Our experience in the vendor selection process has, of course, been from the other side of the table but over the years we have gained a deep understanding of what clients look for and below are the 9 qualities which have mattered most to our clients.
1. Quality Of (Prior) Work
Needless to say, quality of work is the first criteria on which you should judge a potential vendor.
Ask them to give you as many demos as they can. Challenge them on the creative choices they made. Ask them what their clients liked and what they did not.
When you are looking for the best quality of work remember that the word “best” is a very subjective word. What you should look for is prior work which best fits your needs. It doesn’t automatically need to have the most beautiful graphic design or the most attractive animations or the greatest interactivity.
What is needed though is the best quality for the problem being attempted to solve.
2. Breadth Of Offering
Try and select a vendor who can offer you a breadth of solutions.
Even though right now you may be looking for someone with a specific skill or a specific background, later on your needs will change and you will be better off having a vendor who can continue to serve your needs even as they change.
3. Ability To Rapidly Scale-Up If Required
What if the scope of your project triples right in the middle of the project execution? Is your vendor going to be up to it?
Build such potential scenarios and during your vendor selection process, ask your potential vendors how they would respond to a sudden expansion of the project. Where will they find the extra resources? What will be the impact on the cost and the deadline? How will they ensure consistency of quality?
It is very difficult to rapidly scale up a team in the middle of a project without losing either the consistence of quality or the control of costs. So by asking such tough questions you can get a measure of your future vendor.
4. Cost, Cost Structure & Risk Of “Lock-In”
Cost and Cost structure are two different points and you should treat them as such. The absolute cost of the project is something you will naturally ask and compare against the quality you expect to get and the budget you have available.
But equally if not more important is the Cost Structure. Here are some questions you should ask:
1) Does the vendor charge you for the amount of time their employees spend on the project? If yes, what control do you have over the time spent and therefore your costs?
2) Can the vendor charge you based on the “seat time” of the eLearning module or on number of pages it contains?
3) What if you are not happy with the graphic design of a page? How does the vendor charge for changes? Are a certain number of changes included in the price?
4) If you plan include eLearning videos with animations: How is the time of the animator compensated? Will the vendor agree on a per-minute-of-video pricing model? Such a pricing tactic will make the pricing linearly aligned to the effort.
5) If you plan to include films in your eLearning: What do you pay for? The final film? The team? The equipment? The number of shooting days? How can you estimate costs for editing? What if you want to make changes later? How do you lock down this price?
As you can see the knowing the Cost Structure can be sometimes more critical than knowing the absolute Cost because what you do not want is to sign up for a solution at low Cost only to get locked into the deal with a punitive Cost Structure. You may think you are saving now. But you will pay dearly later on.
This brings me to the point about “lock-in”. Always make sure you are not obliged to go to the same vendor each time you need a minor change to the eLearning. Ask them to deliver all raw files. You can easily make minor text based edits to an eLearning module by yourself – especially if standard eLearning software products have been used to make it. You should never have to go back to the vendor for anything other than complex work. And even then try and avoid getting “locked-in” because if you have a bad experience, you should be free to change vendors.
5. Track Record Of Delivering On Time, Quality & Budget
Many vendors will promise you the moon. Check to see if they have managed to deliver one to other clients in the past. If not, then they probably cannot deliver one to you either.
Decide early on which factors are most important for you: Time (ie Schedule), Quality or Budget. And be prepared to sacrifice one of these to be on target with the other two.
And then when you look for vendors, make sure they have a track record of delivering on the two factors which are most important for you.
6. Prior Experience In Specific Training Domain
If you are planning to roll out sales training, then it is always better to have a vendor who has experience building eLearning for Sales Training. If you are planning to roll out an onboarding program, then why not look for a vendor who has delivered eLearning for Onboarding to a another similar company.
Having someone by your side who has been through the experience of delivering something similar to what you would like them to deliver for you can help you as a team avoid pitfalls and beginners’ mistakes.
7. Deep Knowledge Of Your Industry
If you are from the Insurance industry, try and find a vendor who has at least another insurance company as a client. If you are pharmaceutical company, find a vendor who has some experience in the pharma industry.
The benefit of experience cannot be exaggerated. Especially in the training domain. Because by building training programs in a particular industry one is forced to gain knowledge of that industry.
If your vendor has experience building onboarding programs for a bank you can be certain that they have gained some knowledge about how a bank operates, how assets are managed, how risk management is done in a bank, etc.
Similarly, if your vendor has experience building an eLearning course for retail company, then it is very likely that they have gained an understanding of how the retail business works, how incentives are given, how promotions are made, the kinds of queries most asked by customers, etc.
8. Strong References
Ask your potential vendors for names and phone numbers of clients you can call to do reference checks. Then call them and ask difficult questions.
Then go to the website of your potential vendor and find names of other companies listed there. Give these people a call too.
So get references from your vendor but find ones by yourself too.
Ask the vendor for a reference to a client where things did not go so well. If they are very defensive about this, you should have doubts about them. If they are open about this, then you are dealing with a mature company which is comfortable in its shoes.
You want a vendor who knows how to fix things when they wrong. Not someone who tries to sweep mistakes under the carpet and out of sight.
9. Cultural Fit
Finally, and really very important: Find a vendor whose culture matches that of your company. When you hire an eLearning company, you are essentially hiring a bunch of new employees – at least for the duration of your project.
It’s true they will not be sitting in your offices but you and your colleagues will be interacting with them every day. Imagine how that will be if you have a cultural misfit?
So do spend time thinking about culture and hire an eLearning vendor with the same diligence you would put in hiring a brand new employee into your company.