A training management system (TMS) is a big investment for any training provider. Because TMSs play such a core role in your business, they are likely to cost more and require more change than your peripheral systems. The time and effort required to effectively implement a TMS means you want to do it right. Taking extra time now to evaluate your options is crucial to maximizing your return on investment (ROI). Here are five practical steps that will help you unlock the potential of your new TMS.

1. Clarify Your Goals

The adage “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” rings true when it comes to purchasing a TMS. Before you engage in the process, it’s important to identify what you want from your new system. Maybe the catalyst for action is a pain you’ve felt in the current way you operate your training business; make solving this problem your goal. Maybe you just want to take your business to the next level, and you have outgrown your existing system. In that case, put a number on how much growth you want to see.

There are two types of metrics that are useful for evaluating TMS vendors: hard and soft. Hard metrics are based on empirical data that you can easily track and verify, such as, “to increase registration numbers by 20% in the first quarter.” It’s good to have some hard goals to which you can hold yourself and your TMS vendor accountable. Soft metrics, such as, “to reduce the amount of manual administration our team does,” are just as useful.

2. Set a Timeline With Milestones

Selecting a new TMS can take several months, including researching, testing and negotiating, all while maintaining business as usual. Setting a timeline for key milestones is a great way not to lose sight of the end goal. Typical milestones include:

  • Creating a shortlist of preferred vendors.
  • Selecting one vendor.
  • Completing implementation.
  • Measuring outcomes monthly and/or quarterly.

3. Identify Your Requirements

To make the best decision, you must first understand what you need. An important word of caution here: You don’t need everything you want. Divide your requirements into two buckets: needs and wants. The things you can’t do without, such as being able to take online credit card payments, are needs. The things that you think could be useful but don’t make or break your business, such as sending out automatic birthday messages to your contacts, are wants.

4. Evaluating Vendors

With every demonstration and phone call, vendors can start to blur. It can be hard to know whether it was just a good sales pitch or whether the product really works. This is why software trials are critical. If the vendor’s website doesn’t have public trial, ask for one. You probably don’t buy shoes without trying them on; why wouldn’t you try out your business’ core software before making a decision?

It’s also a good idea to test each product against your list of requirements . For example, if you need it to integrate seamlessly with your accounting system, don’t make a decision until you have seen it work.

Here are some other tips when it comes to evaluating a TMS:

  • Communicate your key requirements to your salesperson.
  • Understand the data and other legal requirements that relate to your business.
  • Gain insight into the vendor’s development road map. If it releases products often, it’s a good sign you will continue to obtain value well into the future.
  • Understand how the vendor’s support works. You’ likely have some trouble along the way, so it’s helpful to know that your new vendor can save the day.
  • Check out online reviews and case studies. It’s important to know what existing and past customers really thought.

5. Pulling the Trigger

Price is obviously an important factor in any purchasing decision. Here are some of the best tips when it comes to getting the most bang for your buck.

Don’t Skimp on Cost When You Don’t Need to

For a software that has different pricing plans, make sure the plan you select is the one that covers as many of your requirements as possible. Also, make sure when you are participating in demonstrations and software trials that you understand which plan you are looking at. Often, the most powerful features are reserved for the premium plan.

Understand the Pricing Model

Sometimes, pricing models aren’t what they seem at first glance. There can be hidden or less visible extras that you don’t forecast. Common extra charges include processing fees, registration costs as a percentage, implementation fees and hidden costs to access certain features. It’s always a good idea to have a conversation with your sales representative about what you are paying for and whether it lines up with your expectations and budget.

Buying a System Is Just the Start

Finally, when it comes to signing on the dotted line, make sure your team is aware that buying the system is just the beginning. It likely will not provide a whole lot of value on day one but will take time and love from your team to see its full potential.

Here are three important factors to help you get the most from your new TMS:

  • Training: Whether it’s through online modules, face-to-face training or support documentation, invest the time in learning your new system inside and out.
  • Commitment: You get what you put into your TMS. Make sure you have a champion in your executive team who will drive implementation, advocate internally and ensure that you achieve your expected outcomes.
  • Pragmatism: Your business may need to change internal workflows to fit the new system. Be ready for some change.