Buying an LMS is a lot like getting married. You want a happy relationship that lasts a long time because switching LMSs, like switching spouses, can be a difficult and expensive process. As a vendor who has been involved in scores of LMS selections, I can offer some advice for finding your LMS soulmate.

Focus on what’s important

Most buyers focus heavily on the LMS’s features and functions. Their primary concern is what the LMS can do. They have spreadsheets with 300 to 500 rows of selection criteria, almost all of which are features and functions. Oftentimes many of the functions aren’t needed to support their training programs, but are included “just in case.” The LMS that best matches their functionality criteria at a competitive price is selected as the winner.

I have discovered that many LMS customers shop for an LMS the way they might shop for a dress. If it has the right features and functions (i.e. straps, color, cut, and fit) they buy the dress. But buying an LMS isn’t like buying clothes because you can’t change out of an LMS as easily.

Hunting for a happy relationship

You will find your LMS soulmate by looking beyond the what. You must understand why you need an LMS partner, how you are going to use the LMS, and who is behind the LMS.

To return to the relationship metaphor, before getting married it’s helpful to understand why you want to tie the knot in the first place. Think about your LMS as a partner. Why do you need an LMS, outside of the usual response of wanting a tool to manage your training program(s)? What do you want to achieve?

Once you have a deep understanding of why you want an LMS partner, you should examine how you’re going to use the LMS to support your training. How will you manage user access? How will learners be assigned training? How will you track progress? Flesh out the hows by developing a set of use cases. Each use case should define how a specific learning process should ideally work.

Lastly, consider the who. Who are you marrying? What are the LMS partner’s values? How do they handle customer issues? Where are they taking the LMS in the future?

While there are no universal answers to these questions, there are right answers for you and your firm. Use these and other questions to define your ideal LMS soulmate, independent of the LMS technology they offer.

The dating game

The first step in finding your LMS soulmate is building a list of must-have functions you cannot do without. Next build a list of potential LMS partners by hitting the dating sites (i.e. industry directories), searching online, and asking friends and family. Use your list of must-have features (there shouldn’t be more than a few dozen) to weed out LMSs that do not meet your most basic needs.

After you have your narrowed down your list, it’s time to start dating! Dating can be uncomfortable, but it’s an incredible learning process because you’re going out with different people in different situations to explore what it’s like to be together.

When dating potential LMS partners, the focus should be on the how. Let each potential partner know that you want to see how their LMS can be used to manage your particular training program(s). Share your use cases to let them know how you want your reporting done, how you want enrollment to be handled, how you want to assign training goals, how you want to manage or organize your users, etc. Have them demonstrate how their system supports each use case. You can think of each use case as a mini date. After several of these, you’ll have a very clear idea of what life would be like if you married that LMS partner.

Ask questions and meet the family

After “dating” a dozen or so potential LMS partners, you should be able to narrow the field down to a short list of two or three. Each should possess the capability to satisfy your needs, but how do you determine who is The One? For this, shift your attention to the who. Who is the firm behind the LMS? Is it a good fit for you and your organization? Can it deliver your why?

Get to know more about your potential LMS soulmate by asking pointed questions such as: How do you measure success (by revenue growth, or asking clients if their projects were completed on-time, on-budget, and as-promised?) Do you calculate your issue-close capability, and if so, are you willing to share your metrics? The answers you receive will help you get to know your partner more intimately.

Meeting the family can also provide revelations. Try to make contact with the CEO, as well as the heads of product development, delivery, and client care. Each will provide a different perspective on the company.

Lastly, meet the extended family. Read customer reviews and talk to current clients. Focus the conversation on what it’s like to be a client of the LMS partner, rather than on the features and functions of the LMS.

After really getting to know your finalists, The One best suited to help you achieve your why should clearly emerge. As in all relationships, remember a good functional fit with a great partner is often better than a great functional fit with a poor partner.

Living happily ever after

Like all relationships, finding your LMS soulmate is a process. By going through the stages described here, you can feel confident that you made a strong choice. Here’s hoping you and your LMS soulmate live happily ever after!