This content is part of the Essential Guide: Your guide to successful HR and HCM software implementation

Buying human resources software: The sales process

In this second article of a seven-part series on purchasing human resources software, two experts offer questions you should ask as you navigate the sales process.

If you're considering the purchase of human resources software, you're in the process of buying, or even if you've...

already bought and want to look back, pay close attention. Although we'll provide general suggestions about software purchases, we'll make this as specific to human resources (HR) technology as possible. The following are questions to ask during the sales process.

1. How am I being treated?

Vendors would love to, rather, they're dying to do business with you. That should be evident from the first time you interact with them. The HR technology space has a huge disparity among the sizes of sales departments. Vendors like Workday, Infor, SAP and Oracle have hundreds (thousands in some cases) of salespeople, whereas smaller vendors like Newton Software, Fairsail, cFactor and Mangrove have between a handful and a few dozen. Then you have vendors in the middle, such as Ultimate Software, which is a large software company with a smaller percentage of salespeople versus development staff. Why does this matter? Because regardless of the vendor's size, you should be getting the attention you deserve from the first moment you are considered a prospective buyer, until the end of the sales process. After all, you have all the power until the pen hits the paper. Let that sink in for a moment.

2. Do I feel like I'm being oversold?

The best salespeople in the game are the ones capable of saying 'no.' This is especially true for HR technology, which has roughly 12 categories of functionality, and hundreds of individual functions within each of those categories. Starting the 'yes' game isn't just a slippery slope, it's essentially tossing you directly into the pit of failed HR software purchases. No software does everything. Even forcing [customizing] software to do everything has proven to be a failed methodology. That's not to say people don't still try, but there's a reason why SaaS is dominating while on-premises flounders. Listen to the "no" and as long as it isn't a show-stopper, weigh it against all the other times you've heard "yes."

3. Has the vendor done significant work in my industry/vertical market?

There's no such thing as an HR industry. Your industry is your business. The best way to find out what they know is to flat out ask the vendor what's different about how its software would be used by a retail company versus a company in another industry. They might have a list of reasons, or they get them from someone else, or they accurately articulate why that doesn't matter in your case. You do not want to be a guinea pig.

4. Did the demo meet or exceed my expectations?

We're not talking about the salesperson's difficult-to-understand accent, or the intro that took 10 minutes too long. After all, you likely won't interact with the demo person again. We're talking about the crux of the demo: those 100 requirements that you took the time to catalogue (if you came prepared). Did the vendor take the time to read them and react to them in the demo? How well did the product stack up to them? Did it look like the sales team modified the product to be able to handle your requirement to do a promotion during the compensation process? If so, ask them if that's the 'vanilla' product or a modified version. Pretend you're a judge. Ask pointed questions and listen for the 'yes' that doesn't feel natural.

5. Can the vendor easily provide case studies, references and client satisfaction stats?

Success stories and quality references make or break the sales process. That's particularly true in HR technology where things like implementation are even more critical relative to product than with software that might be more plug-and-play. So many potential points of failure exist that you as a prospective buyer should want to read about and talk to those who were successful. Not only that, but you need to know if the vendor is pointing you to one of the 5% who are happy. Some vendors wear out that 5% with reference checks, others have a pool from which to pull. Note: This isn't a plug for big vendors versus small, because we're talking percentage of total clients, whether that's 30 or 3,000.

Don't fret -- we've only scraped the surface with this article on the topic of sales. Our future articles will examine more specific questions on topics like implementation, training and adoption (see the sidebar). However, we've highlighted critical points in the sales process that will contribute to your success … or possible failure points, which you'll know to avoid. The best buyers of HR technology are those who not only know what they want from the software, but also what they expect from their future vendor as a true partner. Mostly, they aren't afraid to ask their counterpart in sales the difficult questions or bring somebody along who will … or heck, they just tell sales that Jeremy Ames and William Tincup told them to ask.

The seven points of satisfaction
in buying HR tech

Each article in the series addresses one of the steps in the purchasing process that is a key determinant of buyer satisfaction.

  1. Product selection
  2. Sales process
  3. Negotiation
  4. Implementation
  5. Training
  6. Adoption
  7. Support

About the authors
Jeremy Ames is co-founder of Hive Tech HR, a consulting company based in Medway, Mass. He is a 15-year veteran of IT implementation projects and sits on the HR Management and Technology Expertise panel of the Society for Human Resource Management. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jeremyallynames.

William Tincup is principal analyst and co-founder of Key Interval Research, which is based in Occidental, Calif. He is a contributor to and other media outlets and sits on the boards of several technology companies. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @williamtincup.

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