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How To Select An External Training Vendor – Training Vendor Selection Criteria

President Of TrainSmart, Inc.

Finding, vetting, evaluating and hiring a learning and development company can be both stressful and arduous. But, it doesn’t have to be. The key is having a formal process, knowing what questions to ask and understanding how to evaluate the vendor’s work.

The goal is to find a vendor/supplier/partner that you can trust. Trust to deliver a quality product. Trust to advise you when the scope of the project doesn’t fit within the budget or timeframe. Trust that they’ll candidly share when they do not believe they are the best partner to deliver a particular solution.

Over the past twenty years, we’ve worked with hundreds of companies. Surprisingly, the majority does not have a formal process to help guide them through the selection of a learning and development partner. The result is often starting and stops, extra work, altered timelines, frayed nerves, and frustrated stakeholders.

It’s actually a four-step process that serves as a roadmap to help make the selection process strategic, smart and as easy as it can be:

Step One: Identifying Potential Vendors to Interview

Step Two: Interviewing Potential Vendors

Step Three: Evaluating Potential Vendors

Step Four:  Due Diligence Before Signing The Contract

Step One: Identifying Potential Vendors to Interview

Before you Google learning and development companies, before you reach out to colleagues before you write a question on LinkedIn Groups, you need to do some preliminary, but very important homework.

You have to have a very clear idea of what kind of support you are looking for. What skills do you need from a training partner? This can be a tricky question. If the current project is to create an eLearning module exclusively, your natural tendency would be to Google eLearning companies. And there is nothing wrong with that.

However, let’s say you either have a hunch or know that your organization may want to take the eLearning module and convert it to a live class, or a podcast, or an instructor-led workshop. In that case, working with an organization that specializes in one specific platform could result in having to find additional learning and development partners that excel on the other platforms.  If that were to happen, you’d have to repeat the entire process over again.

Before you contact colleagues for references, make a list of questions that you ask each reference. This allows you to remove potential enthusiasm bias from your decision. By asking each reference to the same questions, you’ll have more reliable data. Some of your colleagues may absolutely love their training partner, but their relationship, their budget, and their creative approach may not match what you are looking for. Some questions to ask your colleagues:

1. Examples of Questions:

  • How did you find your training partner?
  • How did you vet them?
  • What were some of the challenges you experienced on the project?
  • How did the training partner demonstrate their skills? Processes? Capabilities? Quality Control process
  • Did they do a good job at project management?
  • Did they come in or under budget?
  • What kinds of projects are not their sweet spot?
  • Why would you recommend them?
  • What kinds of projects are they not suited for?
  • Are you still working with them?

Based on their answers, you’ll have a good idea if their training partner would fit within the parameters of your project, and you can add them to the list for further review.

2. Seek references from professional groups like those on LinkedIn. A word of caution: many training partners are active in these groups and will see the request as a great opportunity to contact you. If you don’t want this kind of contact, be sure to highlight in your request that you do not want any solicitations from vendors.

3. Use Google to uncover companies that may not make the TOP 20 list of Training Media companies or professional organizations. Focus on their capabilities, the client list, and how long they’ve been in business.

4. Determine how many companies you want to interview before asking them to submit a proposal.

STEP TWO: Interviewing Potential Vendors

Anyone who has ever handled hiring either employees or vendors/suppliers/partners knows that first impressions are not always the most trustworthy. Too often, you hear people say, ’But, they interviewed so well!’

While no approach is full-proof, following this approach can save you time, money and heartache.

Prior to the interview, request a sample of their work. eLearning, podcasts are the easiest, to review but if you are looking for an instructor-led or virtual workshop, request either a participant or facilitator guide. If they are not comfortable sharing the entire document, ask if you can review a section of one workshop. If still resistant or the vendor is under contractual restrictions, suggest a GoToMeeting or WEBEX meeting where you can be shown samples.

Once you have had a chance to review the work you can focus a significant portion of the interview using the shared sample as a reference point. It also allows you to ask very pointed, specific questions. Some things you want to learn:

  1. What was the primary learning objective?
  2. How was it measured?
  3. Who determined the platform?
  4. Describe the process for determining the creative approach. In this question, you want to listen for budget constraints, client preferences and, collaboration vs. client specifications.
  5. The biggest mistake they made during this project?
  6. What was the original timeline vs. actual timeline? What caused the timeline to flex, if it did?
  7. How did this project veer from their recommended process?
  8. How was the budget determined?
  9. How do they manage budgets?
  10. If they had been given carte blanche to do this project, what would it have looked like?

