, which many folks use, and select outstanding systems. 

Always recognize that when you ask tech questions, that most systems are on AWS, and thus the vendor will just provide you what AWS has on their site.  This is why, on my template, I always ask where they host the system.  IT is very important.  Rackspace is not a good choice. AWS is. 

5. Procurement makes the final decision.

I am fully aware that at some companies this is the way it works no matter what.  I say poppycock. If you know this is the case, then select a couple of systems in close price range (to your budget) that will meet if not all, most of what you need. 

Ideally, it should be all, but because of your user base size and budget, it just may not be feasible.  Always list separately in your mind or on paper, the “musts” and “Deal-breakers”.  There are companies where someone in procurement ignores everything and picks something else, without ever listening or reading the pros of it, problems it solves and so forth. 

If, this angle appears, stop by and explain how ZYS will benefit them (assuming they plan to use the system) and will benefit your target audience. 

If they continue to ignore, go up the food chain. I’ve never seen a senior exec. balk at the system you want (assuming it is in your budget), when you show the benefits – advantages of having it.  Have high problems with safety? Here the system will solve it and reduce our costs. 

Every company, school, etc.  will want to save money and reduce costs.  We all know that happy employees, increase productivity and stay with the company. 

Most senior execs at a company, or dept. heads at universities, superintendents and so forth are not aware.  Show them the data, back it with the pluses of this system and toss in some dollar amounts.

If I am doing customer training, and I know by buying system ABC, it will generate 250K or more, I am going to be able to sway that senior person to my side and have them notify procurement or help me with procurement to go with my system.

They may ask, won’t DEF do the same thing, and you say, no, because of blah blah blah.  Do not go into a heavy diatribe.  They don’t care. 

Best of all, if you can show that your customer training thru the system will make training or L&D a profit center, that will impress.  Everyone knows training and L&D are the first departments to get cut when a slow down occurs. Want to even the odds? Generate $$$ and watch Joe sweat it out in Marketing.

6. Just go with what your corporate big entity has or wants.  Someone at big company ABC, picked system X and system X is not benefiting anyone, let alone corporate entity.  Your company is a subsidiary of a big Entity.   Big Entity decides to buy a new system or tells you when you try to buy your own system, that no, you have to stay with ours.

This is always going to be a challenge. The best way to try to sway is to become buddies with whoever is running training or L&D or whatever at the big entity and explain how this new system will benefit them too.  IF the vendor is willing to migrate the data, content, etc. from big entity to your new system without any fees and willing to do this and that, you can counter the pain points some folks have.

If you can show that nobody or less than 5% of your employees are using the system because of all these issues (and show that you tried to resolve them – keep all correspondence),  that will help, but remember, that person likes the system they bought, so do not be like “well, you picked trash,” and I know better. 

7. CEO overrules all

I’ve seen companies, where the training department has done due diligence, spent a lot of time on the process and selected Z, and then are overruled because the CEO read something, has a friend who is the CEO of Y, or a buddy told them this one is better, or they think having a lot of clients means the system is great. 

This is a huge challenge to overcome. You may just have to do what they say, even if you can show the pluses of going with something else with data.  They may not care. If you are really worried, get an opt-out clause with notification of 60 days prior to renewal in your contract.

8. Negotiations

Never just sign on the dotted line. Even when legal goes thru that contract, and either stamp their approval or requests changes, and the vendor agrees.  Negotiate. If the vendor wants your business they will do what is necessary. That said, be realistic.  If the setup fee is 25K and you feel it should be free, that isn’t going to work. 

A vendor wants you to sign a three-year deal.  By doing so, you will get a discount.  If they say it is in your contract already, okay, itemized, please.  I always have vendors itemize everything.  Second, lock in the price.

No, “well, the cost goes up next year due to whatever”.  Sorry, that is not going to work.  That is your problem, not mine.  If you start getting into arguments with the salesperson, this is a RED FLAG and you must walk away.  If the salesperson is belligerent or tries this or that, go over their head.  If their boss is the same way or trying to get you to sign as though you are at a timeshare presentation, walk away. 

This is a big-ticket item for your budget.  Nobody likes aggression and if you start to get a headache or stressed out over the contract, then walk away. Your gut is saying, this is going to be bad.

9. Support. Support. Support.

Number one reason, why people leave their systems and go elsewhere.  And yet, rarely asked about in any RFP or discussions. 

