Are you sitting down? Standing up? Grabbed your Vendor’s Jersey or garb they give you and are raring to go? Did you eat your Wheaties? Find the lucky charm? Check to see if your pub, has those pickled eggs you craved, after seeing your soccer team win its last match. Well, if you have, then seriously, that might be the worst thing to eat, next to pickled pigs’ feet. Eeww.
It’s that time of the year. That’s right, the annual, Customer Education Learning Systems Bracket. This is its third year, and I know the folks at such and such are excited to be a part of it. Before I go into the particulars of what I looked at, how this works, and other fun stuff. Here are the past brackets
2021 – It came down to the wire, but Thought Industries defeated Intellum 94-93. In 2022, Thought Industries pulled off the unthinkable, with back-to-back titles, with another thriller, this time knocking off the surprise system of the season, Eurekos, 95-94.
The original term was customer training, then around 2015 or thereabouts, the term switched to customer education. Now, vendors are either saying, “Customer training and education,” or “Customer Training,” or “Customer Education,” or, in the case of one vendor, “Customer Learning.” FWIW, customer training is the same thing as customer education. Again, it is semantics. While this bracket, lists it as “customer education,” going forward, I will be using the term “customer training,” in future posts. That said, Customer Education is the name of the bracket/event, so next year, don’t be alarmed when the name changes. Maybe a sponsor will arrive? Fingers crossed. Waiting to hear from you, Coke!
The majority of people who oversee customer training/education are people in training or have a background in training or education who jumped over to the corporate/association side. It is rare for L&D to oversee external training. Vendors still fail to recognize this. As of late, some companies are placing customer education systems under Marketing. Yes, a horrible idea.
- Thought Industries
- Lambda Suite
- Learning Cart
- Docebo Learning Suite
- Acorn LMS
- Eurekos Systems
- Knowledge Anywhere
- Cornerstone Learning
- Absorb LMS
- Talent LMS
Quite a few newcomers cracked the bracket this year. Let’s take a look; in no particular order
- Lambda Suite
- Learning Cart
- Acorn LMS
- Knowledge Anywhere
With the exception of KA, who made the debut bracket in 2021, the others are all new.
I’m sure plenty of people have different methodologies, and hey, congrats, but this is what I based my analysis on for the bracket.
One key point here – a lot of vendors who are not in the bracket, will tell you, they provide customer education, or have clients using their system for customer education (aka as the legacy term extended enterprise). The fact is that, as a client, you decide how you want to use the learning system you bought. A vendor can’t tell you, “no, no, this system is only for employees, you can’t offer partner training here!” If they did, they would do massive damage to future sales. Thus, expect vendors who read the post, or heard of it, upon LinkedIn, to note they provide customer education (aka extended enterprise, and have clients.
Equally, there are learning systems on this list, that didn’t crack the top 16, and who knows maybe next year they will. As with anything, criteria and weighting which is how the points show up, plays the essential role here. You may disagree with the results. You may disagree with the bracket. Heck, you may disagree and despise me (which begs the question, why are you reading this?). Anyway, let’s bounce on over to the criteria.
Look, this system is for your customers, clients, partners/distributors, external audiences (the majority of the time), association members, B2C for some folks, B2B, the main one. If your system looks like it came from the stone age, regardless of the feature sets, you are going to take a hit. If I am selling content/product items, certification program or something which is fee-based, I want to make sure my system shines. There is nothing worse than having your customers go into a system, that just is dated. You have one chance here to get them in, and then have them come back over and over again. Now, some training folks (usually the people who oversee customer education, or someone might have a title of director of education; but it is rare to have someone who is L&D run customer education) will offer a system that looks like webcrawler from the 90’s and believe this isn’t a factor. The look is always a factor, whether you realize it or not. As I often say, if you go to a car lot, and you see the car you want, and their is the exact same one next to it, but one is dirty and the other is clean, your eyes and thus you, will go to the clean one. That’s because it looks fresh. Same with a customer education learning system.
