Purchasing training management software
Checklist: Are you ready for a training management system?
- Are you sending out emails, generating invoices, updating your website, or reporting on your training operation manually?
- Have you got the same information sitting in multiple systems?
- Do you use spreadsheets to record registrations, track attendance or tasks?
- When you change the time of an event, does your website automatically reflect that?
- Are you making avoidable, human-errors due to the amount of calculations or manual processes you need to do?
- Do all your systems talk to each other, or do you find yourself having to manually ensure they contain the same information?
What to consider during the buying process
What features do you need?
- Integrate with your existing website, or if you don’t already have a website, does it have an easy to use website builder?
- Take online payments and offer flexible payment plans?
- Enable you to customise your registration and checkout process?
- Use an in-built CRM to keep track of all your customer interactions and business relationships?
- Cut the admin and automate tasks involved in managing the lifecycle of your courses?
- Proactively market to your audience and help you grow business leads?
- Gain both a day-to-day snapshot and a bird’s-eye view of your business via customisable reports and data dashboards?
- Integrate seamlessly with an LMS so that you can increase your offering and deliver effect elearning?
- Is the TMS compatible with all the systems in your current tech stack?
- Can your data flow both ways between your TMS and website?
- Would integrating with the TMS require manual data pushing or cleansing in order for your data to flow between systems?
- Does the TMS used a third-party system and are there hidden costs involved in running your data through this?
Understand the legal and data requirements
Make sure your TMS meets these standards before you purchase. Data privacy is becoming a big deal and it’s your responsibility to make sure your business conducts itself appropriately.
Look for a dynamic system that evolves with your business
Find out what the potential vendor’s release schedule is for their solution and try to get some visibility on their roadmap. Regular updates to the product is a good sign that the vendor is investing in research and development which should, over time, increase the value you receive from your investment.
How good is their customer support?
The road to success may be full of potholes, so it’s best to establish early on which potential system will be able to come to your rescue the fastest:
- Is their support team locally based?
- What is their response time?
TMSs are complex to implement by nature, especially if you are coming from an existing system and want to know which potential vendor has the best implementation options:
- Do they provide training on how to use their system?
- Can they assist you in migrating your data if needed and do they offer easy-to-use DIY options?
Try out their support documentation and see if it’s easy to find the answers to your questions. You’re going to spend quite a bit of time in support articles in the early days, so it’s good to know before purchase that you can find the answers without feeling like you’re banging your head against a brick wall.
Custom vs off-the-shelf training management software
What one’s right for your business?
With so many variables, and a global market that is saturated with off-the-shelf software options, where do you start in terms of choosing the right solution for your unique training business?
There is no one-size fits all approach when it comes to software for managing training businesses. For small, internal team training, a simple scheduling and logistics tool would suffice, without the need for e-commerce or finance and accounting. Medium to large commercial businesses offering a complex range of courses from face-to-face to live online and blended learning, a highly-automated solution is a must to drive efficiencies and scalability. Enterprise level training providers, such as universities, requirements can be so diverse that robust integrations or custom development may be necessary.
Let’s look at the difference between custom-built software and off-the-shelf software, and the high-level pros and cons.
Custom-built software is commissioned by an individual business to be developed to meet their specific requirements.
Pros of a custom-built TMS:
- Tailored to your needs
- Built to integrate with legacy systems
- Only pay for what you need
Cons of a custom-built TMS:
- Big up-front cost
- Waiting time
- Maintenance and tech-debt
- Stuck with it
- Big internal processes/sign-off
- No trial product
- No training available
- Your requirements have to be spot-on to avoid expensive mistakes
- Budget could get blown, deadlines missed
Off-the-shelf software is pre-designed, ready to use, software that is purchased on a subscription model by a wide range of customers. It’s often called software as a service (SaaS).
Pros of an off-the-shelf TMS:
- Ready to go
- Lower cost
- Accessible support
- Existing help guides and resources
- Quick implementation
- Training available
- Regular updates
- Additional features
- No internal hosting or costs
- Meets data protection standards
Cons of an off-the-shelf TMS:
- You may need multiple systems to service your needs
- No control over new product features
- No control over subscription price (may go up over time)
- You may need to alter the way you work or the systems you use
- May take a long time to learn
- Paying for features you don’t use
Define your business requirements
New software is a significant investment for your training business, purchasing the wrong software is the single most costly mistake that a business can make. From financial costs, to time investment, to employee impact, business reputation and stability – the repercussions are vast and mostly immeasurable, but the impact is huge. Because of the risk involved, some companies choose to enlist outside help to ensure they get it right. Engaging a consulting firm to help define business requirements and compare and evaluate software options is a viable option, particularly for large organizations with diverse needs.
But while there is certainly added value from an expertise and process perspective, engaging an external consultant can be a drawn-out exercise, and is often too expensive for small to medium-sized training businesses.
Doing it in-house can be just as effective, so long as you follow a robust process. Some businesses choose to ring-fence a team of internal employees to dedicate time to the project, with representatives from all areas of the business, and a dedicated project manager at the helm. Some may hire contractors to see the project through from end-to-end, or to back-fill existing employees who are working on the project. Either way, if you’re going with the in-house, DIY-method, here’s a proven methodology to ensure a smooth and thorough process…
When it comes to defining your functional requirements, a good template to use is user stories. A user story looks like this: As a <user>, I want <goal> so that <reason>.
