Developing your employees is a central factor in making your company more successful. To do so, it’s critical that you find the right LMS software for the job. And sending an LMS RFP can help ensure your organization ends up with the best product.
The problem is, the market is booming, there are a lot of vendors to choose from and they all look pretty similar on the surface. Picking a learning management system from the forest of vendors is like shooting an arrow into the bullseye while blindfolded. It takes Robin-Hood-level skills.
Fortunately, like Robin Hood, you’re not alone. Creating a learning management system RFP is an excellent way to hone in on your target.
We’ve put together a free template and step-by-step guide to help you do just that. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- What’s an RFP?
- Research the Market Before Sending Your LMS RFP
- How to Create an LMS RFP in 4 Steps
- The Final Stage: Post-Evaluation and Selection
- Special Considerations
Let’s get this arrow nocked and zipping toward your LMS bullseye!
What’s an RFP?
The Request for Proposal
The RFP is the focal point of your search for new software. It’s a document that lays out key information about your company and includes a section where vendors can put their responses.
Because it uses the same selection criteria for all recipients, an RFP helps you compare vendors on a level playing field. This ensures a consistent method so you don’t have to rely on an ad hoc, piecemeal approach.
To get the best results, you need to be specific and detailed. Use this list as a starting point for what information to include in your learning management system RFP:
- General information about your company, along with a description of who you are
- An executive summary where you briefly explain what you need
- The learning goals you want or need to achieve
- Details about your learners
- The type of content and delivery method desired
- Reasons for selecting a CRM
- Your list of must-have requirements (more on this in a minute)
- Your desired integration capabilities
- How you intend to use the system, including the number of users and deployment method
- The level of support and training your company requires
- A breakdown of your budget
- The criteria you’ll use to make selections (non-negotiable, because vendors need to know the rules of the game)
- A section for vendors to talk about their experience and expertise
- Submission information for the proposals
- Your expected timeline for evaluation and implementation
- The proposal deadline (give vendors at least 2–4 weeks to put together a proposal)
You may need to include other details depending on your situation, so be sure to tailor everything based on your unique needs.
The process is more involved than jotting some notes on Evernote or a whiteboard and then throwing them into a document. It involves identifying your requirements, putting together the actual document, sending the RFP, evaluating responses and following up with vendors. We’ll cover each of those steps below.
However, the RFP isn’t the only tool at your disposal. If you picture your selection process like a chain, connecting where you are currently with where you want to be after implementation, the RFP is the middle link.
The purpose of the RFP isn’t to gather general info. It’s to target a small, well-vetted group of vendors. In order to get there, you have to start by doing a bit of leg work.
Research the Market Before Sending Your LMS RFP
You’ve identified your need to invest in a new LMS or to upgrade from your current solution. Before jumping into the RFP process, you need to do a recon of LMS software vendors.
When it comes to sending RFPs, best practices are to aim narrow. That means you have to first figure out which vendors to target. There are a few ways to go about this.
You can conduct your own initial research, which is never a bad idea. This can take many forms, including reading through blog posts and industry forums. Posts that compare two products, such as Litmos vs Docebo, are especially helpful. As you begin building a picture of the landscape, start a list of vendors to potentially contact.
Our LMS comparison report is a quick, easy way to view key information on all the top vendors. It lets you get up to speed without spending hours wading through search terms and vendor websites.
Besides digging up your own intel, you can always go directly to vendors to find the information you need (helpful if you’ve done some preliminary searching and have a list in mind). That’s where the request for information is handy.
The Request for Information
Companies often opt to send an RFI to kick off their software search in earnest. Every situation is different, so you’ll want to weigh whether this approach works for you, but it’s a good option to consider.
If you’re not very familiar with the LMS sector, sending an LMS RFI is an excellent way to gain the information you need from a number of vendors. Even if you’ve had a learning management solution for years, it still might be wise to send an RFI to vendors to get a pulse on the current industry. Things change quickly in the software world, and information from even a year ago can be outdated.
Imagine this stage like looking for the perfect wedding venue. You have an idea of your goals and pain points, but the purpose here is to investigate as many options as you think might work. From there, you can whittle the list down until you have a handful of vendors left to target with an RFP.
