For those of us in the L&D industry, giving back to others is one of the biggest rewards we can experience. I accepted a new role at United Real Estate earlier this year, with one of my first major goals being to secure the best learning management system that would meet the needs of our real estate agents, brokers, owners, franchise owners, and employees. Having worked with a few different LMSs over my career, I found this to be an exciting opportunity, yet one that I knew would be a big challenge. I would learn a lot more from this selection process than I had originally anticipated. Through this article, I’d like to share my process, tips, advice, and lessons learned as I went through this journey. If you find yourself in a similar situation at your company, I hope some of the insights into my own experience can help you in your own journey.
I entered this challenge feeling comfortable to some degree with my knowledge of LMSs in terms of the value they serve for organizations. As an employee working at different companies throughout my career, I personally experienced a handful of different LMS platforms in terms of taking compliance-related courses, skill-building courses, and navigating through the system to find courses of interest and those assigned to me. Most recently, I also had experience being an administrator of a particular LMS, which gave me new insight into the “behind the scenes” setup and operational tasks which make an LMS tick and work properly.
As I approached this challenge at United Real Estate, one of the first things I did was to reflect upon all of my LMS personal experiences and journal my thoughts on paper. What LMS providers did I have specific experience with, either as an end user or an admin? If I didn’t know the provider, I reached out to past co-workers to get their input. What was my experience regarding how the system motivated me to learn more? How easy was the platform to navigate and find what I was looking for? As an administrator, what did I remember that I liked and struggled with regarding each platform? I also began by making a list of all the LMS providers I was familiar with or had heard about over the years. My free-hand responses to these questions above were a good starting point for my LMS selection journey. It helped me get into the “LMS selection mindset.”
Understanding core business requirements is the heart of any product selection process. My next step was to outline in detail the business requirements for our LMS. What started initially as a list of 6-7 key requirements quickly grew to a more expansive list of “must have’s” and “wouldn’t it be great if’s” as I spoke to more business leaders. As I was new to United Real Estate, it was critical for me to spend significant time understanding the company I was working for, our business model, long terms goals, and the general audience of our real estate agents and brokers. What was the goal of the LMS for my company? What was the vision for how the platform would support our Training, Education, & Development (TED) efforts? At the same time, we were investing in an LMS system for the company, and there was also a strategic project going on that the LMS would support – the transformation of our agent onboarding program. The LMS solution we were seeking would play a vital role in the success of the various onboarding tracks for the diverse audience group we were planning on launching. Scalability was one of our biggest requirements. Our company grew tremendously through organic and inorganic means; multiple mergers and acquisitions were completed, with many more on the horizon. My point here is to take the necessary time to really understand the complete business requirements and how senior leadership is envisioning the use of the platform for other major transformation efforts that might be taking place, and how the platform would support both short and long-term business initiatives. Compiling this detailed list of business requirements would prove to be extremely helpful as I began reaching out to prospective providers.
“What helped me tremendously in my process was creating an LMS Selection Spreadsheet, which would house key pieces of information as I began my journey.”
After gaining a solid list of our business requirements, my next step on my journey was to research the LMS landscape to see which providers out there met our requirements. Based on my previous experience and general knowledge of the industry, I felt I had a good list in mind of companies I wanted to pursue. However, what surprised me the most about this process was how much this industry had changed in just a few years! Providers are beginning to stretch their traditional thinking of an LMS and begin offering more advanced features like gamification, course development tools, skill-based evaluation tools, task-based tracking features, and more! I learned very quickly that the LMS landscape is a continuously evolving space, with new providers joining this esteemed group daily.
As I began researching, I encountered many more accomplished providers that I had never heard of. As you begin your journey, I advise you to keep an open mind! You may find yourself leaning toward a particular LMS provider at the very beginning of your process but, in the end, wind up signing a contract with one of the “accomplished yet unknown” companies in your sphere of reference.
I would offer these suggestions to get a jumpstart on a list of LMS providers that meet your criteria. First, start with the list of providers with whom you already have some references. Next, I would seek a comparison chart of key LMS providers feature-by-feature. You can easily do this by filling out a request form via Software Advice. These folks to me were invaluable to me. The list they provided would prove to be a good first step. Just searching in Google for “2022 Top LMS Providers” is another option.
Another key learning point for me was how critical it is to be extremely organized as you go through the selection process. For me, I created in the very beginning an LMS worksheet that contains tabs for the following: business requirements, a tab for each LMS provider I was evaluating, and a tab for the LMS evaluation matrix – in other words, the scoring system I’d use to rate each of the providers against the business requirements. This document would be where I would document all of my conversations with the providers and important product information I would learn through demos and/or tours they shared with me about their platform. My advice – set up this system “before” you begin to reach out to the providers and engage in conversations.
What helped me tremendously in my process was creating an LMS Selection Spreadsheet, which would house key pieces of information as I began my journey. These things included: Business Requirements, a List of top LMS providers, and a tab for each provider with documentation on feature/functionality and anything else noteworthy.
My next step in the LMS evaluation process was to narrow the list of potential providers to around 4-5. All of the websites had either a form that could be filled out to receive a product demo or a direct phone number to a business development rep that you could reach out to. I learned through this process that it would sometimes take 2-3 phone calls with various folks (business development rep, account manager, Enterprise rep) before I’d be given a complete and thorough product demo. From there, I found that most companies would set up a “test demo account” for you so that you could explore the product in your own time. I advise always making sure that the initial product demo was recorded so that the vendor can send it to you for future review. Surprisingly, I found that this was not always done automatically. I would also suggest that you invite other key stakeholders to these product demos. I would typically facilitate a debriefing session with my stakeholders to get their input and insight into the product. For me, it was a team effort to ensure everyone was satisfied with our final selection. I also learned much about the company, its processes, integrity, and professionalism as they conducted a product demo. This was a helpful insight that I would also consider in the final selection process. Through these product demos and personal explorations of each product, I would update my spreadsheet with key findings during my evaluation process.
After my analysis, 2-3 providers were top of the list. From here, we held another round of discussions around the pricing component and what it would cost us. I learned from this step that while most providers offered a similar “active user” pricing model, one provider provided a few other options. I advise you to learn about all the different pricing models available as some of this may not be shared via their website. Buying an LMS is not cheap; you want to have all the info available to make the best business decision for your company. Don’t be shy. Just ask. You might find that some vendors are more flexible in their pricing models in this very competitive market.
After months of research and multiple conversations, we agreed on a provider that met our business requirements, had some extra excellent components to their LMS, and a pricing model best suited our company. As we entered the contract and negotiations part of the process, what surprised me again was how long this part of the process could take to ensure that both parties were 100% satisfied with the contract and terms and conditions. After a few additional rounds of edits which took about two weeks, our deal was done!
As I look back on this four-month-long process, what stands out the most is that it took significant time to research, analyze, and gain stakeholder input and approval to proceed with a provider. It’s not something that should be rushed, as each part of the process is critical to ensuring you find the best LMS match for what you’re looking for.