7 questions to ask LMS vendors at ATD 2018

We’ve all been there. You enter a huge industry exhibition with a specific objective from your boss, whether that’s ‘find three potential suppliers for X product’ or ‘find a company that will help us solve Y challenge’, or even ‘find out what the next big thing in our sector will be and how we can beat the rush’.

But in reality, it’s much harder than simply turning up, having a few conversations and leaving with a perfect list of vendors and ideas to consider.

“So, what does your company do then?”

If you’re off to ATD 2018, or any similar L&D exhibitions this year, it’s worth going equipped with some important questions that you might not think to ask on the day.

Instead of trying to decipher 50 different elevator pitches, take a look at the questions we think you should be asking to find out which LMS vendor is right for you.

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1. How can I buy your LMS?

It may sound simple, but this is a very important question.

Some LMS creators allow you to buy directly from them, while others (like Totara) work with a global partner network.

It’s up to you to decide which approach best suits your organisation, but bear in mind that buying via a partner means that you can choose a vendor local to you who offers specific services you may require, such as hosting, support and customisations.

2. How can I tailor your LMS to my needs?

Not all learning platforms can be tailored, so if you have unique requirements now, or may need more specialist customisations in the future, it makes sense to opt for an LMS which allows this.

Proprietary learning management systems tend to be much harder to customise, whereas open source learning platforms can generally be tailored to your needs, whether that’s look and feel, UX, functionality or plugins.

In general, the more flexibility the better - even if your use case is relatively straightforward right now, this could change in the future, and you want to avoid being stuck with an LMS that doesn’t meet your needs halfway through your contract.

3. What does your product roadmap look like?

This is a sensible question to ask whether you’re considering a proprietary or an open source LMS.

If you’re considering a proprietary LMS, this is essential - you won’t have the option to build any new features or functionality if you require them before they are available.

However, it also makes sense to ask this question if you are looking at open source learning management systems - you don’t want to start development work on a custom feature and then discover that it will be available in the next release of the product.

Looking for more questions? Check out this blog post for inspiration

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4. Does your LMS integrate with other tools and platforms? If so, which ones?

It’s worth speaking to your IT team before you attend the show to ensure you know which other tools and platforms the LMS will need to connect with. This could be HR systems, social learning platforms, productivity plugins or anything else.

Many companies use lots of different tools which all need to talk to each other, making it essential that your LMS integrates effectively to ensure data transfers across the various systems.

5. What contracts do you offer?

Unless you are absolutely positive that your needs won’t change over the coming years (which is highly unlikely), it makes sense not to get locked into a long contract.

Maybe signing up for a long contract with a vendor reduces the yearly cost, but if your requirements change halfway through the contract, it could be a costly mistake.

Instead, shorter-term contracts could be a better idea, or some vendors may even offer rolling contracts or more flexible plans - there’s no need to find yourself locked in.

6. What support is available?

While IT departments can do a lot, they often don’t have the specialist knowledge of an LMS that you might require.

Almost all L&D teams will require the support of their LMS vendor at some point, whether this is accessing a knowledge base, emailing a quick question or arranging comprehensive training for managers and learning administrators.

Find out what support is available (if any), and if it’s in the right timezone to avoid late-night call or day-long waits for answers.

7. What type of companies use your software?

This is a question that most people forget to ask, but it’s important.

Are there other companies like yours (in terms of size, sector, location and more) using the same learning platform?

Ask for specific examples - it can help to see a live demo on the day, but if you’re especially interested in a particular vendor, it makes sense to check out their case studies online.

It’s not necessarily anything to worry about if your company is the first of its kind to use a platform, but it can help you build your business case with your organisation’s stakeholders if you can show them examples of similar companies using the software successfully - and, bonus points, if you work with the same vendor, they can share the secrets of their success with you.

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But wait - there's more!

We want to make sure you’re fully equipped to ask the right questions when you attend ATD 2018 - or any other L&D expo in the future. In case we missed any pertinent questions you might want to ask, check out our guide on how to choose a learning platform.

If you’re heading to ATD 2018, be sure to come and say hi to the Totara team (and our partners, Lambda SolutionseThink Education and GO1) at stand #1027. We’ll be happy to answer these and any other questions you may have to give you the freedom to learn!