I often mention leasing a car when talking about a learning system. When you “buy” a learning system, you are actually leasing it. Sure, there are some vendors who will sell you the system outright, but then you either pay extra for the updates or you just have a system that never gets updated. Oh, and it has to sit either on your own servers OR you pay to host it somewhere.
Getting back to the car analogy.
Most people are equally excited and nervous when looking at cars. Some are worried about the salesperson making a b-line to you, others prefer the process, of looking, debating, wanting to see more and then go and find a salesperson to get a test drive done. The salesperson aggressive not withstanding, the end game is to get a test drive.
After a test drive, you will either want the vehicle or not. It is that simple. Then comes to the cost, and the negotiations begin.
When you select the vehicle you want, you are basing it on multiple factors, that have been identified in your brain, and solidified before you walk thru that door. If you are loyal to that brand, you will stay with it. If you have done your research ahead of time (a very common occurrence nowadays), you will have insight to make that buying decision. Very likely, there will be one key item that stands above everything else. Yes, the budget has to be there, but what is it, that stands above everything?
I’d argue comfort. You have to be comfortable when driving. It has to feel right, not bash your kneecaps, or make it impossible to pull back the seat enough, or the console become over distracting.
When I look at a learning system, regardless of the type, I am looking at multiple factors, and as I look, more items or inquiries will pop into my head, and then lead me down this path versus the next path. Yet, in the end, for me, comfort has to be there. It can do everything I need the system to do for a client (that I am representing) or for award considerations or for my rankings or for my research, but the comfort level isn’t there.
I’ve met people who will ask me what system should I buy – with some specifics – or what do you think of this vendor? When I provide feedback (general, since naming a few features, isn’t enough), I have had folks say, “But I love or really like X”. To which I respond, okay, then go with that system. Then the retort usually is, “but what do you think? Should I or should I not”?
At this moment, I know the comfort level isn’t fully there. The individual is seeking confirmation of their buying (or soon to be buying) decision, yet I’m not the one using or will be using the system, they will be. Comfort therefore plays a crucial role. You can provide confirmation, and yet, if you still feel like this is the system, then I say, go with it – but make sure it has what you need it to have, or will need to have down the road. If your gut says this is it, and your brain says this isn’t it, then, well, comfort is just not there.
I’m going to steer clear of specific features/functionality (for the most part), and limit pricing, because if the price is not in your budget, the comfort level won’t be there, no matter how much you try to think it is. Deep down, as my mom used to say, you will know.
When I examine a learning system, regardless of the type, I am going to go likely far deeper than you would, and that is okay. I’ve been doing this a long time, and see a few hundred systems a year.
To be comfortable, here are the initial set of items I am looking at in the system
- Learner home page – Can the playlists or area/blocks be moved around? Or is it static? Static means that the playlists, the other blocks cannot be moved (they may be hidden, depending on the vendor), but if “in progress” is the first playlist, and “suggested” is the fourth, and you want “suggested” as the first, you are out of luck. Let’s say, announcements is in the block on the right side, at the top, and you want it at the bottom. With static, that is not feasible. Let’s though say you can move them around – okay, is it a template/theme that the admin selects – and picks what widgets are available and where they are OR is it where the admin allows the learner to move around the playlists, blocks, widgets via drag and drop, for example. I’m personally more comfortable with the last option, because it gives the learner full control of their personalized experience. Static doesn’t, and templates can be a mixed bag, depending on whether or not, the admin knows what widgets/blocks to add or which to hide. In the market today, the full learner control is in the minority of the industry. This is why, when a vendor says “personalized” it isn’t necessarily, truly accurate.
- What is on that home screen? If the playlists are listed, is assigned first or recommended or suggested or in-progress? Assigned creates an often overlooked scenario, in that the learner never drops down to see the other playlists that are more elective to them. I am not a fan of assigned learning, as you all know. If you attended college/university, the General Electives – aka requirement subjects was the worst. What folks tend to like the best? The courses in their degree program (what they are going to study) and electives that do not have to be part of the GEs. I mean, Earth Science (no offense to geology majors), isn’t a subject area that you will be enthralled about, but hey if it is between that, and Clay Pigeons from the 15th century, you may think, “how bad can it be?” I’m talking about Clay Pigeons from the 15th century.
- I like seeing the catalog – i.e. access to it from the home learner page. They click and go to the catalog page. Vendors seem to enjoy not using catalog as a term. I’ve seen “library” – which is acceptable, although there are vendors who have a resources/assets section too, so there can be confusion. One vendor I saw recently referred to it as “course market”, and it was a mix of content purchased ahead of time, by your L&D or Training department – 3rd party (Assuming you have purchased a seat/seats license from said publisher), content that you can select from your own company (free), or content that your company might be selling. This is not a good idea. A course or content marketplace is where content from 3rd party publishers sits – you the learner can’t see it – the admin, the head of learning or training or whomever, reviews, selects for the department, group, individual learners, and so forth, and then after paying it now appears in the learner’s catalog for them to choose/select to take. Catalog or a Course Library are comfort terms that any learner could understand. Some other term isn’t. If you, as the vendor, has to explain what that term means, this should immediately tell you, that it has to change.
- Navigation on the header – I like this choice (this means it is at the top of the main home page), although some offer it on the left side – which I am fine with too, especially if I can hide the navigation – with a simple click. But again, the terms have to make sense – to anyone. I believe that every label should be changeable, because you never know what term my company uses or I want to use, versus what term you have defaulted to. Never assume that every label can be changed. Always ask. I do.
