The experience walking in a HR tech buyer’s shoes at the HR Technology Conference & Expo in Las Vegas was emotionally and physically exhausting. Nearly 450 vendors spread across the massive expo hall. Up and down the (fifteen!) rows I went, the slick-branded booths and eager faces behind them blurring together. I think it’s safe to say any Fitbit-wearing attendees closed in on their personal bests during the event.
My first impression: this is all a bit overwhelming. And I’m not the only one. In the buyer panels I attended, I heard the same sentiment about trying to navigate the HR tech marketplace. That’s not to say some vendors didn’t create interesting experiences and stand out (one comes to mind which I’ll explain later), but as Josh Bersin said in his keynote at the InfluenceHR event earlier in the week about HR tech trends, “HR buyers are totally baffled, they’re not tech analysts.”
The good news is there is more demand than ever for HR technology and outsourcing, and there are opportunities to stand out and win business amidst the confusion. They say what happens in Vegas stays there, but after flipping through dozens of pages of notes from the events, I feel the need to share three key takeaways worth thinking about.
HR tech buyers are overwhelmed and confused—stand out with storytelling, personality and own your niche
Bersin tracks more than 7,000 vendors in 37 categories in his research on the HR Technology market. Based on those numbers, six-and-a-half percent of the market was represented in the expo center and this is what the phone directory-like exhibitor list looked like:
(Click to Enlarge)
According to Bersin, HR tech vendors look remarkably alike to buyers. On top of that, many major companies—including Facebook—have entered the marketplace, and startups are coming fast and furious. Many companies are hiring consultants to guide them through the buying process and implementations.While most SMBs don’t have the resources to hire this type of specialist to focus on HR tech trends, they struggle with the same level of overwhelm and confusion. It’s an opportunity for you to be that consultative business advisor, and use diagnostic selling to build rapport and help them identify their ideal solution.
Bersin warns there is no perfect fit between vendor and buyer today, and advises HR teams to “buy what you need and expect to throw some of it away in a few years. The market hasn’t yet consolidated and there is a good chance the vendor you choose today may be acquired and you’ll need to deal with [a technology reconfiguration] then.”
So how can you give HR technology buyers confidence and a sense of security?
Bersin says to clarify your message and position yourself well in a niche you can own. No one is successfully partnering with every type of customer, he says. Customer stories can be very effective in showing buyers what you can do for them. In fact, case studies have the highest completion rate (87%) among types of B2B sales and marketing content, according to research presented by Russ Heddleston from DocSend at InfluenceHR.
Sharing case studies are not only effective in telling your stories to customers, but also to the media. In the InfluenceHR session, “So, You Want PR?”, Andrew McIlvaine from Human Resource Executive and Lisa Holden from Entelo agreed that customer stories break through the clutter of product information that is most commonly pitched to journalists.
Buyers value relationships as much as HR technology
While many of the panelists represented larger companies, their HR challenges and needs share much in common with organizations of all sizes, including SMBs. We want to do business with people we like, people we trust, and people who come to the table with empathy and understanding for our unique situations.
Effectively communicating the outcomes your HR technology can deliver is important but don’t overlook the value of relationships. “Vendors are winning because the buyer likes the salesperson,” says Bersin. “At Bersin we have a saying: We don’t sell research, we make friends. Sales and marketing need to think about their personality.”
Bersin points to the investment Deloitte (which acquired Bersin’s agency in 2013) still makes in client dinners, face time, and relationship building even when today’s technology makes digital engagement easier and more scalable.
“You’re buying a relationship along with the technology,” says Susan Collins, Director of Talent Acquisition at Talbots, who appeared on the buyer panel, “Selecting the Right HR Technology: From Need to Implementation”.
On another buyer panel, Kelly Hoven Ortelli from Great-West Financial, advised salespeople to “work on my timeline and not yours. Understand what our business roadmap is, including where we’re at with implementing other technology.” For enterprise and SMB buyers alike, not showing empathy toward their unique situation is one surefire way to torpedo a nascent relationship.
Customer experience matters—and it starts with employees
After registering for the HR Technology Conference, my inbox was peppered with dozens of emails from vendors inviting me to stop by their booth for a demo and chance to win a voice-activated device/gift card/smart watch. (Disclaimer: I did snag a stuffed monkey and foam ninja for my three-year-old.)
One email stood out because it was unexpected and offered me something exciting without any salesy strings attached. The email said Qualtrics had assembled a group of employees to fulfill “dream requests” for each of the conference attendees. All I had to do was complete a form and they would take care of it. Some attendees asked for Starbucks, a blanket for a cold session room, or a hard-to-find charger. And Qualtrics delivered, literally.
I submitted a request on behalf of my six-year-old son who has been obsessed with rocks and gemstones for the past several months. Before my trip he said, “Daddy, did you know there’s gold in Nevada?”
Would the Qualtrics Dream Team sift through all the requests to help me find a golden souvenir for my aspiring geologist? I received a text message from a member of its team confirming they were on it. A few hours later I got a second text asking where they could meet me to fulfill my wish. Outside the expo entrance I met Allison who handed over a black bag with a smile, no questions asked.
While there wasn’t pure gold in the box, my son’s reaction surely was.
Now this looks like a campaign about delighting a customer (or prospective one), but it all starts with employees. In fact, Qualtrics delivers “dreams” through its Employee Experience Bonus, offering each employee $1,500 to have an amazing experience—no questions asked. It’s part of the culture that makes interactions like the ones I had authentic.
As you consult your SMB clients on themes such as HR tech trends, recruiting and employee experience, a good place to start is to try to understand what motivates your employees (e.g., salary, being part of a growing company, flexibility) and why new hires choose you (and why they stay). It could give you insight into the culture and personality at their company, and how they can create those exceptional experiences for their staff and customers.
“The ‘New Normal’ changes with each new person who joins your organization and with each change you make,” says Gretchen Alarcon from Oracle.
The same can be said for each customer and employee interaction. So, how can you make those moments golden?