Many organizations contract with vendors to purchase off-the-shelf solutions or custom training engagements. It’s a common practice. Unfortunately, it’s also common for organizations to be only marginally satisfied with the solutions those vendors produce.
According to a 2016 article from Chief Learning Officer magazine, only 25 percent of CLOs are “very satisfied,” and another 43 percent are “satisfied,” with their learning analytics vendor. Analytics is only one small part of the learning landscape, but it suggests there’s room for improvement – if learning leaders know how to cultivate a more beneficial relationship with training vendors.
You might think the most important thing to do is find the right vendor, and you’re not wrong. But the first thing learning leaders should do when looking for a technical training vendor is to conduct an internal needs analysis. That way, they can compare organizational training needs to vendor offerings, and ensure training solutions are suitable for their individual and team needs.
Then it’s time to vet companies. For instance, is the vendor training on the most up-to-date versions of technology? What types of labs do they offer? How do they support various types of learners? Is training primarily hands on? What sort of pre- and post-learning comes with a solution?
“You want to explore what value-add the vendor can provide,” said Carmel Ulbrick, Director of Customer Success for DevelopIntelligence.
Customization Is Common, But There Are Levels To It
Speaking of value-add, learning leaders should not be swayed by talk of customization during vendor negotiations because Ulbrick said that’s no longer unusual. Instead, explore the level of customization vendors offer. “We can start from the ground up,” she said of DevelopIntelligence. “We don’t have a general template that we build from. We meet with subject matter experts. We get to know intimately how technology is used within the organization, and then we collaborate with the client to draft a relevant outline and learning objectives for a class.”
The level of customization a training request requires should influence vendor choice. For instance, if an organization needs its training to feature very industry-specific language, has extremely targeted technical training needs, or there is proprietary information an external vendor would have no knowledge of or access to, that should ultimately influence vendor selection.
Once learning leaders determine the right vendor to meet their learning needs, Ulbrick said the next step in forming a highly beneficial vendor relationship is to introduce the teams. Vendor and client need a level of comfort. They should know who are the players on both sides, and feel confident that they’re competent because correspondence may be frequent depending on the level of engagement for the training project.
“DevelopIntelligence has a lot of touch points as we work with the client because we want the relationship to be strong,” Ulbrick explained. “We also want flexibility on both sides so that we can truly collaborate. That has always fostered the best relationships for us.”
You Get What You Pay For
When it comes to vetting potential vendors, too many learning leaders focus on cost more than the product/service they need or how well these solutions align with their learning objectives. Further, Ulbrick says that what appears to be low-cost training solutions are often not the most effective. This type of buying behavior can result in L&D Buyer’s remorse.
When vetting potential vendor partners, there are multiple things to consider, but Ulbrick said don’t neglect to evaluate testimonials from clients either for single classes or for large-scale programs. Also, check out the company’s client list. Even small training vendors are worth considering if they’ve worked successfully with enough big, global companies to gain valuable experience and solidify their position in the marketplace.
At the end of the day, however, people are the best barometer for a successful training vendor relationship and for an organization’s training strategy in general. Ulbrick said the benefits of great training speak for themselves: decreased attrition and increased retention because employees know there’s a career development path available, an external reputation as an organization that cares enough to develop the brightest talent in the industry, and, upskilling or reskilling decreases costs related to talent acquisition and ramping up new hires.
The cost will obviously be a consideration when sourcing a training vendor. Ulbrick said in that context, it pays to be wary of additional charges. For instance, DevelopIntelligence doesn’t charge for program design, which you may see as a line item in proposals for other training vendors. It might be called a program design fee, or a vendor will add in consultation hours. “It doesn’t make sense for us to charge for something that we see as an integral part of the program design,” she explained. “It’s important for us to truly understand the scope of a project and the organization’s needs.”
Your Vendor Should Be Your Business Partner
Once you’ve done the pre-work to determine what kind of training you need, you’ve identified an appropriate vendor, negotiated fees and signed the contract, now you have to nurture the relationship. There should be a smooth handoff from the representative who made the sale and the team that will support successful training delivery. Members from client and vendor teams should be introduced, and their roles explained so everyone knows who to reach out to depending on their need.
Ulbrick said vendors should run through a timeline of what the client can expect in the weeks or months leading up to class delivery, and they should discuss what the post-learning state looks like. Follow up is very important, as tools to extend learning for students post engagement do a lot to ensure successful knowledge transfer. Based on the program, follow up might include labs and exercises, or what DevelopIntelligence calls post-learning milestones. Another option is a curated list of online, self-paced training or learning guides students can consume to build on the training they received in class.
Your training vendor should also conduct a formal debrief to evaluate the training engagement in retrospective. DevelopIntelligence, for instance, reviews evaluations and student feedback to determine if training on additional topics might be necessary to support the recently completed class.
And of course, as you wrap things up, consider the analytics. After all, you may have to prove a positive training ROI. It helps to consider analytics at the end as well as at the beginning of your technical training engagement.
“Ask what metrics they measure their success on and what concessions they have if those are not met,” Ulbrick advised. “You want to stand by your service. If a training vendor balks at that, that’s a major red flag. For me that would be a deal breaker.”