Some additional questions to ask:

  1. Was this a typical project for your team?
  2. Are you still working with this client?
  3. What did it cost?
  4. If you could have a redo on the project, what would you do differently?
  5. Why is this good example of your work?

Ideally, it’s best to conduct the interview in person. Often, that’s not feasible because the companies being considered are in completely different geographic locations. In that case, do a video interview. While many people try to avoid video meetings (bad hair days or “smartphone face”) the video interview is a viable substitute for the in-person meeting.

After a video meeting, you will have a much stronger sense of the organizations being interviewed. Conducting the interview via video increases your confidence in the decision you have to make.

Step Three: Evaluating Potential Training Vendors

Ideally, Step Three occurs concurrently with Step Two. The best time to evaluate an organization is when you are interviewing them. By using this scorecard in real-time, your unfiltered opinions will bubble to the top, providing the most authentic evaluation possible.

By creating a scorecard, you can easily compare the responses that the various companies provided and you can create your own “scoring” of each answer to help you reach a numerical winner.

The scorecard is a good exercise (download scorecard here), but it should not supersede how you feel about the organization. You are selecting a company to have a relationship with. You want to feel like you’ve selected a company you are proud to be associated. You want a company that is trustworthy.  That’s why, even if one company outscores the others in every category, the ranking they earn as trustworthy should supersede everything else.

How To Select A Training Vendor Scorecard from TrainSmart On Slideshare

How to use this scorecard

  1. For each category listed (and ones you want to add), rank them by “weight.” 1 to 5. For instance, you may be more interested in how much experience they have versus the creative quality. In that case, you might assign experience a .5 and creative quality a 3
  2. Rank each category from 1-10.
  3. Multiply the rank by the weight of this item and enter each weighted total in the box
  4. Add weighted scores for a total score.

STEP FOUR:  Due Diligence Before Signing The Contract

Several years ago, we were awarded a contract to do a series of eLearning modules. At the time, the client indicated they had not established a budget for the project and were looking to us to help create one. That was the first red flag.

Next, the client set expectations for the type of creative needed. It was a high-end video. The client had been in training positions for about ten years. We incorrectly made the assumption that she understood that the type of video she wanted was expensive. We re-asked for budget parameters. Again, she dismissed our concern. That was the second red flag.

After several weeks of sharing the work of our production partners, we were still not close on a budget agreement.  The client shared that they had paid under $2500 for each of the current eLearning modules and that the company could not go much higher for this project. That was our third flag, and we bowed out.

Fortunately, all this happened before signing the contract.

So, the number one item that must be clear before any contract is signed is: What is the budget, timeline (milestones) and what does it cover (deliverables)?

Be sure to talk to the candidate’s references. While most references are listed because they will provide positive feedback, you’ll want to see if the reference will share how the process went. Try to get the reference to sharing the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

You want to spell out the process for change orders that typically occur when the scope or timeframe alters and your vendor needs to share how they charge for change orders and scope changes. Is there a rush fee? Do they discount the fees if they miss a deadline?

Make sure that the team that is “selling” the service is the same team that will be working on your project. If they aren’t, you definitely want to meet the team assigned to your project prior to signing any contract. If you can’t meet them in person, schedule a video conference (see Part II).  Be sure to read their biographies and resumes.

Also, personality clashes happen. You want to be clear before you sign the contract what the procedure is for requesting and changing staff.

You’ll want to have all necessary paperwork ready- mutual non-disclosures, Master Service Agreements, Statement of Work, Purchase Order (PO), proof of a certificate of insurance, and any paperwork required so the vendor/supplier/partner can be paid promptly.

Once you have a good understanding of these issues, and you are confident that you and the vendor are on the same page, you are ready to get to work!

Interested in learning more about TrainSMART, our service offerings and why we are the trusted training vendor to many companies? Contact us at 800-807-8030 ext. 1 or inquiries@trainsmartinc.com

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Leslie has over 25 years experience in the training industry. Her responsibilities have included sales, hands on management and software training, curriculum development, needs analysis, usability testing, and project management. Her strong training background, organizational skills, and exceptional development expertise, augment her extensive sales and marketing abilities.