You’ve researched the market, shortlisted candidates, and… now what? Picking the right learning management system supplier requires a great request for proposal.
A request for proposal (RFP) is the key evaluation criteria you’ll use to evaluate and compare learning management system (LMS) suppliers, meaning you need to take the time to clarify your expectations and requirements.
Our ready-to-send RFP Template can be used to create the optimal request for proposal for your organisation. Read on for a more detailed look at what information you need to write a crystal clear RFP when selecting an LMS.
What is an LMS RFP?
A learning management system RFP is document used by buyers during the LMS procurement process. It outlines the essential features, functionalities and requirements you are asking potential LMS vendors to demonstrate they have and can meet, respectively.
Why do I need an RFP?
Think of the RFP process as the last line of defence for an LMS project. You can do all the internal due diligence (business case for budget, needs analyses, garner buy-in), but it makes no difference if you mess up the selection process.
You see, you have options, and LMS providers know it. There are a few bad sales seeds who can and will unscrupulously say they’re capable of more than they actually are just win you as a lead—and you may not learn this until LMS implementation, when it’s too late. Not when average spend on the company software stack is just over $32,000 and most implementations are held up by clunky systems and poor choice of provider.
If that’s not enough, consider a few more hellish landscapes that can emerge without a solid LMS request for proposal.
- You’re not able to compare systems when you do settle on a final few, because you’re not clear on your LMS requirements, let alone business needs.
- You get put on the hook for features and functionality you don’t use or need, pushing ongoing fees outside your approved budget.
- You may inadvertently exclude key commentary from end users or other stakeholders—i.e. the people who decide if this project sinks or swims—and end up with low adoption or a system that’s not even compatible with your current stack.
Notice how each landscape starts with you? If you’re already working against negative or transactional perceptions of L&D in your organisation, you’re only going to fortify the belief that L&D is a cost centre, and one that nets near-zero returns, at that.
Getting the RFP process right
Beyond being a static shopping list, an LMS RFP acts as a central repository for an LMS vendor to view information about your company, the project or projects the LMS is applicable to, and your expectations.
To avoid a bad crop, it’s best to revisit the business need for new software.
1. Define your needs
Defining clear goals will save you from procuring an ill-fitting LMS, or one you are ill-equipped to maintain.
Do you need support or can you diagnose programming issues in-house? Are you using the system for onboarding, professional development, or both? The answers will determine your expected outcomes, which in turn determine the features and functionalities you’ll need.
The difference between a random system and a carefully considered solution could be worth thousands, a steep price to pay when an LMS is already an expensive investment—especially if you’re working with a limited budget. Plus, if as a decision-maker you’re unsure of the gaps in your organisational structure an LMS would be addressing, you’ll communicate to stakeholders you have even less understanding of your organisation than an unsuitable vendor.
2. Prioritise features
…because they may cost you. When looking for an LMS, you need to have a sound understanding of what is necessary and what’s simply nice to have. Prioritising features can be hard even if you’re familiar with eLearning products, so we recommend using LMS features comparison checklist at this stage.
Remember that in the tech world, not everything is included. You might need multiple languages to service a global user base, but each new language could very well cost you. You’ll want a method for scoring proposals based on your priorities, too, so at this point it’s also worthwhile creating weighted criteria. You can keep it simple, or get really into the weeds on technical requirements by judging optional and future software needs, too.
3. Dictate deadlines
It’s best to be upfront about critical moments in business timelines before a vendor demos to you, lest you waste time on one who takes months to deploy a system when you need it in six weeks.
An LMS should be at the heart of your organisation, not an extraneous limb. Procuring a system that you have to work around will delay project timings, which in turn affects your ROI, user buy-in and scalability.
4. Compare vendors
At the RFP stage you’re comparing apples to apples, so differentiating the finer features, prices and security of suppliers in your industry is important to find the exact solution right for you. Case studies and customer reviews are to LMS RFPs as bees are to honey; you can’t have the latter without the former.
Treat this as a long-term relationship. You’re investing years and potentially thousands of dollars into a vendor and their system, which means you cannot afford to choose blindly. Some of our current clients transitioned to us from vendors with restrictive contracts. We’ve heard many stories about the expensive and time-consuming process of leaving a contract early and the bad taste left in stakeholders’ mouths as a result.
Want to see Acorn LMS in action?
Hit the book a free demo button here, take seconds to fill in your details, and find out why Acorn truly is the best LMS.
How to create an LMS RFP
Company needs, goals and objectives make for different content in an LMS RFP, but much like an English essay, the general structure is usually built around a few key sections. Providing the same structure to all potential vendors means you can easily compare and contrast their responses.
Typically, an RFP is broken up into two parts.
- The first part is about you, the depth of which determines…
- The value of the supplier’s response in the second.
If you came here seeking an LMS RFP template, we’ve got you covered. Our RFP Template will streamline the creation of your RFP, and help you efficiently provide and seek out contextual information.
For an in-depth look at how to fill it out, keep reading.