When determining your requirements for a training management system, you should consult with people in all areas of the business to see what functionality they require in order to do their job. A finance manager will have very different requirements to a training administrator – here are two examples of user stories from their perspectives:
As a finance manager, I want a credit card payment option when registering for a course online so that there is no manual invoicing process.
As a training administrator, I want to automatically send confirmation emails to course participants upon registration so that they are provided with up-to-date information.
Once you’ve created an exhaustive list of functional requirements that are unique to your training organization, you’ll need to go through the process of prioritizing them. Use your priority system to determine what is a must-have, and what can be sacrificed – not all software will meet all of your functional requirements. From there, you need to consider what existing piece of software or process you have in your training organization that may be able to fulfil one of those requirements, and/or whether or not you may need your new training management software to integrate with a legacy system. Here’s another user story as an example:
As a finance manager, I want to automatically match credit card payments received to outstanding invoices in the training management system so that daily reconciliation of payments is accurate and easy.
In order to fulfill the above requirement, the training management system would need to integrate with the company’s accounting system – ie. Quickbooks, Xero or MYOB. A manual process could do the same job, but the key word here is “automatically”. Because who wants to spend hours every day manual reconciling invoices?! That’s neither cost effective, nor scalable. All things considered, this requirement would become a high priority.
What is the cost of new software?
Aside from finding the best fit, one of the most important factors in choosing new software is the cost. Off-the-shelf software is usually the most cost-effective option. Because it’s scalable, the cost of the build is spread across multiple training businesses and therefore not absorbed entirely by your business, as with a custom-build. They’re usually subscription-model based with monthly or yearly payment options – some with discounts for annual contracts.
There is no upfront development cost, and you can reap the benefits of using the software right away.
Arlo’s pricing is transparent and upfront. You can check out our pricing online here.
With a custom-build there is a time delay between first payment and return on investment.
Make sure you get the right pricing plan for your business
It can be tempting to just go for the cheapest option when it comes to pricing plans but make sure you aren’t missing out on a feature that your business really needs.
Top tip: make sure you understand what plan the sales representative is showing you in demonstrations. Often salespeople will show you the system’s full capabilities without making it clear that it is not available on all plans.
Watch out for hidden costs:
- Processing fees – Vendors can add an extra percentage onto every transaction you make on their system to cover ‘processing’. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but is often not clearly communicated in the buying process. It’s best to be up front before purchasing about how much the entire system will cost you to run.
- Registration costs as a percentage – Some vendors choose to clip the ticket as a percentage versus a simple one-off charge for every registration. Be wary of percentage-based registrations as this can easily blow up to be a large expense for you. Be clear on whether there is a maximum charge for this, for example, a vendor may charge 4% but limit this to $30 per registration.
- Implementation fees – Understand how much and how long you will need to budget for implementing the system before you purchase. Most systems have implementation options, some are mandatory, some optional, and all range in price. Make sure you factor this cost into your decision and weigh up whether the expense is worth the support you will receive.
- Hidden costs for extra features – If you are considering a vendor that has multiple plans, double check with the sales representative that the features you require are on the plan you are selecting. Some vendors charge extra fees for certain features. It’s always worth asking whether any of the features you need fall into this category.
Consider the contract term
Some vendors will try to lock you into a multi-year contract at a discounted rate whilst others offer monthly plans. If you have commitment issues early on then start out in a month-on-month agreement whilst you continue your due diligence, then switch to an annual contract later when you’re happy with how the system has integrated into your business.
Compare and evaluate software solutions
Software review sites such as Capterra and G2 offer a comprehensive list of software solutions based on category, unbiased user reviews and head-to-head comparison. This is helpful to get a high-level understanding of what software solutions are available and how they are rated by other genuine users. What these comparison sites won’t do is give you a weighted rating of the best software for you, based on your own unique business requirements.
To help you out here, we’ve created a downloadable evaluation worksheet. This is a template that is designed to be used in your own training business. The worksheet includes pre-filled assessment criteria that you can customize to your own needs. As well as in-built formulas to weight your priorities and score each system.
Download the free software evaluation worksheet.
How to use the worksheet:
1. Review the requirements in column A of the Scoring worksheet. Add, delete and rename the requirements to suit your team.
2. In column B, give each requirement an importance weighting from ‘1-Nice to have’ to ‘3-Must have’. These are used in scoring calculations.
3. For each vendor, assess their ability to meet each requirement. Give each a rating between ‘1-Very Poor’ and ‘5-Excellent’
4. At the bottom of the Scoring worksheet you’ll find a summary table – and hopefully a clear winner!
Tip: In the ‘Settings’ worksheet you can adjust the impact of your high to low rating in calculations. For example, changing ‘must haves’ from 3 to 5 points will make these requirements dominate the final scorecard – as you’re increasing their importance weighting.
Once you’ve compared and evaluated software solutions against your unique requirements you should have a clear indication of the options that are most suitable for your training business. If the off-the-shelf software options fail to meet your highest priority requirements you may need to consider a custom-build.
If you’re satisfied with available off-the-shelf software options, the next step is to take the top three from your evaluation worksheet and explore them further by starting a free trial or booking a demo with a salesperson. Before you go into the sales call, note down any unanswered questions you have. Be upfront about any concerns you may have, your specific business requirements, and any other software you’re exploring. Leave no stone unturned, but do put a timeframe on your final decision for efficiency and accountability.
At the end of this process you should be at a point where you can confidently choose the right software solution for training business!