At every point, every area you look at, you should rate your comfort level. Write it down, so you will not forget. The first impression is often the right impression, or say gut and head align. This isn’t always the case with people, some can come off as jerks, but once you get to know them, you see them in a different light or perspective. When it comes to a system however, it can or should be very clear.
Comfort Rating System
I recommend creating a spreadsheet for the comfort level. Make it easy enough that when referring back to it, or comparing it to others who viewed the demo, everyone is on the same page.
- Options are only one to three. That is to say, one, two and three. Anything more creates too much, I mean you are either very comfortable, comfortable or not comfortable. You are not, sort of comfortable, but maybe after lunch I will be more comfortable or after my nap.
- On the sheet, it is either 1, 2, or 3. Not writing down, very comfortable, comfortable, not comfortable.
- Make sure if you have a group reviewing the system, clear directions on what each number res presents is on the spreadsheet. Some folks create separate pages, then somebody can’t find that page, and just wings it. Never good. You decide what one represents, what two represents and what three represents.
- Avoid the “well, I feel very comfortable when it is this” and sort of we need for definitions and explanation. No, no you do not. It is subjective – which is why you are given the three choices – it will be based on what you perceive your learners will feel. Remember, a comfort sheet is core, but it is not the only sheet you are looking at – or basing your decision it. The system has to have what you want, and need, and has to be in your budget. Comfort level, says okay – “the navigation has everything we need, but knowing my learners, I am not comfortable with it”. That is far different, than “the navigation has everything we need, and I am very comfortable with it.” – No where in that sentence is “my learners”. That’s the difference.
The comfort sheet applies to administration capabilities too. And it applies to support, and then, here is an additional one – your salesperson. I’ve done enough of these to tell you, that the salesperson’s approach and attitude will make a difference. Helpful is good, being arrogant is not. Unsure about a question – they will find out and respond within one business day. Unsure but just wings it, is not or unsure, will find out, but doesn’t respond within one business day is not. Even if they are still trying to find out, they should send an update. Maybe that person who knows is out that day, okay, “I just want to give you an update regarding your question….” – that is acceptable. Ignoring or not responding or waiting a week is not (even if they are going on vacation, they can have someone fill in and help out).
How many times have you heard, “Feel free to ask any questions during the demo”, and then when you do, they ignore you and just keep on blabbing? That is not something you want. It tells me immediately that they are likely down the road, to ignore and do whatever they do, PLUS they are going by script, and how personal is this?
I know of vendors who will send the prospect a video recording of a demo they did, thinking this will suffice. Or worse, point them to their web site to click and watch videos that are on YouTube or housed elsewhere. Talk about lazy.
Would you feel comfortable about this?
This means different things to folks, but in the end, ask yourself, “Will I or we feel comfortable working with this vendor?” It should be a firm yes. Anything less, move on. You are not debating a menu item here. Go back to the car dealer. How did they treat you? Did you like your salesperson? What about the sales manager (or whomever helps close the deal)? Did you notice what other salespeople were doing? Were people smiling and looking like they enjoy it? How about service?
If you are purchasing the vehicle online and then just showing up to pick it up, you will still pick up some vibes. Even buying it online, did the salesperson follow your directions? Did they get everything you needed? Was it a smooth transition?
Now go back to the learning system. Will this be a smooth transition? Did the salesperson make you feel like you are someone they really want as a customer, or is it just about your money? Will they make sure that you get the system when you need it buy (assuming you do not change the project plan or come up with some things you needed after you thought about it, and forgot to tell them – in all the excitement?).
There are vendors I know, who make a wonderful system, but I would never buy from them, because behind the scenes, the cultural fit would be a concern of mine. They may be super nice people, but again, what you can’t see – but I see or hear, is enough to say, no thanks.
When I deal with a vendor, where I am representing a client, I will request a specific salesperson every time. I know the salesperson, just by working with them in the past. I know they will handle my inquiries quickly, and respond accordingly. There has to be a personality fit, because without it, this will be painful. The majority of vendors will do so, as I request. But yes, there are those who don’t. To me, this creates a concern. Think this way, you are at a trade show and meet Joe. You like Joe, you connect with Joe. You want to see a demo and talk more about your needs, so you contact the vendor or the vendor contacts you (scan of the badge) and then you find out the person talking to you isn’t Joe. Joe isn’t available, because you are not in his region, or map area or size of company or whatever. Now, if I am the vendor, and I know that Joe connected with you, and thus there is already a comfort level, why risk losing it, because that is not how your sales process works?
To me, that is a cultural issue – fit and says to me, “how flexible is this vendor really? If they can’t be flexible here, will they be if we end up going with them?”
Ditto on Implementation
Talk to the person who will oversee your implementation if you go with the vendor. Ask them questions, see how they respond. You should have a comfort level here. And yes, the same with support – talk with the person that oversees that department – because the support team – hopefully aligns to how support should be handled – from the manager’s or director’s or VP of Support’s approach and process. If the vendor won’t make that person available, why not?
There will be vendor who decline because you are not big enough, learner size. Okay, I will take my business elsewhere.
Think this way, if you ask to speak to a supervisor over the phone and the salesperson declines, what is your comfort level and more importantly what will be your feelings towards buying from that company, again?
Comfort level – more importantly, your comfort level, plays a role in everything you do. Are you comfortable with the house/flat you are about to buy? Are you comfortable buying this or that product? Are you comfortable with the car salesperson you are dealing with? Are you comfortable knowing your neighbor is in the Witness Protection Program?
Being comfortable with a learning system, one where you are about to drop a chunk of your budget on, and provide to your learners or students or customers or members or whomever, has to play a key role.
Because if you are not comfortable with your decision,
How comfortable will your learners be,
When get uncomfortable responding to their
issues with the system, itself?