UX is very important, regardless if fee-based or free; because these are not your employees, and thus, may not receive any training from you ahead of time. They usually do not get “how to guides” or something along those lines. They are left with – here you go, HELP link (which nobody uses), and next up! I’ve seen this approach with associations, trade and professional, the ones who could provide the materials, and instead just wing folks in there to move forward. If I as the client, can’t find the content or can’t figure out how to navigate the system, then this will be a slog. They will complain. They will privately gripe to others, and use once and never again. I love to hear the one click and there you are angle, which in many cases to get back to the home page, you have to use your back button on your browser or click the logo or some other nonsense, that nobody does. Anyway, I look at the whole thing.
It has to exist. And it has to be free. There are vendors who pitch it as free, then stick it in to their package to provide – using the legacy term here – extended enterprise. Which BTW, I find more times than not, the term extended enterprise package – when they sell it. Nothing like living in the past. I mean, I am doing customer education, and you have to tell me, oh, that’s the extended enterprise package. Well, if that is the case, why don’t you just call it the customer education/training package? Ok, off the soapbox.
White label by the way, means it is my logo, and my colors – ideally. I see systems that say white-label and then their name is somewhere at the bottom of the page. Sorry, that isn’t white label. If you go to Costco and purchase Kirkland vitamins, you will not see Naturemade at the bottom of the bottle, even though they are the company that made the vitamins.
If WL, is not listed in a package, and thus a separate line item; extra points. If in the package and “free”, but you charge for a package, then subtraction of a point – for the WL angle of free but in a package of items for customer education (aka as old school, icebox level extended enterprise term)
This is tricky, because a custom domain, really means my name, and nowhere your name. However, vendors across the industry, including ones’ for employees, consider custom domain as yourname.myname.com as the home domain. Anyway, if a vendor did a real custom domain OR offered URL masking and helped set that up for their client, they scored a few extra points. Most end-users never pay attention to this, but if I am paying 250K or more, why do I have to see your name too? For that amount, figure it out.
Functionality – Some weighted heavier than others, but all were relevant:
- E-Commerce – including invoicing, promos/discount codes, chargebacks, VAT, and so on – the entire list, you can find in my template. A vendor offering e-commerce, should be able to do this for each sub-tenant (aka child in the system, with the parent being you, and the child being a partner, or a client, who wants their own look, instead of yours).
- System accepts Visa, MasterCard and AMEX. PayPal appears with many systems, but that shouldn’t be the route to go. I would recommend Stripe – there are vendors who do this because it accepts all types of credit cards, including ones that are specific to Europe, plus it handles Point of Sales fees, – thus automated processing, and it is easy to use.) AMEX is very popular in the corporate world, and yet, there are a lot of systems who do not accept it. Anyway, more points for all three OR acceptance of Stripe or similar. PayPal only – great, but no points. If the vendor accepted Google Pay, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay – I gave them an extra point. Honestly, not sure why the vendor would do this, unless I can buy thru my smartphone or tablet, but creativity deserves something, besides an “interesting”.
- If your system offers a virtual wallet, an extra few points. It’s quite rare, so mot everyone has it because – did I mention it is rare?
- SSL or similar – Crucial for paying – The majority of people go in the first time, buy and then register for their account, which honestly, you want to reverse. I go in, select what I want to buy or get access to for free, create an account, then purchase.
- Subscription Bundle option – Huge fan of this!! Every customer-ed focused system (regardless of a combo or customer-ed 90% or more focused) should offer it.
- API integrations. If I am a one person or a small entity, that has clients/customers buying my content, I might be using Quickbooks or something similar as my bookkeeping solution. Thus having an API from your system to QB is important. If the vendor has a “marketplace/exchange” where the APIs can be seen, and thus selected – bonus points – this means that the connection is there – add a few things if the vendor uses an offering like Zapier or Workato, bonus points. If they went deep integration, then more points.
