Regardless if you create a RFP, use my LMS RFP template or do not use anything and just find systems based on whatever approach you see fit, an initial call with the vendor is a must.
Vendors like to call it the “discovery” call.
For you though it is the “will you make the cut” for future consideration call.
Since you are no longer going to be blasting away RFPs based on web sites or what your Oracle told you to do, a call with each vendor of interest is necessary prior to any further steps.
Think of the discovery call as a way of a short introduction. Okay, an hour introduction (at the most).
Discovery Calls: Dos and Don’ts
There are plenty of things you want to get out of from this call, just as there are items the vendor wants to extract from you on the call.
One of the biggest things the vendor would love to get from you is your budget. NEVER NEVER give it to them. There is no reason to provide such information. The moment you provide that little bit of data, you have just given away the gold and oh, any leverage you might have had.
Excluding the ‘budget’ question, there are questions that you should share with the vendor. At the same point, there are answers you want to get from the vendor.
One of the favorite lines vendors say during these calls is to find out whether they are a good fit or you (the client) are a right fit for them.
I laugh at the latter, because you could be totally out of their vertical, be located in a place whose accessibility is only by two alligators roped together to become a paddle boat but had a huge million-dollar budget or millions of users, they would be looking on YouTube on how to rope two alligators together for test runs.
The only time or times a vendor will balk, usually comes down to user base (seat base), vertical and estimated budget (i.e. you say we have a budget of $15,000 and have a 10,000 seat user base) compared to the cost of their system.
And even then, there are vendors who will still seek you as a customer. Thus, there is no hard or fast rule.
Jumping back to the discovery call.
Earlier noted above, there are questions you would want answered and there are questions they (the vendors want answered).
The whole discovery is about information, which is accomplished via questions and answers. You could extract enough info here to withhold a RFP or create a specialized RFP with limited questions.
That is the power this call can provide to you. Sadly, though most people miss that in the call and allow the salesperson to control it. When that happens, you are basically listening to a script with a voice. The information you receive isn’t any better than what you learned at a trade show or in a brochure.
But it doesn’t have to be and guess what? It won’t when you use these tidbits.
- Tell the vendor – a little bit about yourselves (the business), your industry (never assume) and yourself (just the basics, if you are the decision maker, and you want to tell them that – go ahead)
What to watch for – “Are you the decision maker?”
Why does the salesperson want to know?
Because knowing who is going to make that final decision is key in the entire process. If the person having this discovery call (talking to the vendor) is the person making the final decision, the salesperson may (depending on the salesperson) respond in a different manner than say someone who is just fact finding.
This doesn’t mean they are going to be nasty, rather, they are going to provide only so much information.
If the salesperson knows they are talking to the final approver, they – the salesperson – might start the “wine and dine” you approach sooner rather than later.
It depends of course on each vendor, but talking to the person who has the power to go or no go, is way better for a vendor than the person who doesn’t.
- Provide the vendor – the reason or reasons why you are seeking a LMS. If you are using another vendor and are leaving them, state that (you do not have to provide the name of current vendor). Include what you want to accomplish in terms of training/L&D with the LMS. Saying for example, “we want e-learning,” isn’t telling them anything.
After all, a LMS actually under the e-learning umbrella.
Example of (b)
Me and my friend created a bunch of courses for the classroom and now want to offer them as web based courses. So we are seeking a LMS for our current clients and new clients.
The above statements tell me as a vendor the essentials. What you are doing and what you want to do. It gets right to the point.
Now as the vendor, I might say okay, we can do that, – I might mention that we have other clients like that, or I might say, we have strong features for that and so forth.
But the winner to all this – is that it bounces the ball back to the vendor to respond and respond with their own questions aligned to you and off their script.
At some point, the vendor will ask you how many users/learners/students you are expecting in the system. Remember a user is identified as one user name, one password.
A client who is going B2B/B2C is unlikely to know the projected numbers, and in any B2B/B2C approach, it is better to go conservative than wild. For someone who is going B2B/B2C, just stating at this point it is not yet known, but that you will have a better idea by the time you select a system is a fair response.
If you are internal (employees), then give a best estimate. Remember that you are likely going to hire people in the next three years, and yes, people leave too. You may be a firm that will not give every employee access to the LMS or will limit certain areas or will allow part-timers to use the system, and so forth.
Thus, it is essential to let the vendor know up front what will be the breakout of your audience.
We are projecting 500 employees to use the system, but of that amount, we anticipate that 30% will use the system only for a couple months of the year and then won’t return until next year. We also have 50 interns who will need access for only three months – in the summer – and then will no longer need access.
- Timeframe – Identify to them what is your time frame to finding and selecting an LMS. You should always be realistic here. If you want a system in 30 days and decide against self-service, the number of vendors that will be able to meet your needs will be small. A vendor is always seeking a “hot” lead.
If you say we are planning on purchasing a LMS within six months – you are a strong lead, and in some cases hot. If you say we are seeking a system maybe in 15 months, you are in cold mode. The vendor will still talk to you, but if you are expecting them to run to you like Pavlov’s dog, forget about it.
Example of (c)
We are looking at selecting a system no later than July (six months out) and we would ideally like it to go be live by November. Is that possible?
Did you see what just happened? The timeline was posted along with when the client really wants the system to go live (ideally = really) and get read – bounced the ball back to the vendor to respond.
Now the vendor knows the time frame and launch date. At this point, if the vendor can hit those dates, they will say they can. Next, they will ask some additional items (varies upon vendors), but somewhere in there they will ask for next steps.
- Next Steps – It is here where you can either say, “I’d like to see a demo” or “I am going to send you our RFP or our LMS or other type of learning system RFI.” You may then expound further into what you are doing – i.e. more details.
Lastly, you want to let them know that you will follow up with them, and not vice versa. Otherwise, you will get hounded with calls. If you prefer e-mail state it as such. A good salesperson will always follow your lead – so if you say, you want them to contact you in two weeks by e-mail – they will.
Check it out
In just under an hour the vendor, knows a bit about you, what you are trying/seeking to do, what is/who is your audience, timeframe, and next steps.
Equally, you should know a bit about them (beyond what you can read on their web site), have either a comfort zone with the salesperson or not (i.e. personality fit or not), want to further discussion with the vendor or not; and next steps.
One point to remember here is that part of the discovery is whether or not the vendor could be a fit for you. Whomever you end up selecting is going to be your partner for the next x number of years.
So if you have any red flags during the initial discovery call, you might want to boot them from discussion.