Change that. I cannot tell you the number of folks I have met who complain about Support and then renew with the same vendor because the vendor says they will change, or do this or that to keep them. 

Unless they bring or have brought someone brand new into the company to run support and/or they can constantly show you metrics on improvement (over a period of time), then you must assume that bad support will stay as-is.

What I always ask for (and you should too)

  • Process for deciding what is considered Red-Yellow-Green or whatever they see as high-medium or low issue.  Get into the weeds here.  Ask questions. If they don’t know, have them ask the head of customer support/tech support to contact you.  They will know.
  • Response time.  How long does it take to receive a response, regardless of what it is, from their support team?  Then, going forward, the average time for a response depending on the issue (again, high-medium-low).  A vendor will have these metrics. So if they say, they don’t know, trust me, they do.  And ask how they follow-up. Is it by e-mail? Phone? Chatbot?
  • Do you have a POC (Point of Contact) when you need to reach them for support?  Always get names and e-mail addresses.  And as a follow-up, I always ask who runs the division or department and get their name and e-mail address. If things start to go sideways with support, many times the higher-ups have no idea (i.e. at the vendor).  By reaching out to them, they are a)aware b)should assign you with someone who is at a higher level than the initial support person you are dealing with, c) Provide you with a plan of action in case, it continues to be awful.  If a vendor declines, RED FLAG
  • Ask what is their ratio of avg. number of tickets per client.  Again, this is a metric they have in support. If a vendor declines, and I know a few that will, that is a bad sign.  You are not asking for their home address and what time you should be over for dinner, you are asking a legitimate question.  If it is something like double digits to one – RED FLAG.  I always find it odd when a vendor says their support or NPS score is really high.  “Congrats, but who cares.” – Give me the data – the metrics you have, not a random sample of folks you asked or the number of adopters (in an NPS – in that case how many are passive and how many would not recommend – I have yet to meet a vendor tell me the latter data, when they pronounce their NPS)
  • How many support agents do they have? (i.e. number of people in support). Are they full-time or part-time?  What are your hours of support by phone?  If by e-mail, what are the times you can expect a response and follow-up?  If they have support in multiple countries and you are not a fan of that other country, find out when that support comes into play.  For example, I know of a vendor here in the states, who offer U.S. support till 5 p.m. EST, then it is switched over to a call center overseas, that some customers in the states do not like (for whatever reason).

I know another vendor, who has a lot of employees, but not that many support staff, and thus, it is not a surprise that their infrastructure for support is poor. 

  • How often does your support team/staff receive training? What type of training?  Very important.  And virtually never asked by potential clients.   Seriously, do you want to have someone in support, whose training is reading the manual?  I always ask how many of your support staff worked at a previous LMS or learning system company.  You expect them to know your industry.  Again, if you go to a mechanic at your car dealership, they should know all about your car, even if it is an old model.   And they should receive on-going training.  Would you trust them, if they did not?

10. The Salesperson

If they do not know the answer to a question, they should say – I do not know, but I can find out.  I always ask them if they know why e-learning was created in the first place or why an LMS was created in the first place.  They should know this information. And I can tell you the majority have no idea or say an LMS was created for compliance. It wasn’t.

I’d rather have a salesperson who is not pushy or aggressive. Again, as long as the questions are related to the system and/or the company, they should be able to provide them or have someone who can – their boss, etc.   And yet, I have salespeople who think they are the customer and not you.

But folks sign, because they like the system.  Let’s remember the company culture here.  If this is how they are treating you now, do you honestly think this will change, once you become a customer?

Listen you may be a client who constantly calls or e-mails your salesperson either to ask more questions or seek assistance because you can’t get a hold of customer support or you just are having issues. 

They signed you, they should respect you and help you.  This isn’t passing the buck here.  Okay, you are having support issues, let me contact the head of support, what is a good number or e-mail to reach you at? If you do not hear from them in X hours, please let me know and I will follow-up again.

Bottom Line

I hear all the time from folks, how much they hate their system.  I’ve seen presenters at conferences ask the crowd to raise their hands on if they hate their system, and there is always a lot of hands.

If you want to continue down the path of picking the wrong system, then ignore this post.

And while you are at it,

Enjoy the Potluck.

And the dip.

E-Learning 24/7