Identifying a new piece of technology is a lot like dating – you can’t always predict compatibility, and by the time you realize it’s not a match, it’s often too late. When looking for a new learning management system (LMS), it’s common practice for an association to send out a request for proposal (RFP) to a myriad of vendors in an effort to minimize room for error.

Because with the immense investment of time and money that goes into implementing a new LMS, nobody wants to make the wrong decision. On the flipside, slogging through piles of voluminous RFPs can be a very laborious task – one that many associations simply don’t have the time or staff to support.

So, with upwards of 700 LMS platforms out there, how do you narrow down the list without an RFP? Here are some tips to ensure you make the right investment, if you choose to forego the RFP process:

Business Processes – Understanding the Intended Use of Your LMS

Identifying your business processes is the most important step in the LMS exploration process. The biggest mistake we see associations make is they issue an RFP with a list of feature/functionality requirements, and never take the time to create a list of current business processes or desired uses of the system. Some of the things you might want to define are how you use the system today, your different audiences, what you want users to be able to do, and what your current restrictions are. When organizations send out an RFP with a list they found on Google, evaluating those responses usually turns into a features battle, which may result in your association ending up with a system that has the most bells and whistles, instead of the system with functionality that best meets your specific needs.

Budget – Why it’s Important to Be Transparent

I get that some organizations choose not to disclose a budget in their RFP, for fear the vendor will come up with a magical number that uses it all up. However, establishing your budget range, and helping prospective vendors understand that range saves everyone time and money. Many LMS providers have a baseline solution at a low price point, however, once customized, it winds up exceeding six figures – possibly making it unaffordable for your organization. For LMS providers to present you with a solution that meets your needs, with as much value as possible within the reality of your budget, they need to know what that budget is.

Integration How it Can Predict Your Future

With up to five generations represented in your membership base today, a shift in the needs of your members is inevitable. And, with a decline in membership retention across all industries, many associations are struggling to figure out how to get more members and how to retain their existing members.

The answer to all your problems is meaningful data. Data tells stories, communicates results, provides feedback, and even predicts the future. With today’s members interacting with multiple systems such as an association management system (AMS), LMS, community platform, job board, etc., how do you make sense of all that data? That, my friend, is where integration comes in. Integration is about getting all the data from the many systems within your association into one place. It’s not until that data is in one central repository that meaningful outcomes can be generated to identify super members, engagement gaps, and member personas, which can all be used to predict future trends.

Customer Support – How Much Do You Really Need?

What kind of support do you need? Around the clock? Monday through Friday, 9 to 5? Is support for end users important? Customer support is one of those things … it’s better to have and not need than need and not have. And, it’s not only about the support offered during implementation, it’s also about ongoing training, upgrades, maintenance, and the potential fees associated with these services. If ongoing support is important to your organization and you don’t want to pay premiums every time you need assistance from your vendor, rest assured there are vendors that offer these services at no additional cost.

Industry Experience – Can Your LMS Vendor Help You Be More Innovative?

Luckily, not all 700+ learning management systems are geared towards meeting the needs of member-based organizations. The reason I mention this is because those that focus on meeting the needs of associations will inevitably understand your business better than those that don’t.

So how do you find a good LMS? The answer is simple. Narrow down a list and research the vendors.  What do they do with their industry knowledge? Do they invest in resources to help you stay ahead of the curve through educational webinars, thought leadership blogs, think tank exercises, and case studies? This information will help you determine whether a vendor is interested in just getting your business or in building a partnership to help you succeed.

A version of this blog originally appeared on eLearning Industry.