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Veteran or Pretender?

pretenderBear with me as I illustrate something that is fairly self-evident: Hard-earned experience is extremely valuable. For us as an elearning company, 27 years of experience helping our clients develop successful corporate training initiatives has allowed us to not simply become experts, but has shown us what works—for us as a company, and for our clients. A quarter-century of being tried and tested has allowed us to develop and prove processes and best practices that give our clients an unparalleled level of service. Obviously, that’s valuable to our clients—and it’s why the vast majority of them stay with us year after year.

Pretty simple. Experience = Value. Problem is, because it’s so obvious, every vendor is going to try to make it look like they have experience. Granted, there are a number of our competitors who have almost as many years in the business as we do. Interestingly, they tend to be solid companies—like us, there’s a reason they’ve stayed in business for so long. And, to be fair, an additional number of our competitors are strong, viable businesses, even with less than ten years under their belts.

Yet, it’s plain to see, scores and scores of training companies, e-learning vendors and custom content developers with very little experience exist in the industry. So called “mom and pop shops” litter the landscape. That’s fine—after all, every vendor has to start out small. The difficulty for training decision makers, though, is sifting through them all to discover the legitimate businesses, then sift further to find the vendors they can trust to make them successful.

Certainly no one is going to lie about the number of years they’ve existed as a business. But when it comes to how some vendors present themselves, I can tell you there is definitely “fudging” going on out there. How do I know? Because of what our website traffic data tells us. Now, I hesitate to share some of this, but I think it helps to illustrate my point, and to serve as a warning.

As you probably know, we offer a Knowledge Base with case studies and white papers on training, as well as several other items, via this website. We offer the information freely, without any obligations other than to register with a username and valid e-mail address. Interestingly, a mind-numbing number of small, mom and pop shops, Indian vendors, consultants, and even larger competitors register for the site. No problem, we’re happy to offer the info to anyone in the industry who wants to learn. Besides, some of these competitor-visitors may be simply gathering competitive intelligence, which I won’t begrudge.

Thing is, though, we’re able to identify which items they download, and it most often tends to be our white papers, where they can educational information relating to the industry as a whole. Expectations would be that a competitor would download case studies to get an idea of who we’re working with and what sort of projects. Yet, most competitors don’t download even one of these documents. Instead, they seem to be looking to be educated.

Further, doing some reciprocal intelligence gathering, it’s been very surprising to me the number of these competitors who have taken content and concepts from these white papers and other sections of our website, tweaked them, and called them their own. Keep an eye out for those touting “rapid needs assessments” that tend to sound a lot like our ANSWER Analysis. There’s probably a reason why.

Perhaps the worst offender was an Indian vendor (to remain nameless) that spent a lot of time on our site. Then, two months later, the vendor relaunched their site, which, lo and behold, looked like our site, was architected like our site, said almost exactly word-for-word what our site says, even included a Flash piece that launches their “portfolio” that looked and functioned like ours. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and I’m here to tell you, we are very, very flattered.

In the long run, though, it’s a larger problem for you, the leader of training initiatives. You shouldn’t have to be forced to sift through so many imitators. So, continue to do your due-diligence and weed out the pretenders early on. If you’re looking at a “smaller” or “newer” vendor, ask them early on about their experience, where and how they’ve developed their processes and practices. Legitimate ones won’t couch their inexperience, pretenders will exaggerate. Legitimate vendors, whether start up or long-standing, will be able to smartly and succinctly speak to your issues and challenges as experts—something that’s tough to fake. They’ll point to projects they’ve worked on similar to yours, and they’ll show you how that experience will help them help you.

Go with anyone else, and well, you’re gambling. Which is as obvious as the original point: Hard-earned experience is extremely valuable.

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