- Multi-Tenant – Pretty obvious here. If you include only one sub or child, and then I have to pay extra for more, you lost points. The minimum should be five subs, some vendors offer unlimited – if you do, an extra 10 points. That is honestly, the ideal here.
- Skills – I know you are thinking skills? How is that important for customer education, when I am offering my content – product training, sales training around my services/product, content topic – say how to be a clown (and you were a former clown, so your content, is all about that – uh, the clown stuff, not you)? Well, more and more folks who are purchasing a learning system for customer education want to offer their customers/clients access to acquiring new skills or building upon ones. They are becoming more interested in tying skills to their content, as a way to either entice folks to buy (free or fee) or even though it is customer education – the client (you) are assigning learning (worst idea for customer education), and want skills tied to it. I am a huge proponent of value-add for customers of a product for example, whereas 3rd party content is offered (for free), as a plus for the customer who purchased your product. Especially if that product is more than 10,000 bucks. I mean, nice competitive advantage. Ditto for associations, BTW to go with that angle too.
- Mobile app – You must have one. Some vendors do not, even in the customer-ed space, which I respectfully oppose. This is the vendor created the app, and your customers can access it via the app store. Honestly, there isn’t an excuse to decline to do this when you are using apps all the time. Some vendors will white-label that mobile app for you (it is fee-based) so that your customer can find your name WidgetU instead of SystemU. White-labeling within the app is becoming common but always ask. As a vendor who does the white label route, you should handle getting said app into the Apple and Google Play store. Handing this off to the customer, who has no idea how to do this, isn’t great.
- Learning Environment, Catalog with filters including by price range, are relevant.
- Event management and vILT management – essential especially with calendar capabilities, notifications, rules around notifications, etc. If you can do SMS notifications, additional points.
- Additional Variables – the common stuff you expect to see in a learning system, from progress bars to non-linear learning
- Metrics and Reporting – Seriously, visual metrics is a must here and what data you are capturing. It is very rare to find metrics that tell you a composite of what content is being purchased, how often, and by date and location – with trend lines. Let’s say I ran a campaign to purchase some courses to my customers. Wouldn’t I want to know which courses where popular, when did they buy, and any upsells you have? I’ve seen systems that can do some this at the user level, which is fine – but what do you, or how will you, utilize that data? Data is only as good as how you can utilize it. Big fan BTW, of financial metrics within a system. Huge if I am selling content.
What didn’t matter
- Workforce development – If you are seeking customer education and want workforce development, you need to go back and think what are your priorities and why would your clients want any workforce development capabilities for their learners or themselves?
- How much capital you raised. Happy for you, but take a look at Workramp – lots of capital, outdated system. They launched a new social feature recently that was, I think, a discussion board or something like that. I remember telling them that was popular in the 90s and is no longer the must-have. Nice folks, outdated system. Anyway, they land funding.
- Who are your clients? Again, nice for pitches, but seriously, not relevant.
- Your NPS score. Don’t laugh; I see this a lot. ZERO relevance. Nobody is buying your system based on your NPS score. If they do, whoever oversees L&D or Training, should re-assign them to “special projects.”
Opening Round – I round up, i.e., vendor scores 83.6, it becomes 84.
Score Results (analysis – short analysis will follow)
Thought Industries 93 Lambda Suite 74
SkillJar 87 Learning Cart 84
Docebo 91 Brainier 86
Acorn LMS 85 Raven360 84
Eurekos 94 Knowledge Anywhere 76
Cornerstone Learning 89 Learn Upon 85
Absorb 88 Northpass 75
D2L 90 TalentLMS 82
SkillJar, which hits all the high notes around UI/UX, and a lot of quality metrics – is useful for customer education, but lacks the full robustness expected for such a platform specifically for customer education (this is due to them being a combo, as they do not have a 90% or higher client base that is customer-focused only) – This is always the challenge with combo systems who are either 50-50 or 40-60 or 35-65 – whereas the second number is external, and the earlier number is internal – i.e. employees. A combo system must offer across the board, and way too many skew employees, even if they have a 40-60 ratio for example. Learning Cart – this is customer-education oriented in a huge way. While they landed the shots for a chunk of the customer ed criteria, there were enough misses that they fell just short. UI/UX was missed quite a bit for me—still a legit threat – system-wise.
