Why did you buy your learning system?

Posted by

We all believe we make the right decisions. Sure, there are times we second guess ourselves afterward, for any number of reasons.

Some due to a last-minute, “I need this” near the checkout lane. Others, a “well I did the research, but I am having second thoughts,”. Perhaps it is an intensive search, analysis, comparison, contacting, repetitive follow-up, and then, just when you think it is done, someone else isn’t sure, so the whole thing comes crashing down, and the process goes into limbo.

Maybe, just maybe you are ready to purchase, the decision is made, everything is set, just a signature is required. New System X is announced that it is coming out and is made by a well-known brand or a brand that you hear is great, didn’t like the first time around, but this is a new version, and just perhaps, perhaps it is a better fit. So, you hold. Then, rollout and you buy – ignoring everything you have already done.

The Mustard Aisle

I’m the worst. I’m the guy who goes into a supermarket, makes a b-line to the condiments aisle, knowing that I need mustard. I find the mustard options and stand there. So many choices. Yellow? Spicey? Horseradish? I am not a yellow mustard fan, so I remove those immediately from consideration. Wait, there is a special going on, buy one, get one free – maybe Yellow mustard isn’t so bad. Nope, it’s out. What about this brand? Never heard of it, not sure.

Time goes by, and there I am still debating on mustard. Price becomes a factor, but this mustard just seems like the right one, so I could find a way, to make it work. $8 for mustard? What, no way – wait, it does seem to have all-natural ingredients, not some things I can’t figure out, like others.

I will think, okay, this is the right mustard, then second guess and put it down. More time.

At some point, I have to make a decision. I do.

When I get home and make myself a plant-based burger, I use my new mustard.

It was the right decision.

Decision Making

Let’s go back to the start. Why, did you purchase your learning system?

If I or someone else was to reach out to everyone who has purchased a learning system in the past year (the reasoning, Pre-COVID in some cases, no longer applies), trends will show up.

Trend 1

  • I need one quickly. This is directly tied to the pandemic, and for those who were on the fence or holding back jumping into the e-learning world, could no longer wait. The office workforce, was now at home, fully remote.

Downside 1

Because time was quick, the decision-making process was cut down. Focus on brand names, well-known based on some comparison sites – the bigger name ones, led to the buy.

Trend 2

  • Aligns with my use case. I have a use case here, I spent a lot of time on it, or not, but it provides everything I need. The vendor says they can meet my use case, it’s a perfect fit, I move forward.

Downside 2

I didn’t provide extensive details, with various scenarios based upon a set of roles, from the blue-collar employee (if they are at your company), to the new employee, to the established manager, the recently promoted manager, the senior executives, the employees who are in this department, which might be different from that department. The employees who are not interested in switching roles or departments, or even going for leadership opportunities. Managers who you know, have a poor track of mentoring. Your business approach, now changing to either a hybrid workplace model or full remote.

Access to the system – how will employees get on the system? What is the browser? At work, everyone uses the same one. Now? At work, everyone is at the same speed. Now? At work, we discourage the use of mobile devices. Now?

We used to do a lot of on-site ILT. Now?

The details. The scenarios. Way too many focus on the job role, but that likely won’t change – unless it is company-wide, and different companies do different things or identify different skills. That information is not, nor should be the focus of a use case.

The other items? Well…

Trend 3

  • Extensive RFPs – This is one trend that has gotten worse this past year. Which is hard to believe, because it was pretty bad, prior to. Well, more is better, right?

Downside 3

60 pages. 48 pages. 503 questions, all focused on security. Everyone at the company or place of business, putting their two cents in – even if it is the same request. Functionality. Every single item is based on that use case, which may or may not provide the right information.

Not seeing the system beforehand, leads many times to this idea of an extensive RFP submission. Which is, honestly, the worst idea anyone can make. Even worse than the idea that people want cola which looks like water (Pepsi Crystal).

A lot of people continue to just send out a lot of RFPs, without looking at the system first, then make their decision on the RFP. What they should do -0 is look first at the system, see if it has some things you are thinking about or automatically know you want – and if yes, then send out your RFP.

I use only one RFP. It has a lot of line items on it, extensive to say the least. You can adapt it. You can add or reduce. You force the vendor to provide details. You see the key “new” features that either exist today or are coming, that you never even thought about. It provides the right questions to ask around support. Training. Security. Oh, Privacy of data too.

If a vendor is using AWS, the security information, the data center information you are requesting – well, the vendor is going to either send you a link to the AWS site or just cut and paste it into your RFP. Save time – Find out where their system is hosted. Then go to that provider’s website. Now you just saved yourself 500 questions around security.

Trend 4

  • Limit the scope of looking for a learning system, focusing on the brands you hear the most, regardless of the sources, or see the “great reviews” from others, or see listed everywhere thanks to marketing. If you never heard of it, pass.

Downside 4

There are vendors who I consider masters of marketing. That said, the industry as a whole is awful. I can name the top five systems who are the kings of getting their name out, right now. I won’t because I am not their marketing machine or robot.

If you heard a brand a lot, does it mean it will automatically go up in your consideration process? If it is well-known, does that play a larger role, than the system which isn’t?

Is that how you buy your television? Your grocery items? Your car? If yes, then why is TCI, constantly being purchased? Why do people pay Eight bucks for a mustard they never heard of? (I bought a mustard I never heard of, but not for eight bucks). How did Kia achieve success in the U.S? It wasn’t like it was a household brand name for cars.