This is where you encapsulate the main requirements for your ideal LMS solution. You’ll want to cover your inputs, current resources, expected timeline, and your business and learning goals, plus include the details of your organisation’s point of contact. Think of this summary as the gatekeeper to your organisation. Only the most worthy will make it through the first challenge—even if it’s only on paper.
Off paper, you might have a strict deadline for deployment that affects other training or graduate programs, workplace restructures or budgetary concerns. (We’ve found this detail to be a big deterrent for the majority of vendors.) If you don’t specify key dates and the date when you expect to access the platform—and not just when deployment begins—you’ll find yourself with a schedule full of demos that fall short of the mark.
Don’t harp on about your company history and accomplishments. As proud as we all are of our organisation’s successes, your industry gongs might end up attracting those who are more interested in having your authoritative name on their website than properly servicing your needs.
About the project
Indicate what you know for the beginning of the project, such as:
- The number of users you will be training
- How many of those will be active per day and/or month (this will affect costs),
- How many users you expect to use the system simultaneously
- How many courses you currently possess and wish to upload
- Any other training materials you want to import to the system.
If you don’t factor in fluctuations of the number of users throughout the year (say, for graduate programs at the end of summer or an influx of casual employees at the beginning), you may find yourself paying more money for a system your learners aren’t even using or one that’s not capable of importing or hosting your content, whether that’s for compliance or storage reasons.
It’s standard practice to assign users different roles to limit access to files, editing tools and reporting functions, allowing them to solely focus on learning.
In smaller organisations, admin and user roles are often enough. Additional roles might be needed for larger organisations to manage external consultants, different cohorts, payment portals and course supervision—but not all LMSs offer multiple roles or the ability to create them. We’d also say to ask about certain functionalities for roles, such as the ability for administrators to impersonate users so they can fix minor issues themselves.
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: Not all features function the same across different learning management systems. And how a reporting tool functions for corporate training is different from what a motivational consultant is trying to glean about their workshops.
It’s important to make clear what you need a feature to do. Your focus when enquiring about features and integrations should be on the what, not the how (that’s for vendors to worry about). If you’re talking to a vendor based in a different country, sometimes the same term can mean different things—for example competency vs capability, or supervisor vs manager.
Also make sure to ask vendors to specify if a functionality is standard, configurable or customised. Again, this is the difference between hidden fees and expected costs.
From eCommerce to webinar platforms and event registration systems, most LMSs have the ability to integrate with third party applications—but some may be included as standards while others are seen as extras, meaning they may come with a price tag.
Many things you might consider standard for an LMS (like Single Sign On) is actually an integration that could be tacked onto implementation costs after that fact.
About the vendor
This section allows providers to demonstrate their suitability for your needs. Have a look at this RFP Template to see how to structure the vendor’s part, and then come back to learn how to get the most of it.
Just as you summarised your project, suppliers must first provide a summary of their proposed solution. If they can’t concisely outline how they can help you, then it’s likely they didn’t understand your key pressure points.
About the company
Ask how old they are (it may be the only time it’s appropriate to ask someone’s age). While maturity doesn’t always equal legacy, it gives you an idea of their experience. What differentiates them from the competition? How many team members would be supporting you and/or maintaining your system? It helps to ask for customer references they can provide, as this speaks to their credentials, regardless of legacy.
About the system
The vendor should also provide a list of system requirements specific to you, including:
- Technical obligations
- Standard features and functionalities
- Additional system tools and customisations
- Scalability and sustainability
- Data security policy and management.
All these speak to how a vendor can achieve your goals. If you can’t clearly align their product information with your list of requirements, they’re probably not going to meet them.
We can’t understate the importance of vendor’s plan for implementation, including timing, data migration, training and their proposed costs. There’ll be varying price tags attached to different stages of implementation, including set up, training, technical support, maintenance and the cost of the LMS itself.
Ensure they explain how long each stage will take and what they will do versus any work required on your part so you can weigh price against effort.
If you’ve made it to the RFP stage, you’re only communicating with a select few vendors. You should use RFPs to work out what finer details differentiate vendors working in your industry from one another. This is the nitty-gritty, and skipping over details now will only cost you time, resources, and money later—and not just if you make the wrong choice, but if you need to repeat the process to find a new LMS to replace this one.
If you remember anything, it’s that you have the power here. Still, you can never be too prepared when choosing an LMS. Taking the time to build a clear RFP structure will save you the effort and hassle of listening to irrelevant sales pitches and demos. It helps you to define your general to specific requirements and cut out the fat when comparing LMS suppliers.
A good RFP outlines the business need for an LMS, the features and functionality that address that need, and the budget you have to work with. It’s not a document for vendors to push back on; this is the definitive scorecard for them to prove themselves against.
Take control of your eLearning priorities
Related Reads on This Topic
Your Comprehensive LMS RFP Template
Vetting vendors is all the more easier with this template and step-by-step guide on how to use it.
The Ultimate LMS Pricing Comparison Guide
All the obvious, not-so-obvious and sometimes sneaky differences in LMS pricing.
How To Perform A Successful eLearning Platform Comparison
It may not be an LMS that you actually need.