Docebo, more on them in the next round, topped off a tough Brainier, that I think a lot of people fail to see as a potential for customer education. Unlimited tenants -at no charge, nice UI/UX, and solid metrics help them. But the metrics are not top tier for CE (not yet, at least), and skills, well, there is always next year. I like the system, though, and often tell folks about them. Docebo is 40-60 – customer education being 60%, Brainier is not, so that played a minor point or two here. Nevertheless, a talented group of folks, err customer-ed system.
Cornerstone knocking off Learn Upon, I am sure will raise a few eyebrows. Especially since Learn Upon is recognized by many as customer-education-focused. I think of chunk of this is due to marketing, but I do look at them when I have a client on the CE side of the house. I like the system; there is a lot to like, with many capabilities. But for this analysis, Cornerstone, despite their marketing angle of united talent platform, which crushes the premise that they can provide customer education – Cornerstone calls it extended enterprise, still scored higher for a few reasons.
- A new metrics experience will roll out in April. I cannot tell you the specifics (embargo here), but it definitely will change one huge negative, that I have of Cornerstone on the admin side when it comes to their metrics look and feel – Excel 2000 rules, and reporting. They have few other newbies too.
- Skills wise, no contest. Cornerstone is the best system for skills management (based on my template). LearnUpon is below average. Cornerstone all-around has more capabilities for customer education, than LearnUpon, including the ability to show data for each sub-tenant, something LU cannot do. Both offer a mobile app, but if you are a Cornerstone client and a client of bealink, you can have the Cornerstone mobile app, white-labeled (fee-based) – but you need to be a client of both systems. One item that baffles me is that in 2023, with LU – you still cannot change the text of the labels or tabs. That didn’t impact the overall score, but still baffling. Both vendors charge for extra tenants, and Cornerstone they sell the “extend enterprise” package as an add-on. I hope this is something they will reconsider. LU metrics are acceptable, just not at the level of Cornerstone when it comes to metrics essential for CE.
D2L is another vendor that I believe a lot of people will think – customer-education them? Once again, TalentLMS does an exceptional job at marketing when it comes to customer education, and they have a lot to like, but D2L, which does a poor job of marketing around customer education, player functionality to player functionality, is a robust CE system. Want unlimited tenants? Check. Want a strong e-commerce system? Check. Storefront? Yep. Skills are above average (and more so than the industry at large, which is just getting to the below avg mark – on, well avg). D2L provides data where you can extract and identify future sales potential. They definitely need to improve these metrics for customer education as a whole, but they are far better than many vendors who play in the CE space, including TalentLMS.
Thought Industries 93 SkillJar 87
Docebo 91 Acorn LMS 85
Eurekos 94 Cornerstone Learning 89
D2L 90 Absorb 88
The big ones were definitely in Group B, well, if you are unaware or haven’t paid attention to the previous bracket years, around this vendor known as Eurekos. If your responses are “who?” then yes, it is a shocker. If you are aware, but not that aware, Eurekos should be one to explore.
The Cornerstone strengths and limitations have been listed above, so let’s cover a few of the pluses of Eurekos. First and foremost, this is a customer-education-focused system, which means functionality wise across the board, it is targeting only customer education. UI/UX is very good, unlimited tenants – included at no charge, mobile app can be white-labeled – a few threes there; and they have a couple of new items soon to launch (embargo) that will continue to show off their commitment to CE. I love that the invoice monthly – which is perfect for the customer-ed side of the house, especially if you are going to grow, OR prefer to actually pay for the users who are using that system for the month.
