How Do You Find The Right LMS For External Training?

October 3, 2019

Here’s the most effective process for narrowing down your list of LMS platforms, especially for external users. This doesn’t take long and will save you lots of time later.

  1. Score your evaluation of the LMS platforms in contention
  2. Network with your peers for real LMS reviews
  3. Investigate each LMS being considered for external training
  4. Engage with each LMS’ salesperson
  5. Develop an RFP and LMS requirements to lead you to choose an LMS.

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

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 LMS vendors and, through the following process cut that down to 3–5 tops, to take to the in-depth demo stage.

1. Score your evaluation of the LMS platforms in contention

Here’s a suggestion for a simple scoring model that you should decide on before you start your vendor research. It will make it easy for you to winnow down the potential LMS platforms and arrive at your short list. Here’s an overview.
When 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

When you research the LMS by going to their website, or more…

  • Are they built for external training? 1 point
  • Are they built for external training and have next generation technology? 2 points
  • Are they built for external training, have next generation technology and have customers that are like your company? 3 points

When you spoke 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 LMS 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 to the next step, the “deep-dive” demo.

2. Network with your peers for real LMS reviews

Your peers, your peer groups, and industry networking groups provide your best source of developing your initial list of potential LMS solutions. Their experience with external learning management systems is real-life. If you know them, get in touch directly, if you’d like to talk to them, 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?
  • Do you have direct experience? Can you refer me to someone who does?
  • 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.
It seems that in their quest to have the perfect website to generate leads, many LMS websites end up looking and sounding exactly the same and 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 for external training. 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.
  • Was built with next generation technology. If the LMS has built-in marketing tools and automated course authoring, it probably is. For an in-depth discussion of LMS technology, read Yesterday’s LMS is Not Today’s LMS.
  • Do they have customers (and case studies) whose business is like your business? A good sign is if their customers are for-profit training companies.

As appropriate, read the case studies, white papers, and go to a webinar, especially if it is a product demo. Many LMS companies record their demo webinars and make them available on-demand.
This may seem like a lot of up-front work, but it will save you countless hours reviewing too many RFP responses, sitting through personalized demos, and maybe still not finding the right solution.
You’ll quickly begin to see if they are dedicated to your use case and what percentage of your must-have requirements, they’ll be able to satisfy.
Here’s a list of LMS review sites that will give you detailed information on the platforms. Look for matches to your use case, requirements and pay close attention to the customer reviews.
LMS Review Sites

4. Engage with each LMS’ salesperson

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 of the LMS platforms that are 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 is built on next generation technology (Most salespeople will answer yes to this, so you may have to dig deeper. Ask when the original product was developed. If it was over five years ago, then it’s probably not modern enough. LMS vendors rarely if ever throw out the old technology and build a new LMS from scratch.)
  • 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? There’s always something.

5. Develop an RFP that leads you to the next step in selecting an LMS for external training

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 of the RFP
  • Background on your organization
  • Your use case, challenges and requirements (must have key requirements identified)
  • Technical requirements
  • 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 learning 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. We also know that the more informed you are, the more successful you’ll be in finding the best solution for your company.
To get you started and pointed in the right direction, our team has put together a free checklist: 59 Questions to Consider Before Selecting an LMS for External Training.
Another new resource that is also available to you for free is our new eBook: How to Build an LMS Business Case for External Training. We think it will be of utmost value to you as you move along the LMS buyers’ journey.
We bring you these resources, tools and recommendations as our investment in your success.


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