RFP – Yes or No?

RFPs for LMS

For those who are not fans of RFI/RFP nor desire to do one, no worries, you are not a rarity in fact there are many people who follow suit.

Still you will need certain information and insight to ascertain if the path to find the system will succeed or fail.  Lots of failing happens here – not because of the decline to use a RFP/RFI, rather it is the route to ensure you acquire the data to make an informed decision.

I’ll be blunt here – I’ve done both options.  When I was new to e-learning, I did a RFP.  After my first one, I never used one again.  And guess what? 

Both ways worked.  Not because of the method, rather because of the way to do it.

 Warning – Bad Approach. Bad Approach.

There will be plenty of people who swear by the success of just creating a RFP and sending it off on the net superhighway of LMS providers.

But there are plenty who do swear after they follow that approach, select a vendor and then wish they went about it another way.

There used to be a time (back in the early and mid 2000’s) where folks followed the same manner of selecting systems (most that is).

The manner?

  1. Identify systems of interest through whatever early stages of diligence
  2. Contact the individual vendors, provide some info (but not too much), get a ballpark estimate and if still interested schedule a demo OR create a RFP with required info to ascertain if they wanted to move forward.  If RFP results aligned with whatever metrics or decision methodology they were using, then schedule a demo.  Regardless, select no more than five vendors to see a demo (if on-site, three).
  3. View demo or demo on-site
  4. If they liked what they saw, request the vendor to submit a formal proposal OR request additional information and then a formal proposal
  5. View proposal(s)
  6. Any follow-up needed – negotiations- sign contract
  7. Move forward

Sadly, these days are long gone.  Yes, there are people who still follow the manner listed above (including yours truly – without RFP though), but more people are not.

And here is where the rubber meets the road.

The greater number of folks have pulled away for the top manner and instead use this approach:

  1. Surf the internet and look at vendor web sites – using information from web sites, word of mouth, social media sites
  2. Find out who the point of contact is to send a RFP too OR where to send the RFP too – not necessarily even talking to the vendor
  3. Create a RFP
  4. Send RFP out to all those vendors – maybe talked to a couple, maybe talked to no one about the system – but fired away.  (The industry calls it shotgun)
  5. Get the RFP back – sometimes as a proposal, review if they like, contact the vendor(s) to view demo or have demo on site
  6. Demo
  7. Follow-up or not; negotiate or just sign on dotted line (many just sign – since they receive a proposal ahead of time)
  8. Move forward

What’s the big piece missing here?  Due Diligence.  Looking only at the vendor’s web site to decide whether you want to even contact them is a huge mistake.


Because as a whole the industry is awful when it comes to web sites, marketing of their systems and showing or showcasing their systems on their web sites.

Thus by using the “look at site and decide angle”, you are probably missing out on some potentials, because they had too much text on their site or they showed their LMS with stale or what we call “vanilla” design or it was confusing to find anything on their site.

Shotgun RFP

Anyone who blasts out lots of RFPs without doing any early diligence should not be allowed to go anywhere near a computer or maybe be seen in public.

Besides appearing lazy, it will create an unnecessary and extensive review and search that will be a miserable experience to anyone who has to read all those returned RFPs.

The vendors who get “shotgun” RFPs can tell immediately that it has been blasted out to lots of other vendors. Some vendors will comply and complete them, others will not (depends on the vendor).

And let’s not even get started with the person or persons who are assigned to read these returned RFPs.

There are buyers who will blast out a 100 pages RFP or higher, expecting the vendor to complete it. 

Uh, who’s going to read that entire thing, especially when anyone who has ever received back a RFP, always first goes and looks at the page for the pricing to see if it fits within their budget?

If you are one of the few people who reads the entire RFP before seeing the back page to find the price, then you need to attend a time management course because you have wasted a lot of time. 

If the system does not fit within your budget nor is close enough to negotiate, then no matter the size of the RFP, it will have all been for naught.

Simply speaking a “blasting” of RFPs whether they are five pages or 40 pages will not truly deliver the intended results.  Sure you may think it will and yes you may save some time (from calling the vendor, asking questions ahead), but in the end of it, that approach will backfire.

Creating a RFP/RFI or Not

For those who choose not to create a RFP/RFI, this section has some items that will pertain to you, so read on. 

And for those of you who are required or just want to go with the RFP/RFI approach, then this section is definitely for you.

Rules – Yes, they do exist

When people hear “rules” they often think, “oh, I don’t need any rules, I know what order and is needed for X.”  Let me go on the record here and say you need to follow an order and yes; there are rules involved.

Otherwise, that order will fall apart and whether it is you alone or a committee the entire process will be so skewed that the end result or results will not be in your best interests.


Think of these rules as an order, better yet, questions – because if you have to answer these before you can move forward.

  1. What is your current state of you training?  I.e., Do you have an e-learning program already in place or not?  If not, what products or solutions are you planning on adding or having?
  • What are/is the challenge(s) that your company/organization/firm/higher ed/K-12 currently facing that an LMS/LXP/Learning System will solve?
  • What are your objectives and/or needs that will be resolved with the LMS?  A follow-up – What are your goals – not just right now, but three years down the road?

Remember TIP #1 – Go three years

The key to selecting a great system is to go with three years in your strategy.  Why three years? 

  1. Discount – the vast majority of systems will offer a discount with a locked in three year contract. For those who do not – tell them you want one.  The “hidden” discount is 15% on a three year deal. Some vendors will go with 10%.
  2. One year isn’t enough time to truly utilize the system, nor enough time to build mass.  Unless the system is so buggy and the vendor is so unwilling to fix it, then one year is exit time (later on in contracts will discuss how to bolt from a contract).  Two years equally isn’t the right time.  On average it takes three years to build mass.

If from an employee perspective you make it mandatory, the “mass” angle is skewed.  The majority of employees have no idea you can track them (by the way never say you can).   As such they may jump in right after they get the user name and password and then leave – thus never “truly using the system or taking the course(s)”. 

On the customer side, well it is totally optional – at least it should be, so mass honestly isn’t doable at this point.

Two years is sitting on the fence and does not really tell you much in terms of data.  Based on experience you want to devise a three year plan. 

That is three years as a contract for the LMS (you can renew afterwards if you want).  That is three years for your strategy to build and sustain mass (it takes usually three years).

Back to the Rules/Order

  • Based on these objectives and goals, what are your expectations?
  • STOP for one second

At this point, you are well on your way to moving forward.  The challenge though for many folks is the pre-assumption that is they need to create a process map or have their processes listed out in order to go on.

If you are need a process map then it should be before you start with #1.  But here is a very important item to remember – an e-learning strategy.

The worst thing you can do is just list your current process map or approaches and forget to include that e-learning program.  Too many folks forget to do that. 

Their steps/processes are now, which is nice and wonderful, but if you are planning on that e-learning strategy as part of that process, then include it.