That means no annual upfront (although if you want you can). For me, as someone who has done CE for companies and an association, this business price model is the one you will want, especially if you are seeking either a profit center OR needing to be cost conservative. Skills are average, Cornerstone as noted, is far superior. If you need customization due to your specific CE needs, Eurekos will do it for you. No partner sending – which Cornerstone prefers – although they now have the capability to do internal – and not outsource (and not just for customer ed). Not a factor here – but Eurekos is a very affordable system, by far in the industry, which I think scares some folks off. I mean affordable and good in the same sentence? Inconceivable. Actually, it’s not – winner Eurekos. Next.
I like Absorb, but against D2L, unless you purchase add-ons such Create, Analyze, and Engage, D2L is going to be better. I also like the fact that D2L offers, granted as an add-on a combination of skills assessment, coaching, or mentoring (depending on how you use it), role-playing solution, known as Bongo. It still amazes me how cool this product it is, and ideal for customer education especially around P2P learning, talking to experts, which could be achieved with customer ed/partner training and product training. D2L scored higher with the API connections, granted it is an add-on using Workato (Docebo, and Thought use them as well; Cornerstone has their own very robust connector solution). Two top systems, and only one winner. D2L.
Thought Industries 93 Docebo 91
Eurekos 94 D2L 90
It’s a Final Group of Systems that indeed are top in their class – the customer education/partner training/product training/B2B/B2C, even association space (if you choose). The biggest one, or at least the one matchup that will get folks going – compare, compare, is the TI vs Docebo one.
Two established systems – that is right established. Both scored well with UI/UX, although TI has a better overall UI/UX than Docebo, so a few points there. Metrics out of the box (That means it comes with the system), are a strong suit for Thought Industries compared to Docebo. They – TI are a customer education-focused learning system and the metrics and data they present, back it up. Docebo is a combo system, and yes the majority of their clients are using Docebo for customer-ed, but unless you purchase Learning Analytics (Add-on), the metric will get closer, and still thought scores higher. Skills, Docebo wins this hands-down. TI is the work-in-progress, side of the house, better than many, but not at the level of Docebo.
Docebo has a mobile app, which can be white-labeled (fee-based). Thought it gets complicated. The system does not come with a mobile app, rather they will provide the client with all the files, etc. the client will need to create the mobile app. The client is responsible for adding it to the respective app stores. If you want TI to build the mobile app for you, they will (it is fee-based). But it doesn’t come with the system itself.
Thought Industries Panoramas (the sub-tenants/children) and what each can do, is the best in the industry. What you can do with each one is extremely impressive. Far more so, what is doable with Docebo. Docebo charges extra for “extended enterprise” (again, the legacy term, that probably existed before the Ice Age). Under EE, you get five sub-tenants. With TI, their usual package is 20 or so. Then you pay extra. You can decline EE and go with Pages as an option, which works if you are just interested in some of the capabilities, mainly around skinning, uploading of folks, data for each page, etc. – similar to many multi-tenants. Still, to get the full power of what EE offers, you will want EE. I am not a fan of having to pay yearly for it, either. Both offer Workato – aka Connect solution as an add-on. The big monster for me is Helium, which I have written before about – READ – scroll down to read the paragraphs about it. Docebo can’t do it; in fact, nobody can truly do headless technology except Thought Industries. Sure, many vendors will say they do headless technology, but that is misleading. If you check out the definition of headless technology and compare that to Helium, you will see it is a perfect match.
Eurekos 94 Thought Industries 93
The champ has been defeated. You could go with either system, depending on what you seek or need. The mobile app lack of, by TI is like missing a layup, multiple times over. Helium definitely is huge, but Eurekos counters by willing to do mass customization (fee, but not outrageous). Skills wise, Eurekos far defeats TI, which is another weak point for TI. I get the non-skills angle for customer-education-focused systems. Still, they compete more and more with combos, who either have some or solid skills capabilities or none, and if the former, it has caused CE-focused systems to recognize that they need to add. Eurekos just has done a better job than TI.