For many corporate learning teams, taking on the entirety of the design and development of learning solutions tailored to the organization is beyond their capabilities or capacity. Perhaps the team doesn’t have the full suite of skills to design and develop a really robust and global onboarding program. Maybe the organization wants something high-end or more complex than they have the skills to build in-house. Or perhaps it’s a capacity issue – the team just doesn’t have enough people hours available to get all the work done that needs to get done. Enter the vendor relationship.
As a digital learning professional, I’ve been on the vendor side of the corporate learning relationship for most of my career. I’ve worked at small boutique shops, freelanced as a consultant and have had the good fortune to be with a larger agency type organization (Kineo) for more than a decade. I’ve seen a lot of these corporate learning/vendor relationships come and go.
Why switch vendors?
We had a Financial Services client a number of years back who told us that every three years or so they liked to mix things up with vendors, and go find new learning development partners to work with. Why? Because they wanted fresh ideas and they didn’t want to keep seeing the same old things from the same old vendors. As a result, they had worked with a lot of vendors and spent a lot of time in the ‘getting to know you’ phase with all of them. Then, they’d move on.
Other organizations will go to RFP (Request for Proposal) to get new vendors on their list of preferred partners every few years - often these processes are run through procurement with price being the most heavily weighted metric on the scorecard.
Some of the mindsets we’ve come across when organizations think they need to keep switching vendors:
- Pricing won’t be competitive. Unless we go out to bid for every project, we’re not going to get the best price. We need to make every vendor prove themselves on each and every project.
- The vendor will take our business for granted. If we work with them year after year, they’ll get complacent and just deliver what we asked for but nothing more.
- Their ideas will get stale. The vendor won’t bring anything new to the table. They’ll keep using the same technology and putting forth the same types of solutions.
- This vendor is only good at X. We need a vendor who can do Y or Z.
A truly collaborative partnership
Now, since I am on the vendor side of this relationship, I’ll admit my perspective may be a little biased. But I think it should be really obvious why treating a vendor as a commodity or a transactional relationship may not be the best approach for your corporate learning team. We’ve found our best partnerships are with the organizations that we continue to work with year in and year out. We’ve gotten to know each other really well and we push each other to improve our processes and standards.
So what are the advantages of developing a long term relationship with your learning development vendor?
- They really get to know your culture and your people.
- They really get to know your technology ecosystems.
- They really get to know your brand and corporate voice.
- They can then be documenting those standards and guidelines and creating reusable templates and checklists that ensure you’re getting a quality product every time.
- They understand your data – and use that to improve and iterate.
- They get to understand your overall learning strategy and how that supports your business and organizational objectives, so they can ensure the solutions they’re providing are doing what you need them to do.
- You push each other to innovate, be it process or technology or approaches. Understanding together what works and doesn’t work for your culture so that together you can refine the solutions and approaches.
- All of that knowledge and understanding then leads to time and budgets savings on subsequent projects because this understanding exists and is well documented.
An evolving and developing relationship
These factors and challenges take time and iteration to get right. In fact, it’s a constant evolution. If you treat each project as a new horizon, you run a real risk of not getting these fundamentals right.
You may get close on that first project. However, it takes a true collaborative partnership built on mutual trust and shared understanding of your organization's unique needs to build this kind of solid framework. It takes people who have that shared understanding and the right eye for detail to bring the right lens to each and every project – and to the overall relationship.
Scaling up for success
Getting this to happen at scale – to bring consistency across all of the work you do, you need a vendor who is more than just a development house who will execute an order, but rather a strategic partner who brings new insights to the table. The vendor should be open to sharing their experience with other industries and companies to help you see outside of the walls of your own organization.
That will help with designing the optimal solutions – be it a live course, a series of interactive elearning modules, job aids and performance support or a fully blended solution.
In conclusion: Listen, learn and look forward
Once you find a great vendor, build on that relationship together. As with any strong and meaningful relationship, there may be challenges and bumps along the way, but you and your partner should have the maturity and the skills to problem solve together to ensure the relationship thrives for everyone involved.
At Kineo we pride ourselves on building long term relationships with our clients. We get embedded in their organizations and become an extension of their team.
Get in touch to find out what consistent ingredients we bring to the table to get you quantifiable results.