Never before has there been so much choice for clients seeking learning, development, coaching and training solutions.  On the one hand this is a great win/win situation.  Client organisations have infinitely more choice and can get some fantastic results within or below budget.  It encourages learning and development providers to consistently learn and develop themselves and their businesses and become more effective and successful as a result.


On the downside providers are at real risk of seeing their services and products commoditised.  The sheer number of competitors could easily unnerve them and encourage them to drop their fees, resulting in unsustainable business models.  Clients can get overwhelmed with the choice, tying up precious time, having to delegate initial search to junior team members who may not know the questions to ask and the differentiators to look for.  They may fall into the trap of buying on price or settling for a quick fix.


In this short guide I reveal 7 of the smart key questions that could make all the difference if you are the client looking to buy in learning, development, coaching or training for managers and leaders. Under each key question I’ve added some specifics to consider. If you are a provider I hope it will provide some benchmarks for you to think about and use to reflect on your own offering.


For the purpose of this guide, I am making the assumption that the client has done all the fundamental background work.  This obviously includes the needs analysis, identifying the optimum solution, making and agreeing the business case and budget, and has buy-in from the target group of learners or the individual.


The questions are in no particular order but some are definitely more important than others.  I’d love to hear your views on which and why.  You can email me with your thoughts: or leave a comment if you read this online.

Smart Question No 1: What are we looking for in our optimum solution and what are the minimum criteria providers need to demonstrate?

Some of the detail within this includes:

    •   How long is their track record?
    • Do we want someone with specific sector experience and if so what is their depth and breadth?
    • Have they got a range of testimonials that are current, as well as a successful demonstration of consistent achievement with clients over several years at least?
    • What do these past clients say if we call them and what evidence do they provide of effective and lasting improvements or change achieved by their intervention?

Smart Question No 2: Are we buying in an expert or just a provider?

    • Would our managers and leaders benefit from an expert as opposed to a competent trainer who can deliver a course they are familiar with but there’s limits to their knowledge, know-how and breadth and depth of experience?
    • Does the level of need, complexity and demands on our managers call for more expert involvement?
    • If so, how has the proposed provider gained and proven that expertise?
    • Which tangible outputs can we look at?  Published articles?  A book?  Reputation?  Awards?

Smart Question No 3: How would a provider relate to our people?

    • How well do they understand the opportunities, constraints and culture?
    • Will our target group relate to the provider?
    • Has the provider shown that they can talk ‘the same language’ and identify the challenges, as well as provide the learning opportunities for solutions and growth?
    • Have they managed a team themselves?
    • Or is it just theory?

Smart Question No 4: Where is their passion and focus?

    • Is it centred solely on the learning, training and the event itself or are they focussed on the end result, the implementation, the achievements and results?
    • If they say they are do they demonstrate that in their language?
    • What kinds of tools can they offer to enable, capture and continue to reinforce the learning and change, once they have left the ‘training room’ and the contract?
    • What do they offer to support post event implementation, support and accountability by the learners?

Smart Question No 5: What kind of blended learning solutions are they offering?

    • Is it just limited to courses, elearning or coaching?
    • Or is there a much wider portfolio to offer, including informal learning at work strategies, access to free resources, blogs, reports, videos and podcasts?
    • Is there a membership site your managers can access?
    • Can you connect their resources to your LMS in some way?

Smart Question No 6: How do they complement your in-house expertise?

    • What do they have that you can’t source internally?
    • How much personalisation are they happy to include?
    •   What kind of accreditations do they have?
    • Can they offer additional services to make your life easier and strengthen the solution – for example using marketing expertise to help you promote interventions and lower resistance when needed?
    • What little extras do they provide truly for free?
    • Could they help develop your own team?
    • Could you license their solutions for a more cost-effective roll-out, strengthening your in-house expertise at the same time?

Smart Question No 7: Are they charging what they are worth and are you willing to pay for it?

    • It’s usually true that you get what you pay for.


  • What is it you want?
  • Why do you want it?
  • Why do you need it?


Like most things in life to get true value, your solutions may come at a higher price.  But then surely learning and development isn’t a cost? It’s an investment isn’t it?
If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help you with your people development issues, then simply click here to fill out our contact form.
Alison Miles-Jenkins
Founder and Chief Executive of Leading Light Learning
Author of ‘New Manager Secrets – how to accelerate your success as a manager immediately’