A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of organizing and moderating a panel titled “Selecting the Right HR Technology Solution Provider” at the HR Technology Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas. Joining me were HR leaders from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Coca-Cola Corp., and JW Player. I organized the panel with three very different types and sizes of firms by design. All had recently evaluated and purchased (or were about to purchase) different types of HR software. In this case PWC was at the end of a vendor selection process for talent acquisition software platforms, Coca-Cola had purchased a tool to help with employee engagement, and JW Player had purchased a core HR/HCM platform.
My goal pulling together a major global consumer brand, big 4 consulting firm, and emerging tech shop to talk about how they selected very different types of HR software was to appeal to a broad audience of attendees at HR Tech. While I think we accomplished this, what I was pleasantly surprised to find was that there were more consistencies than differences in their approaches – especially on the front end of the vendor selection process.
I spend a lot of time trying to understand how the way HR executives engage with vendors has changed. I do this directly with HR executives, like the ones on this panel. I also engage with HR leaders in direct research. With the number of vendors in all segments of HR technology increasing rapidly the customer has a huge job at hand just to understand who does what. There is a lot of “vendor noise” out there for HR pros to sift through.
How has that changed how HR technology customers are evaluating and buying software?
You may have seen the headlines in the last few years. On average 57% of a B2B buyer’s process happens BEFORE a vendor is ever contacted. While that stat may be over-used it rings true in all of my work with HR tech customers and on this panel.
Some of the things about the front end of the process that you can learn from as an HR pro thinking about a new vendor selection process – OR as a vendor thinking about how to engage with HR pros:
No one likes to be sold to. They do like to know what the trends are, though. Do a healthy amount of both on-line and in-real-life networking with peers and accessible thought leaders to understand who is doing what out there. Find customers of products you’re interested in and ask lots of questions – you might even be able to see the product in action. But, don’t wait until you’re starting an evaluation to start. Get out there on an ongoing basis.
You don’t have to engage with every bit of vendor marketing content, but you might file those of interest for later use. The content that vendors are putting out there can be useful. One of the panelists even talked about filing or organizing content from vendors that had products they thought they might be in the market for at some point in the future. These “files” are the first things they look at when they start to build their vendor list.
The relationship is one of the most important “features” to evaluate. Enter the process knowing that you’re going to have vendors that will address some high percentage of your requirements, but never all of your requirements. And, there are no perfect vendors on the planet. Complexity and challenges will raise their heads and you need to figure out which vendor will be willing to tackle it and which vendor you actually want to work through that complexity with. How you feel about your vendor relationship during the selection process is about as good as it will get, given that most vendors work hard to put their best foot forward. Regardless of the product, these HR pros advise to strongly consider walking away if the vendor is difficult to buy from early.
Push past the sales rep. I found this strategy particularly interesting. At the point where you do engage with a vendor you should demand that you get direct access with the product, and customer success and implementation teams. The HR pros were unanimous in their feeling that the success of any HR tech they’ve used directly related to both the vendor’s willingness to connect customers with these team before the sale. It also gives you a chance to evaluate the potential working relationship with the people that will truly make your implementation a success. Leverage sales to help keep the process on track, but don’t let them play gate keeper.
Leverage I.T. and Procurement early. Don’t wait until you fall in love with a product to get the vendors through any required compliance, I.T., or security audits. The vendor’s ability to work with your requirements there, as well as your extended team, will speak volumes to their ability to be successful with you long term.
Try it before you buy it. Whether it’s a free trial, a “sandbox” to test specific use-cases, or a licensed small implementation for a representative team/department. Get your hands on the interface and access some real user feedback.
Interested in more details from the panel discussion? HRE Daily covered the session on their blog.
I’m always happy to help you make sense of the HR technology vendor landscape, just send me a message here.