Since you’re not doing a deep-dive, avoid going overboard with information. We recommend including at least the following details in your LMS RFI:
- Some background info about your company
- What requirements you need to have
- What challenges you need the LMS to address
- A deadline for sending a response
Don’t skimp on the research phase. The success of your RFP will largely depend on taking the time to first build a list of vendors that may be a good fit. If you do a sloppy job of researching, you could well end up with a shortlist of vendors that can’t meet your requirements.
How to Create an LMS RFP in 4 Steps
With your initial research pass complete and a handful of vendors chosen, it’s time to create your RFP. It may be tempting to Google “LMS RFP template,” find a decent one to download and be on your merry way. But that’s putting the train before the engine.
Selecting software is hard enough without setting your process up for failure along the way. We want to help you avoid making those costly mistakes. To get the best results, we recommend following this four-step process for putting together your LMS request for proposal.
Step 1: Determine Requirements
Here are a few keys to follow that will help you focus on the requirements that will make a difference in your end result:
- Give everyone involved a voice. Don’t stop your requirements gathering at the C-Suite and HR managers. Ask IT how the LMS will impact your technical architecture and processes. Also get input from the end-users — their insights will be critical.
- Focus on the essential features. It’s easy to assume every feature is important. But that doesn’t mean every feature is paramount. Having all the flashy tools won’t help if you have a global workforce but can’t offer learning modules in multiple languages.
- List out your challenges. Is the current system too narrow in scope? Do you need a mobile option? Is your company lacking any sort of formal training process and looking to put a solution in place? Knowing your challenges will direct you toward your essential features.
- Look to the future. Implementing new software takes time and is expensive. Save your company the trouble of doing it multiple times by planning ahead for what you’ll need down the road. If part of your roadmap is to sell your training materials, for example, you’ll want an LMS that includes eCommerce capabilities or has the option to add that feature when you need it.
As you look at the LMS market, you’ll find a lot of vendors offer solutions that solve many of the same problems. That’s why it’s important to get specific based on your challenges, needs and goals. Only then will you be in a position to find out how vendors can solve your particular pain points.
Keep in mind that your requirements list can extend beyond specific software capabilities.
- Will your team need training? If so, you need to look at vendors who include training.
- Does the vendor offer support? Your IT department will want to know what technical expertise the vendor will or won’t bring to the table.
It’s also helpful to think of your requirements as more than a laundry list of items that require a checkmark. Sure, that approach tells you if a certain feature is included. But you’ll get a lot farther if you dig into the how.
The answer? Use cases.
Provide specific situations, such as developing a learning path for users, and give vendors space to explain how their product accomplishes that task. That will provide you with more insight than a simple checklist, and the more detail you get, the better.
Step 2: Create Your Learning Management System RFP
No brainer, right? After all, it can’t be that hard to put together an RFP. While that’s true to some extent, you still need to give this step your full attention. Otherwise, you risk sending out an unprofessional, confusing RFP.
Your goal should be to make it clear how you want vendors to respond to your request. If vendors can’t figure out what you want or how best to respond to your requirements, chances are you’ll end up sorting through messy proposals that don’t explain the specific ways a vendor can meet your needs.
Best practices for an LMS RFP include giving vendors a structure to follow that doesn’t leave room for questions on what information you want and how it should be formatted.
But before you draw up your format rules, think about how they’ll affect vendor responses. Example: if you give them a spreadsheet, it’s best to frame everything to accommodate Yes/No responses. Expecting lengthy explanations with that layout isn’t reasonable.
Using an online platform is a smart way to manage this step. It will help you avoid errors and provide you with a pre-built framework for sending clean, organized, professional RFPs.
That’s why we built the SelectHub platform. The workflow simplifies the process of selecting your requirements, and you can create and send professional RFPs using best practices. It also drastically speeds up the process, cutting the time it takes for a start-to-finish RFP by as much as 50%.
Step 3: Identify LMS Vendors and Send Your RFP
If you did your research ahead of time, this step will be straightforward. If not, now’s the time to develop a vendor shortlist.
Creating and sending RFPs is no small task — it takes time and commitment. The research phase is where you go broad. By this point, your focus should be specific and narrow.
Your shortlist should be just that — short. Only include the vendors who look promising. Select no more than five candidates to send your RFP to. And if only two vendors look like they’re worth pursuing, don’t send out extra RFPs simply because you can.
