How to Get the Most out of your LMS Demonstrations

Jill W.

Brendan Noud at eLearning Industry says a demo can "take weeks off the selection process" for an LMS. What can you do to make sure your demo leaves you further ahead, not bored stiff? This article will detail nine steps to getting the most out of your LMS demo.

Should you Ask for an LMS Demonstration?

Despite the potential advantages demonstrations offer, many potential LMS buyers remain hesitant to ask for one.

They fear being hounded by sales reps if they give up their contact information. If you're worried, there's good news. You're very unlikely to be harassed if you're straight with the LMS vendor.

Vendors know their learning platform isn't for everyone. If you say, "I'm sorry, but this LMS just doesn't do what we need", the vendor will appreciate your honesty. Frankly, they'd much rather spend their time and effort partnering with companies they can help succeed in implementing effective training programs. .

"I need a few weeks to think about this decision" will also work. Vendors also know that selecting an LMS is a big decision, and pestering potential customers will do more to irritate than motivate.

And in the unlikely event a vendor does keep contacting you after you've asked for breathing room? Count it a win as you cross them off your list. At least you learned how the company operates before you signed a contract.

If you've overcome your reluctance and decided to see the LMS in action, follow these steps to make your LMS demo a success.

9 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your LMS Demos

1. Build a Relationship

Most organizations stay with an LMS for many years. Between updates, new needs features and support issues, you and a vendor are at the start of a long-term relationship.

Mutual respect should be the foundation of this relationship. Both parties should communicate clearly and honestly and respect the time invested in preparing for and conducting a demo.

2. Establish What the Vendor Means by an LMS "Demo"

Not all vendors offer demos, and those that do aren't all offering the same thing. A "demo" is many things to many people.

  • It can be a one-on-one session with someone very familiar with the LMS who's happy to show you key features and whatever else you ask to see.
  • It can be a 10-minute video of a mouse pointer zooming around a screen (that actually takes up half-an-hour of your time, because that's how long it took you to wake up after trying to watch it).
  • It can also be a sales rep with a PowerPoint presentation, who becomes utterly bewildered when you ask if you can integrate the LMS with your AMS. Or worse yet, one who confidently answers "oh yes, of course we can do that" to each and every question about functionality. Hint: No LMS does everything.

If you want to get the most out of your demo, it'll have to be the right kind: a one-on-one session, in-person or online, with a knowledgeable representative. Before scheduling a meeting, talk to the vendor to make sure you'll be spending your valuable time on a meaningful demonstration, not a scripted sales pitch.

3. Pick your Time

Many people will tell you never to book an LMS demo until you've identified your needs and prepared a list of features you want to see. I don't agree. While that is a good time for a demo, it's not the only time. Demos can also be useful nearer the beginning of your LMS selection process, when you're still wondering what's available to you.

You'll be aiming for a different style of presentation depending on where you are in the selection process:

  • If you decide on a preliminary demo, let the vendor run the show. Encourage them to show you whatever they're excited about. You won't get enough information to select a system, but you'll be much better informed about the available options when it's time to make your decision.
  • A more advanced demo will become an option later. Once you've completed your list of must-have features and short-listed two or three LMSs, you can invite vendors to show you how they do the things that matter most to you. You'll want to be in charge this time. Keep the presenter on task and have them tailor things to your needs.

Asking a for a second demo is another issue that shouldn't cause you any concern. Vendors know that it takes at least six to eight contacts before an organization is ready to buy SaaS (software as a service). A request for a more detailed demo will leave the vendor delighted to know they made the short list.

If the vendor also offers a free trial, you may wish to schedule the demo a few days into your trial. This gives you the opportunity to play around with the system, set up a few things and find out where you're getting stuck. The demo then becomes a personal support session.

While this strategy can be useful, it's not always necessary. Some systems, like SkillBuilder LMS, provide support during a trial, a much better option that frees you to make your demo what it should be: an information session that will help you narrow which LMSs to choose for a trial.

