This month Martin Couzins asks is there a better way for corporate learning buyers and vendors to do business?
What does an L&D leader looking to invest in new learning technology do when faced with more than 400 brands to choose from? RedThread Research recently published a graphic of the learning technology landscape, featuring more than 400 vendors across 35 areas of functionality. The learning technology market is broad and growing – so lots of choice, but the reality is that this abundance makes buying the right technology more challenging than ever.
As the market has grown, has the researching and buying process evolved at the same time? How easy is it for a buyer to understand whether a product is a good fit for their technology stack, is well suited to support an organisation their size, in their specific sector and with their ambitions around growth or transformation, for example? How easy it to understand what value and impact that vendor could have on their organisation? And how easy is it to access case studies to find out this information?
All these factors matter. Why? Because, according to industry analyst Fosway Group, less than 50% of corporate buyers are happy with their learning technology buying decisions. That’s a very high risk of failure for the tools that are increasingly helping to transform digital approaches to learning.
I asked the hive mind of LinkedIn to see if my concerns are well founded. It seems they are. Numerous people shared their frustrations at the buying process, from both the buyer and vendor perspective. Vendors face the challenge of approaching buyers in a way that suits them – appealing to their challenges rather than selling features, for example. The only problem with this is that the request for information process focuses on features, which means the process is effectively a barrier to entry if you want to talk about how your technology helps overcome challenges. And the procurement process can be so complex that it ends up excluding smaller vendors. But the smaller, more specialist vendors are the ones that are bringing innovation to the market.
So, if organisations want to do business with smaller vendors they will need to check if their procurement processes actually enable this.
And then there is the problem of all the noise in the market, which was highlighted as a big challenge in my LinkedIn discussion. In recent years, marketing has become increasingly effective at driving interest through content. The only problem in a large and growing market is that this generates a lot of content. And added to this is the problem of vendors jumping on bandwagons, adopting fashionable labels that will attract buyer attention but not accurately reflect what a vendor can offer. You can see this happening currently with generative AI.
There needs to be more focus on value and impact, points of differentiation and customer voice so that potential buyers can quickly identify potential vendors of interest.
Connecting buyers and sellers has historically also been the domain of analysts, consultants and influencers. This area is set to grow as the market becomes more difficult to navigate and smaller players work with these organisations to develop a stronger voice. At this point, buyers need to be super clear about the commercial models driving these ‘recommending’ organisations. Why is an influencer or a consultancy suggesting one vendor over another, for example?
Better buying outcomes will require buyers to become more savvy, spending more time scanning the market and talking to potential vendors and their customers. Vendors need to sharpen up their marketing to create signal rather than noise, showing potential buyers why customers use them, their strengths and how what they provide is differentiated in the market.
Thanks to all of those who pitched in with their thoughts – the discussion shows that buyers and vendors want a more effective process. Hopefully as an industry we can make that happen.