Step 4: Evaluate Responses
You did it! Your LMS RFP is out in the world. But that doesn’t mean your job is done.
You still need to vet the responses. That process in and of itself can take a long time. It’s where your evaluation team closely examines each vendor proposal to determine whether the product is what you’ll need. Like choosing the perfect wedding venue, a lot rides on this decision.
You have two options when it comes to the evaluation phase. Either wait until you’ve received all responses — which could take several weeks — or start working through each proposal as it comes in.
The latter is a better choice. It will speed up the process and make the potential back-and-forth with vendors go more smoothly.
This is where you’ll want to give vendors the chance to ask questions and get any clarifications you need based on that conversation. Working through those questions as they arise will streamline the entire process and prevent it from bogging down.
A management platform such as our RequirementsHub will make this step a lot easier to manage. It provides a central place to track responses and follow up with vendors, rather than fighting through a crowded email inbox to find what you’re looking for.
The Final Stage: Post-Evaluation and Selection
After completing your evaluation, you may have a clear-cut winner. More likely, however, you still need to do some extra investigation. Here are several good ways to learn more about each solution:
- Attend a demo: A live demonstration is an excellent way for vendors to show off what the software can do. And it gives you a chance to look at the interface as well as see the navigation.
- Check references: It’s never a good idea to base your selection decision solely on what a vendor says. References provide firsthand information that you can’t always get by asking questions and listing requirements.
- Ask for sandbox access: A sandbox is an environment meant to simulate how your fully implemented system will look and function — aka a real-world test drive. It won’t have every feature available, but it’s a chance for admins and users to play around inside the platform, looking for areas of concern and getting familiar with the user experience.
- View a proof of concept presentation: This is similar to a demo but typically limited to showing how the system can address a specific task rather than a range of functions. However, some vendors may offer it as a step up from a sandbox, so keep that in mind.
- Free trial: This won’t have the extent of features as a sandbox, but it will give you an idea of how the LMS will fit into your operations.
Not every vendor will offer every opportunity mentioned above, and some of them may not be free. So be sure to check and use the options that make the most sense for your company.
The final research card in your deck is the request for quote (RFQ).
The Request for Quote
Companies send an RFQ at the end of the process. You’ve seen the vendor proposal, viewed a demo and checked references. But what will the impact to your bottom line be?
You may have put a budget line in your RFP, but now that you and vendors have set the expectations, an RFQ moves the discussion from generalities to exact figures.
Sending an RFQ will shed light on the final piece of the puzzle and may help you choose the product that checks both your requirements and affordability boxes.
The RFQ, unlike its name suggests, is more than you saying, “What’s the final bill?” You can use this step to find out other final details like if or how the vendor has implementation services and what support they offer, based on the information in the RPFs.
There are a couple important factors to keep in mind in addition to what we’ve covered. Let’s quickly look at what they are.
RFPs Aren’t Always Required
RFPs are great. After all, we wrote a post that will help you nail your LMS RFP. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always need one.
If your business is smaller and doesn’t require a ton of functionality from an LMS, or your price range is on the low end, going through the arduous RFP process might not be worth it. This may also be true if you’re purchasing your first LMS, in which case your needs — and therefore the selection process — might not be as complex.
Be Wary of Templates
Templates can be helpful and cut down on the amount of work you need to do. But don’t fall prey to the siren call of a pre-made option. It’s too easy to download a template and use the entire thing — because if it’s in the template, it must be necessary!
In reality, you’re much better off using a template as a starting point (if you use one at all). No template can capture your exact needs because every company is unique.
So while templates, like ours for requirements, are helpful, always use them with this caveat: customize them to reflect your special situation. Our template lets you add and remove features as necessary, so it’s a good choice if you don’t want to start from scratch while having full control over the requirements you choose.
The process of picking a new LMS demands effort, but it’s well worth the time and money you’ll spend. Following this LMS RFP template and guide will help your organization end up with a solution that users love and that fits your needs as perfectly as the Iron Man suit fits Tony Stark.
As you compare vendors, gather requirements and manage the RFP process, keep this thought at the forefront of what you do: “how can this system meet our exact, unique needs?” Answer that, and you’ll be on your way to finding a solution that will take your learning management to the next level.
Are you facing any hurdles in the process of managing your LMS RFP? Share your challenges with us in the comments — we’d love to help out!