CXO

Smart shopping: Getting the most bang for your training buck

Training is a big investment with high expectations, so you have to make your purchases wisely. Karen Cangero has advice on where to find bargains and what questions to ask vendors.


Purchasing IT training can be a never-ending task. According to a 1999 survey by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), a full 98 percent of organizations offer IT training to their employees. The largest problem, reported by 72 percent of respondents, was keeping up with the pace of technological change, and 90 percent saw their need for IT training increasing in the future.

At least we know that we're not alone in our quest for high-quality, value-packed IT training. The big question is, how do you get the most value for your money?

Where to find great training at great prices
Julie Rowe, VP for products and programs with ProsoftTraining.com, said that the definition of value really depends on the individual and his or her learning needs. For higher end topics, such as ERP and programming, Rowe recommends a training company that specializes in technical training. For mainstream technologies, shop around more.

"Search for the most reputable training organization in your area,” she said. “Many times these are the large chain suppliers….They can spread their value among many locations."

Unfortunately, you're not going to be able to visit the pig wearing shades at Coolsavings.com or any other site featuring deals, savings, or coupons, and find great training bargains. Finding good training deals requires some research. Here are some sites that will help:
  • American Society for Training and Development's Buyers' Guide. Their guide organizes listings by over 500 training providers and lets you search by area of expertise, industry, or training format to develop a manageable list of providers to query.
  • Thinq. Provides one-stop shopping for corporate training needs, thanks to their training aggregator. Simply type in the type of training your people need, select a training medium, and sit back and browse the choices presented to you.
  • Intraware. Their Compare-IT and Compariscope programs let managers evaluate and compare training from a wide variety of vendors before purchasing.

When and how to find it
Industry insiders know that companies decide whether to cancel an instructor-led course about two to three weeks before it's scheduled. So, a training supplier with many empty seats might be in a bargaining mood if you call three weeks before the class.

Rowe advises dealing directly with CBT and WBT training suppliers whenever possible, eliminating the middleman's profit from the equation. She cautions trainers, however, not to get too wrapped up in cutting costs at any expense.

"Something as important as training shouldn't be bargain shopped,” she said. “You need to find a training choice that provides flexibility, interaction, and during- and post- training support."

The better the fit, the better the bargain. Nim Sanghera, executive vice president of DA Consulting Group, a worldwide knowledge management services provider, advises trainers to look into the number of training tools available that can be customized according to the organization's business and training objectives.

Talking smart to vendors
As much as we may like various training vendors we deal with, it is beneficial to remember that—at least on some levels—it is an adversarial relationship. While everyone strives to meet your staff's training needs as completely as possible, trainers want to do it as inexpensively as possible. Your vendor probably doesn't share that goal.

When you’re meeting with a vendor, it’s important to pay attention to the kinds of questions the vendor asks you, Sanghera said.

"The consultancy you work with must be knowledgeable not only on the system being implemented and the number of employees being affected, but also how your organization works," Sanghera said.

When discussing your needs with training vendors, keep these questions in mind:
  • Who are your primary competitors? Why is your company a better choice for me?
    Look for an intelligent analysis of who's out there providing training. You may learn about some other companies worthy of investigation.
    Red flag
    A vendor claims not to have any competitors. Either they're simply too arrogant or too uninformed about the marketplace to be of much use.
  • Under what circumstances does this product not work?
    While salespeople would naturally prefer to focus on situations where their products perform superbly, knowing when they won't can be more important. This question is worth extra time; dig for details to be sure you don't purchase a program that won't meet your training needs. Red flag
    A salesperson claims there are no such circumstances or tries to gloss over them to return to the sales presentation.
  • How long have you been offering this training?
    Ideally, you want to work with a provider who has offered this sort of training, in this format, many times.
    Red flag
    The vendor can’t provide any information or examples about how often the product has been used. You don't want to be anyone's guinea pig.

Rowe also advises asking about guarantees, including refunds. Students should be able to retake the class or upgrade to another level. She also advocates asking about support both during and after the event, especially for ILT. WBT and CBT are a little better on support, since students can always turn back to the material. ILT students who find that the material is fuzzy the week after class should have support opportunities too. Finally, you should be able to see one of the classes in action.

"Ask to sample classes, regardless of the format," Rowe said. "Seeing the training—even just one or two modules—is the best way to know if it provides what your organization needs."

Other considerations
The cost of training reaches further than the actual fee for a workshop or computer-based training program. To get an accurate picture of the cost of training and begin to get a handle on the all-important return on investment, consider these other potentially costly factors.

Both Rowe and Sanghera cite time away from work—for the class, studying, and exams—as a significant cost factor. Sanghera notes that time away can be mitigated with the use of synchronous and asynchronous training.

"Classroom training [can be] designed to have only those employees most affected by the change involved, while CBT or WBT can be conducted anytime, anywhere for others," Sanghera said.

Also remember that a bargain in workshop fees may not add up to an overall bargain for the company. "Don't be foolish and go the cheap route. It can take months longer for your staff to learn what your organizations needs them to know," Rowe advised.
Training is a big undertaking and a big expense, so managers expect a return on the investment. How do you make the best decisions when purchasing training? How do you interact with vendors to get the best deal? Send us a note with your smart shopping tips.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox