Registration Red Flags: Things to Consider When Buying Continuing Education Registration Software

Before you hit the back button or ‘X’ this out, this is an 8-minute read that I promise is worth the time especially if you are trying to pick the best registration system for your continuing education unit. It’s a big decision that I personally have led a number of organizations through (three, to be exact).

This is also a little awkward, because almost anyone who reads this knows I’ve created a software registration system built on Salesforce, specifically for continuing educators. I’d obviously love to chat more if you’re interested, but I also know that not every school is interested in working with a startup and feels more comfortable with solutions that have longer track records. Fair enough! I hope you change your mind down the line, but right now, as an educator, my passion is using my personal experience to give you all the relevant information to get you closer to your best possible decision.

So if you feel at any time during this post that I am selling you, next time you see me in person, say, “Liar, liar pants on fire,” and I will buy you a coffee or another beverage of your choice. 

And without further adieu, here are the things I wish I knew when purchasing registration software for continuing education for the first time.

1. DON’T be surprised by hidden costs…

Right before I left my last Dean position, we were in a full-blown RFP search for a continuing education registration system. At all my past institutions, I’ve had them, tried them, and experienced firsthand the gap that occurs between the time of the demo and after the contract has been signed.

During the demo, it all sounds great. You’ll pay X monthly, for Y number of students, with Z for implementation costs. But soon after the ink is dry, fees start adding up. Need a report you thought was standard? That’s going to cost you. You couldn’t handle something they told you was easy, like data migration? That’ll be another line item.

This happens all the time. ALL THE TIME.

And it’s actually kind of easy for companies to get away with it because the software buying journey is so complex that it often feels like you, the new client, made a mistake, accidentally delayed a process, or just forgot something when drawing up the contract. So most people just shrug their shoulders and pay, even when that’s not fair to them. Don’t believe me? Just ask anyone who has recently undergone an implementation process if they had to pay more than they expected in year one (and we aren’t even talking about subsequent years yet). If you can find someone who paid what they expected, I’ll buy you another drink. 

2. …But DO go on the offensive against hidden costs

The way to avoid feeling like you were misled all starts with your requirements document. For those uninitiated, a requirements document is just what it sounds like – a list of non-negotiable features you expect out of the software. If it sounds like a pain, that’s because it is – you need to spend a lot of time getting all the features you want onto a document and, ideally, connect a user and a process to each feature.

Be as detailed as possible describing each requirement you are looking for to assure that when the company comes to demo, they can actually show you the functionality and it is then part of the final contract. (More on this later.) 

When it comes time to sign on the dotted line, all functionality should be listed *in the contract* with associated support hours you’re getting as part of the package. That way, you can be confident that 1) the requirement is actually available and 2) they will be there to support you in the learning and use of each requirement, without incurring additional costs. It also helps to speak to a few other clients of the company to learn about what extra costs they may have incurred to make sure you protect your school from similar ones.

3. Even more on your requirements list

I know we are backtracking a little bit, but this topic needs its own additional section because of how important it is. A requirements list is the most critical piece of documentation you will need to make the best decision for your organization.

During my time in continuing education, I’ve seen hundreds of requirements lists. To me, they are like reading an article from the New Yorker – long, maybe a bit boring at parts, but overall enjoyable. Because you know that by the end of it, you are going to be excited once everything you’ve read finally comes together.

The most important piece of advice I can give you about your list is to put all the requirements you need right now – but don’t forget to add the “blue sky” features you hope for in the future. I know, this sounds complicated, but any idea you have that would make a product more helpful to you (think room setup, program success validation, etc.), list it as an item and tell the story of why you want it. 

Then once you have your list, each feature or requirement needs an “owner” or subject-matter expert to accurately describe what it does and why it is needed. A workflow would be extremely helpful so any company can visualize the need and figure out why you are asking for that specific feature.

Don’t worry about the length of the document – trust me, they’ve seen longer – because ultimately it pays to be very thorough about the things you are looking for in your next registration system. 

4. Show me, don’t tell me

I already mentioned it, but you want to see each item on your list in action and demo’d in front of you. Maybe not every single one, but the more you see, the better. If they say they can do it but don’t show you? It means they don’t have it. 

If they say that it is on the roadmap, be very careful. A roadmap is simply a bunch of ideas listed on a document of items the company wishes to put in their product. You should ask how long it’s been on the roadmap. How often do they develop features from the roadmap? What percentage are from clients? Those should get you a good idea of the roadmap’s velocity. 

5. Think tomorrow, not today

Yes, you need to take into account your needs today, but you also need to recognize that your student registration system has to grow with you. You wouldn’t take your bike out on the highway, so why would you put your organization on a software platform that can’t grow at your same pace?

It’s the difference between surviving on a flip phone versus harnessing the power of a smartphone. Or Microsoft Clippy versus ChatGPT. It’s a registration platform that can be easily customized (rather than racking up customization fees) and can be continuously iterated on to support your everyday needs and fast changes in the market. 

I’m burying this paragraph down the page because I don’t want to get sued, but if you saw the backend code for today’s leading registration software companies, your jaw would drop. It’s years and years of technical debt, kicked down the road with no end in sight. Throw in an acquisition or two, and you have a codebase that’s patched together, fragile and complex. If you want to know why this makes things complicated, think about doing a 500-piece puzzle. Someone tells you they want to add one more piece, but the only way to make it work is to take apart a large portion of the puzzle to make the new piece fit. Rinse, repeat.

Again, I get that some schools like working with more traditional companies that have been in business for decades, and every organization needs to do what is right for them. But know the trade-off you’re making, and get out in front of it and be proactive when asking questions about what features you’ll require and what your expectations for the future should be.

6. And lastly, refuse to settle

Getting into a new CE registration product means entering a new long-term relationship where you’re heavily courted before it officially starts. Year one is a whirlwind, and the subsequent years can feel like a poorly arranged marriage filled with what-ifs, regrets and dissatisfaction.  

Don’t fall trap to it. Ask for a current client list and add those people on LinkedIn to start a conversation. Browse G2, TrustPilot and other software review sites, where you’ll find reviews from real users. And don’t be shy at CE conferences or online members-only forums. 

Take your time. Have your information ready. Ask a lot of questions. And talk to everyone. If I can help, please reach out. At the very least, you might get a free coffee out of it!