How to Choose The Right LMS For External Training and Education

Post Header How Do You Find The Right LMS for External Training
Mike Daecher
May 20, 2024

Here’s the most effective process for narrowing down your list of external lms platforms:

  1. Use a point system for external LMS platforms you’re considering
  2. Network with your peers for real LMS reviews
  3. Investigate each LMS being considered for external training
  4. Engage with LMS sales teams
  5. Develop an RFP to find the right external training platform

Now, let’s go find the LMS platforms that will satisfy all or most of your requirements for external training.

Where to start? If your first reaction is to ask Google, what you will find is a vast sea of undifferentiated LMSs, each touting that they can do everything in online training. However, each one is unique and only great at specific things.

Remember, you are not looking for the best overall LMS, you are looking for the one that best fits your external training management system requirements. Ideally, you’d like to start with a list of 5–10 external training platform vendors and, through the following process cut that down to 3–5 tops, to take to the in-depth demo stage.

1. Use a point system for external LMS platforms you’re considering

Here’s a suggestion for a simple scoring model to use as you start your vendor research. It will make it easy for you to arrive at your short list.

Talking to your peer network, was the LMS…

  • Mentioned, as I know someone who uses it. (1 point)
  • Recommended for evaluation, where the score is under 8. (2 points)
  • Recommended for evaluation, where the score is 8 – 10. (3 points)

Researching the LMS on their website…

  • Are they built for external training? (1 point)
  • Are they built for external training and have market-leading functionality? (2 points)
  • Are they built for external training, have market-leading functionality, and have customers that are like your company? (3 points)

Speaking to industry analysts and they ranked the LMS…

  • The third most mentioned or recommended? (1 point)
  • The second most mentioned or recommended? (2 points)
  • The first most mentioned or recommended? (3 points)

When you spoke to the LMS’ sales representative, does the external training platform satisfy …

  • 70% of must-have requirements? (1 point)
  • 80% of must-have requirements? (2 points)
  • 90% or more of must-have requirements? (3 points)

Of course, the higher the score, the greater the potential value of the LMS to this search process. Higher scores qualify the LMS to receive the Request for Proposal (RFP) and move forward in discovery.

2. Network with your peers for real LMS reviews

Your peers, network, and industry groups provide your best source of potential LMS solutions. Their experience with external learning management systems is real-life. If you know them, get in touch directly, and even get a referral.

Approach these conversations with a list of questions. First, review your use case and the “must have” requirements. Then, at a minimum, ask:

  • Is there an LMS (or several) that might meet our requirements?
  • Which LMS do you have direct experience with? Do you have others in your network who have experience with one in particular?
  • What are the benefits you’ve experienced or heard?
  • What are the risks you’ve experienced or heard?
  • From what you know, would you recommend I evaluate them?

Ask them to express that on a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 is best.

3. Investigate each LMS being considered for your external training

Go to the websites of each potential external LMS.

Often, in their quest to have the perfect website to generate leads, many LMS websites end up looking and sounding generic to multiple use-cases. However, you need to go through each carefully to determine, as best as possible, that the LMS…

  • Was developed specifically as an external training platform. You’ll have to dig for this – the answer might be the types of companies that are on their customer list. For instance, training companies, associations, software companies, etc.
  • Includes market-leading functionality in their core offering. If the LMS has built-in marketing tools, automated course authoring, and personalization features, that’s a good indicator.
  • Do they have customers (and case studies) whose business is like yours? Look through their logos and case study library to to find a similar organization you recognize.

As appropriate, read their thought leadership, white papers, and attend webinars – especially product demos. Many LMS companies record their demo webinars and make them available on-demand.

While this may seem like a lot of up-front work, but it will save you countless hours reviewing RFP responses, sitting through personalized demos, and (maybe) coming up empty-handed. You’ll quickly see which platforms are dedicated to your use case and satisfy your must-have requirements.

To help further your research, here’s a list of LMS review sites that give detailed information on external LMS platforms. Look for matches to your use case, requirements… and pay close attention to customer reviews.

LMS Review Sites

4. Engage with LMS sales teams

Yes, I would like to speak to a salesperson.

Once you’ve narrowed down the list, get on the phone with a salesperson from each LMS platform on your list. Explain your use case and provide an overview of your most important requirements. After their canned pitch, interview the rep:

  • Confirm that the LMS was designed for external training.
  • Confirm that the LMS includes market-leading functionality. Most salespeople will answer yes to this, so you may have to dig deeper, or rely on reviews.
  • Ask how their LMS will satisfy your requirements. Understand whether it satisfies them directly or via a work-around.
  • Ask about customers who are like your business. Why did the customer adopt the LMS, what have they achieved, where are they NOT satisfied?

5. Develop an RFP to find the right external training platform

The RFP (Request for Proposal), is an invitation to selected LMS vendors to submit their response and bid.

RFPs can be good and bad. The good part is the RFP framework serves as a common point of reference for the assignment, so that all parties get the same information at the same time, enabling your final “apples to apples” evaluation.

The bad part is that RFPs can actually slow down the process and put more work on your plate. The key to avoiding this is to screen better and invite fewer vendors so that there are fewer responses. Also, just as important, don’t ask for too much information. Just the critical requirements!

Recommended sections of an LMS RFP:

  • An executive overview
  • Background on your organization
  • Your use case, challenges and requirements
  • Technical requirements
  • Timeline
  • Budget parameters (including SaaS fees, training, implementation, services and support)
  • Pricing structure
  • Principal point of contact

Be sure to ask for 3–5 references, preferably from similar companies.

Outsourcing to an LMS selection consultant
Finding and selecting the right LMS can be a long, complicated learning curve and there’s no guarantee you’ll get the perfect fit the first time you do it. To remedy this, there are LMS selection consultants who are well experienced in the external LMS market and have guided many companies to the selection of an appropriate external training platform.

Some companies choose to outsource some or all the LMS selection process to such a professional, from developing the requirements, to narrowing the field of potential solutions, to creating the RFP, coordinating demonstrations, reviewing responses and negotiating the contract. Unless you’ve gone through the LMS selection process before, hiring an LMS selection consultant is almost always a good call.

Additional Resources for LMS Selection
At Thought Industries, we understand just how difficult the process of selecting and evaluating a new or replacement LMS for external training can be. And, we know that the more informed you are, the more successful you’ll be in finding the best solution for your company. Check out our LMS Buyers’ Question Guide to make the process easier.


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