Here is what I will promise – the systems you see on any of my lists, or feedback, are 100% independent. No favorites. No quid pro quo. Based on accurate data and analysis. There are always ones in the lists, you will have never heard of. It doesn’t mean they are bad. It just means, they are not well-known.

As for user reviews, unless the review is from an actual customer, consider them a grain of salt, or just another tool in your toolbox. There is a reason that Amazon recommends people focus on reviews of three stars, over five stars. With Yelp, search the ones that they do not show (often under blocked or not recommended). Watch Yelp Bully – trust me, after that, you will see Yelp in a whole new perspective.

If the person leaving the review, isn’t a registered user and a customer then it could be anyone. Leaving a review on a system that may not align specifically to your use case, budget, and all other factors and then basing your decision on that, is not a good idea. This isn’t you dropping $45 for a nice meal. This is you paying the majority of your budget, for the right system.

Trend 5

  • Debate and Debate

Downside 5

For all those who are needing a system right now, there is an increase in folks who can’t click the “Go”. It is getting worse. At some point, it has to be done. Just because a system has been around since the early 2000’s, doesn’t mean it is dated. Nor a system that is brand new, doesn’t mean it has all the latest features and is “new” thus, elite.

Cornerstone (for Learning) is on my NexGen Grid – Leaders area for 2020. This was based on a tier system I use, that anyone can see, and a tier 3. Every vendor says they are NexGen, which really is just marketing hype. My next, NexGen Bracket is coming out next month. You will see the features and criteria it is based on – Tier 5, and Tier 4.

I saw a system, last week, who told me they had all of Tier 3 and 4. No, they did not. They were missing most of Tier 4. And a chunk of Tier 3.

Personally, I am not a fan of outsourced implementation, but there are vendors who did it. I believe you will see more in the coming year, as it is a cost saver to outsource. But it can backfire and when it does, it is bad. There are less than a handful, I would recommend, i.e. the outsource partner.

Do you go “all-included” or buy the base, then buy the add-ons if you need them down the road? Do you buy the base – i.e. the main learning system, assuming that everything you read or saw in the marketing is in there, or do you ask “is this included at no charge”? A few vendors that I like, go add-on, even within their base – i.e. main learning system, that go this way, and it isn’t a one-time cost, rather yearly.

I recommend “all-included”. You can always “turn off” that capability or capabilities. And when you are ready turn it on. Just think how many L&D and Training Execs selected a system, who never thought skills would be a hot, must have in your system, thus bought a system, was an add-on (additional cost), which they now must buy.

Remember, add-ons, means add-on costs down the road. All-included, means you get it all – now.

Trend 6

  • Pricing spin – MAU.


I’ve written extensively about MAU. There is only one vendor, that I have found so far, and which I rank as a “must buy” for 2021 – that actually does the “only charge” per month (with invoices going out quarterly, rather than the “up to” or you paying upfront.

The Keys to remember about MAU – aka Monthly active users

  • If the vendor requires you to pay up-front – then it is not based only on the numbers each month. I mean, it can change in four months, so what do they have? A time machine?
  • If they ask for the total number of active users for the entire year, and base the price on that with “up to”, then why the need to know how many active users per month, and then it goes back to zero for the following month, spin?
  • SkillJar spins a MAU bucket – but it is really the “up to angle”. If you need more, then you buy another bucket of seats. There are other vendors who follows this approach – i.e. buying in buckets of seats. This pricing model has been around since 2000. Just different words. Others go per seat, but will show you the additional cost, then at the end of the year, charge you for those additional seats.

I like Docebo, but they go “up to” in their pricing model. So does SAP Litmos. Frankly, the majority of the industry. It is a common practice, and again, has been around since the early 2000’s, just a different vernacular spin.

Focus on the final price, that is what you are paying.

And Remember the Big Three

  • Never tell the vendor your budget
  • Always sign for only three years. You can always renew after that. A three-year deal should and you a discount. In fact it is common.
  • Itemize everything. When you get the final proposal, you want to see each item listed, including that discount. Otherwise, who do you know you really got it?

Trend 7

Unprofessional Proposals.

Downside 7

This is on the vendor side, but it is something you should pay attention to. This is a big purchase for you. This is from the vendor perspective (or should be)the last time, they get to WOW you about their system, benefits, aligning to your use case and needs.

The majority of proposals are boilerplate. Everyone gets the same design and look and information – excluding the cost. Of course, the pricing will be different based on your seats and requirements.

Assuming that is, they did a professional proposal.

Lately, I have seen an increase in proposals that are nothing more than a spreadsheet. No additional materials are sent. Just here is the price. I am a fan of putting the price upfront, but you need and should have additional materials to support and empower your system.

Spend the time to do so. If you use a template, then just add the text around the client’s use case and how your system aligns perfectly to it.

The lazy approach is the lack of professional design proposal.

Bottom Line

Why did you buy your system?

When you saw, in the response from the RFP, misspellings, did that tell you anything? Besides the fact, that the salesperson couldn’t spend a few minutes with a spell checker and then, a second set of eyeballs if need be? (I recommend a third party solution to review).

Did you go RFP first, rather than looking at the system first?

Did you follow an extensive in-depth internal scenarios based on something similar to what I wrote above, or was it too generic, to “fits in the box” approach?

Did you ask the right questions on your demo? And if the vendor said, “Ask me questions at any time”, and you do, and they ignore you – did that send you a warning sign?

Buying a system is not something that is done quickly, but equally it shouldn’t take you nine months to assess, before you decide.

When it is all said and done,

How do you feel right now?




I hope, that it’s happy.

Otherwise, you will be looking for another system


E-Learning 24/7