Customer Complaints, how to avoid the traps makes for an interesting read; especially so because it looks at the LMS sales process purely from a customer’s perspective. The issues highlighted are quite pertinent and yes, I think, there is a high probability that an organization looking for an LMS (new or changing) would have encountered one or more of these traps. Some may actually have fallen into these traps unknowingly.
While I was reading the post, in my mind, I kept trying to check and recollect if my company does that / has done that, knowingly, half-knowingly or unknowingly. One of the questions that I kept asking to myself was – is my sales workforce in line with our philosophy and does it also understand the product deeply which empowers them to answer to prospects without attempting (knowingly or unknowingly) to look at any of these traps. Because, you may sell once to a customer using these traps but there is no way you can earn both trust and confidence of many others in the long run. So, you may gain short term sales but it is going to be challenge to build a lasting brand on a hollow foundation.
Without the need to say it, I iterate that we are here to create lasting relationships with our customers and its imperative for us to make sure that there is absolute transparency both pre and post sales.
So, how do we, as a sales organization, ensure that we sell UpsideLMS without using any of these traps? And more importantly, how do we deliver the value we promise, and what the customer expects from us when it comes to our LMS?
Simple: honesty! But there are angles to it which I believe organizations looking for an LMS should also be aware of. I mention a few below, and I use the sequence and names of traps used by Craig Weiss in his post here:
1. Snake Oil Salesperson
a. Interoperability: Here’s what we have trained our sales force to respond: “UpsideLMS can work with third party courseware which is compliant with SCORM 1.2 or AICC or SCORM 2004 (without sequencing and navigation controls). In case of AICC there may, sometimes, be some additional work we would need to do. In case a course is not compliant with these, then we need at least one HTML file to launch the course with tracking limited to open and nothing else”. Additionally, we invite our customers to upload sample courses themselves on the sandbox we set up for them. I agree with Craig when he lists it as the first point because for many customers, this could become the primary source of headaches.
b. Integration with 3rd party or ERP tools: At best we commit that all kinds of integration is technically possible provided these four things can happen:
i. UpsideLMS team will need access to the 3rd party tool technical team to understand data schema and APIs (if any).
ii. Some work may need to be done at their end (this needs to be confirmed by the customer early on)
iii. The system is available to access via internet (in case of UpsideLMS being hosted) or the required ports and access is opened for data transfer to happen
iv. We request for sample data during initial part of implementation so that we can test before making it live
c. Response times: Till late last year we offered support with limited timings and all our conversations, proposals would represent the same. From this year, we have upgraded our support to Mon-Fri 24 hours with first response committed to be under 30 minutes and an immediate response for any emergency. We are confident of providing this and have published this standard on our site too. Check it out here.
d. Social Learning / Mobile Learning / New age stuff: Well, we have both of them and additionally have some awards and recognitions to vouch for how we have done those. But I remember, when we didn’t have them and we were asked we did use to say that we are working on these things but have nothing to demonstrate as of now. In our case that was true as we were working on these modules. However I think it was important to let customer know that as a company we are tuned to the new things and have a plan in place.
e. APIs: Despite all our technical expertise, we still do not have these in place. ‘And we are REALLY working on it’
2. Number of users and clients
I agree with most points raised by Craig. True, the prospect may not really care as their focus would be on their needs, etc. We try our best to put the information in as clear terms as possible. IMHO I think it is important for an LMS vendor to showcase number of users, number of clients using their product. It’s an important marketing tool and more so it’s a great way of building confidence in your system even before the prospect would talk to you. I think these numbers do, to a significant extent, tell a story in a short number of words. But, yes numbers are numbers and can point in wrong direction. I remember the wait we had before we released our first internet PR on crossing 100,000 users milestone! I think it is important to quote the numbers as they are rather than as you assume prospects would like to hear.
3. White Papers, Case Studies in eLearning
I agree completely. These are marketing tools and companies would showcase the best and the positive ones. To me, these are necessary. For plain simple reason – these are marketing tools. Also, a great medium to be able to present information relevant to a potential customer – similar industry, similar size, similar pains kind of case study helps relate better. In almost all discussions during pre-sales, a vendor is asked about a similar experience and if the vendor can share case studies to prove the experience. I think these help a prospect as well.
What we do is that we get all our case studies, PR concerning a customer reviewed and approved by the customer. Yes, this process also has all the flaws Craig mentions but I can’t get my head around in how to avoid those. I think it is best to be true in case studies.
4. Demo Time!
I think Craig has hit a huge pain point right on the head. We had the similar problem up to about 4 months back but the problem was OURs and not prospects’. The problem we had was – how to explain, in simple and clear terms, the whole value proposition and what a customer would get at what price. Due to the number of modules, installation options, customizations, etc. even a transparent proposal would look like a maze of confusing numbers. We used to manage the confusion during the contract stage where we would put in the key discussion points, expectations of the customer on paper and get it approved by them. However, that also helps only to an extent. About 3 months ago, with the objective of making it simple for anyone to understand, we did something unusual for our industry – we published our entire pricing model on our website with as much details as possible. And yes, we have seen a significant reduction in that initial confusion. We have avoided using stars, footnotes, fine prints to make it completely transparent. Hard to believe? Check it out here. Given the limited time during the first sales demo, I believe the sales people would continue to show only what is relevant to a customer. But, having these extra pieces of information on our website has definitely helped us.
5. Bogeyman data.
To be honest, in a recent case where a customer did not renew UpsideLMS, our support team went out of way and contract and gave them dump of data in a number of CSV files. We, in fact, created simple formats without references to our database structure so that its easier for them to use the data as they want to use.
Additionally, if a customer uses authoring tool from our LMS itself, we have provided links to download the course themselves in SCORM or AICC format.
I think, for whatever reasons a customer may not be renewing, it is absolutely important to leave a positive and happy feeling in the relationship.
In the long run, transparency and ethics rule. In fact, slide no. 9 on this presentation we posted on our website would be best to summarize – Why Upside Learning.