4. Prepare a List of Must-Have LMS Features You Need to See

If you've opted for an advanced demo, take some time to come up a list of essential LMS functionalities and scenarios you need to see before the demo. Scenarios can be particularly useful. Asking a presenter to walk you through a process ensures you won't leave out any key steps. You might want to prepare some of these:

  • A list of learners to add to the system
  • A course or two so you can see how  your existing material will look in the system and if they are compatible.
  • Different types of assessments
  • Administrative functions -- both standard activities you'll be doing regularly and how to respond to problems and errors
  • A list of reports you'll want to see on:
    • Learner progress
    • Course and assessment performance
    • eCommerce

This is a good time to seek out input from the different roles who will be involved with the LMS, including

  • Learners
  • Content developers
  • Administrators
  • Facilitators
  • EvaluatorsReporters

They'll all be spending a lot of time with the LMS, so it's important to make sure you consider their needs.

5. Invite Representatives from Affected Groups

Since different groups have different needs, it might be worth inviting some of them to the demo. Learners, content developers and administrators can debrief you on what they're looking for, but you still won't be as quick to spot a problem - or an opportunity - as the people who are anticipating using the system.

You'll need to perform a balancing act here. Too many people can confuse the process, but a representative or two from each group should add valuable experience and knowledge to your LMS assessment.

6. Start the Demo by Establishing Meeting Norms

Meeting norms are often overlooked at LMS demos. A demo will go much more smoothly if you spare a few minutes to state your norms. Start by showing up on time, and expecting your vendor to as well. Then decide:

  • Who will direct the demonstration? Who decides where to start and what happens next?
  • Should questions be asked as they come up, saved for the end, or is it better to ask immediately-relevant questions as they arise and save unrelated ones for the end? If you're waiting for questions, does everyone have something to write them down with?
  • Can everyone be heard? Can they see the presentation?

The importance of checking your technology before starting an online meeting cannot be overstated. Make sure that:

  • Everyone's speakers/headset and microphone are working
  • Everyone can see the presenter's full screen, and then double check that the full range of the screen is visible

7. Share your Common Challenges

If you're looking for an LMS, you have challenges you want to overcome. If it's a new investment, what do you hope to gain or what are you trying to fix? If it's a replacement LMS, why aren't you satisfied with the one you're using now?

The more the vendor knows, the better they can explain how their product will resolve your issues. Even if you know what you're looking for, you can always learn something new. The right LMS could meet your needs in a way you didn't expect.

8. Manage the Demo

During an advanced demo, you might have to step in to keep the presenter on task. If you've planned the demo carefully and given guidelines to the LMS vendor, ensure he follows them. On the other hand, if you're seeing the things you asked for and you've got a bit of flexibility, take advantage of the opportunity to learn about new features.

You'll want to take a less active role in a preliminary demo. The features the presenter loves are exactly what you want to see. Still, it's best to provide some feedback. If you're in a corporate compliance training environment, you won't want to sit through an extended explanation of eCommerce capabilities.

  • Determine both which features have potential for your organization, and which features aren't relevant.

9. Decide Next LMS Buying Steps

As with any meeting, wrap things up by deciding what happens next. If the LMS doesn't meet your needs, say so. If you need time to make a decision, set a reasonable timeframe for your next contact.

If you want more information, would like help to set up a free trial, or need to gather information for an RFP process, the vendor will be delighted to help you.

Conclusion

LMS features, functions and pricing vary so widely that finding the right LMS for your needs can seem a daunting task. An LMS demo can help you charge ahead in the selection process, but only if it provides value. This article offered nine steps to ensure you get the information that is most pertinent  to you from your demo.

After the demos, it's often time for the final decision. Check out the LMS Vendor Comparison ebook for guidance on that weighty choice.

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Jill W.

Jill is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems with more than 10 years of experience researching, writing and designing effective learning materials. She is fascinated by the English language and enjoys the challenge of adapting her work for different audiences. After work, Jill continues to leverage her professional experience as she works toward the development of a training program for her cats. So far, success has not been apparent.