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Danny Seals

Legal & General / Knot Design

Head of Employee Innovation

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Raising the vendor bar: how to select learning and development providers more effectively

Top tips for L&D professionals on how to select vendors more effectively.

When was the last time you bought a new, shiny, expensive product online without reading any reviews? What about when you are looking for a builder, electrician, plasterer? How many times have you picked someone new without reading reviews left by customers or done some extended searching on their profile and work? I would hazard a guess at not many.

Everyone needs an LMS until someone says different, and then suddenly nobody needs an LMS. The reality is that nobody other than you really knows where your business is in their journey.

This research alone can take hours, burning up the finite time we have. Luckily we have platforms such as Checkatrade, Trustpilot and Glassdoor to help us make an educated choice on which product or service we pick. They allow us to benefit from collective knowledge and experience to get there in record time, meaning we have more time to sit back, put our feet up and enjoy life… well maybe not, but it means we have more time to do other important things.

You might be wondering what all this has to do with learning, HR and the vendor market. Well, the same rationale applies when you are choosing a vendor for your learning technology or training support. By using a more methodical approach, you can be more discerning. In the long run, this will not only help save time and money, but it also helps to develop the market and raise the bar for vendors in our industry.

The normal and problematic approach to vendor selection

Normally when thinking about finding and selecting a vendor we would reach out to our network and ask a question like ‘what is your view on vendor X?’ or ‘is it worth having a chat with tech provider Z?’. This approach is fine, but understanding and recognising things such as the halo effect and similarity bias are always at play.

This is why it is vital to never base decisions on just a few friends’ choices of vendor, because before you know it, you have a vendor who isn’t the most suited to your specific business challenge. In this article, we’ll look at a few things you can do to help decide on the best fit for your business. 

Understand your problem versus the generic problem

Everyone needs an LMS until someone says different, and then suddenly nobody needs an LMS. The reality is that nobody other than you really knows where your business is in their journey until they come in and understand your business, the culture and challenge at hand. Does your business need an LMS, LXP, learning system, or does it need a vendor to help with behaviour change? Maybe or maybe not – the only person to understand that will be you.

You can do this by narrowing down your specific business challenge and getting close to your people to understand their pain points. Then you need to align them to the business direction – this is critical. Keeping up with the Joneses is a pointless task as every business has its own adventure. Yes, there will be similarities, but they won’t be the same.

Public Enemy once said, ‘don’t believe the hype’! This advice can also be applied to vendor selection.

Pick a vendor that shares your values

Picking a vendor is very similar to picking a partner in our personal lives, it’s about who that person or vendor is, what their values are and also working out how much their values align with your own and that of the business. We don’t have to agree on everything, and to some extent it’s better we don’t as we all need growth and challenge, but having values and goals that you both align to is going to make for a great relationship

See a vendor as a strategic partner

On several occasions I have seen businesses bringing in vendors to fix just one challenge, such as running a team-building session, delivering unconscious bias training, or rolling out a technology platform. All of these are valid reasons to bring someone in, but rarely do I see an organisation use this golden opportunity to tap into the vendors’ extended knowledge and experiences with other clients. 

Something as simple as renaming a vendor to being a ‘strategic partner’ will change how you look at the process of selecting a vendor, as well as the extended value they bring. It’s about so much more  than a one-off ‘shot in the arm’ response. Stripped right back, using a strategic partner is simply about bringing in a skill to elevate your people and the business.

See past the marketing and use research and data

Public Enemy once said, ‘don’t believe the hype’! This advice can also be applied to vendor selection. Time and time again I’ve seen the wrong vendor match be made over the perfect vendor, and it has come down to marketing. There may be one vendor who is super busy working away and doesn’t have time to market because of the great work they are doing, while another has lots of free time or a bigger marketing budget.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t believe all marketing, but you need to see beyond that and use research such as the Fosway 9 Grid to help direct your decision a little. By all means, ask your network what their take is on a vendor, but be mindful they may use things they have seen or heard (whether that first or secondhand) and apply their own bias to give you their opinion.

It’s very common for people to make a judgement or decision on a business or a person based on just one view. If I can give one piece of advice, it would be to use as much impartial information and data as you can to make your choice, but in the end, go with your gut.

Interested in this topic? Read Blended learning: why your LMS might be holding you back.

One Response

  1. Part of the challenge is that
    Part of the challenge is that people generally don’t know how to buy training or coaching. This makes it as difficult for the vendor as it does the buyer.

    The problem is that data doesn’t always help either. Amazon reviews can’t be trusted. Sites like Check a trade are the worst way to find a builder (as they create a race to the bottom on price and often quality) and there are no objective standards on what makes a good purchase as every need is unique.

    Perhaps we should promote discussion and education of how to assess needs and buy in learning interventions????

Author Profile Picture
Danny Seals

Head of Employee Innovation

Read more from Danny Seals

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