Ahead of the seven-part series on buying HR software, William and Jeremy consider the goals of the series and offer questions buyers and vendors should ask to ensure the right HR tech fit.
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Jeremy Ames: Talking with William Tincup here. We’re going to introduce this new webcast series called the Seven Points of Satisfaction in buying HR tech. The concept as we’ll go through here is basically a series that William Tincup an I wrote together on Tech Target to cover those seven areas of satisfaction when you’re buying HR tech. We’re just going to give you an overview today of what the process is going to look like, how we’re going to dive into this and set the stage essentially for the future conferences. Welcome William.
William Tincup: Welcome Jeremy. How are you?
Jeremy Ames: I’m good, I’m good. I’m in space. You can see.
William Tincup: Good, good. Are you satisfied, are you satisfied?
Jeremy Ames: I’m pretty satisfied with being here today, yes. I’m happy.
William Tincup: Good.
Jeremy Ames: I’m happy that you’re on the road to recovery and healthiness, so that’s great.
William Tincup: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Jeremy Ames: Good. I loved writing this series with you. It got a lot of attention on Tech Target. Still get people coming up to me and saying how much they enjoyed it and some of them have even said, and you may have heard this too where they kind of used what we wrote as a playbook for buying technology which is a good feeling.
William Tincup: Yeah, that’s a compliment to the writing and to just the idea of trying to help practitioners understand what to ask. I mean we’ve all be thrown into a buying process before an kind of not known the bit and because of where you and I play, we have some insight on the other side. We can kind of be that Sacagawea that kind of explains what’s going on on the other side and so the series was great.
I get the same compliments. It’s nice because people are like okay, I took that and then I added this and my boss wanted me to do this. It’s great that they could start with something. I love those compliments.
Jeremy Ames: Yeah. The overall concepts is basically it takes you through the whole buying lifecycle. Just stepping through, I think we’ll step through the different areas. We talked about product, we wrote one particular article about the product, so in the first episode after this and to just give some framework, I think what we talked about is I’ll bring on different software vendors.
William Tincup: Right.
Jeremy Ames: It’s going to be the angle is basically asking the software vendor when they’re going through this process of selling, what are they expected to be asked, what are they hoping to be asked, what kind of answers are they giving? What’s their ideal selling process because that’s what may help the buyer kind of frame that and they’ll know how they should be approaching it.
William Tincup: That’s right. On both sides, on the vendor side when you talked about product, there’s a past, present and future. There’s three distinct of where did the software come from, where is it currently and where is it going. To be able to as a practitioner to ask questions like, “Was this a new tech, did you build it from scratch? Has it been rebuilt to the [inaudible 00:03:16] a couple different times et cetera.
What’s that historical knowledge about the software or product? Then where it is right now. I think those are great questions for both the vendor to talk about. Here’s where we’re at. Here’s the releases you should see. I think the better software companies really know the next 18 months or so in more of a concrete way. They know what’s coming and so they can talk to the specifics of that.
If they’re adding learning If they’re adding recruiting whatever. Here’s where we are now, present. Here’s where we’re going, future. These are great things for a vendor to talk about. The thing I would tell you from a practitioner that you’d want is how do we do this currently? It’s a harder question … If you’re switching from one ATS to another, it’s obviously not that difficult. More often not, it’s not that simple. You’re doing something, you’re doing it away.
You’re using post it notes, you’re using something proprietary. Cobbled together system. Excel. Whatever. You’re doing it one way and now there’s going to be this change to this new product and so acknowledging what that is. How you’re doing it now, I think is really important because it’s more introspection. It’s looking at yourself and looking at the company and looking at people, product, process and really looking at how you do something so that you can reflect that to the vendor.
Their job is to tell you past, present, future about where the product is. Your job as I see it at least is to be able to tell them how you do it now. It doesn’t matter how arcane by the way.
Jeremy Ames: Okay.
William Tincup: It’s caveman. We actually use post it notes, we have a big room. This is how we do it. That’s okay. That’s absolutely okay, but they need to have a really good sense of how you do things.
Jeremy Ames: Yep. I’m really interested to see how important the vendor considers product in the whole thing. Relative to the company, relative to the people, how important is the product and how much would they prefer to focus on that during the selling process. A lot of people would say you’re buying the company sometimes even more so than the product itself, so it’s going to be interesting to see how much weight the product itself gets in the discussion.
William Tincup: Well I would tell you I’ve got a take on that. My take is that, Reese [inaudible 00:05:49] said that, “Software’s eating the world.” I actually believe that process is more important that technology.
I’m one of these kind of rare birds, even though I love tech, I’m an advocate for tech, I actually think that you could bad tech on a great process and it works. Whereas the opposite doesn’t work. I tend to always error on the side of you’ve got to get process right. Period, end of story. You’ve got to get it right and you’ve got to continue to get it right. Then if you put a great product on a great process, that’s where competitive differentiation is created.
Jeremy Ames: SAAS has also played a role in that because you’re not necessarily buying just the product that you buy today. You’re also buying the product that they continuously roll out and have an easier time through their release management processes instead of basically being stuck with whatever they ship you today. That’s also made people more comfortable. Wherever the product is today.
We’ll dive into a little bit on sales. I’m excited to bring in somebody who’s really in depth from the vendor from a sale perspective to talk about how they treat people. A lot of these questions are looking at it from the buyer’s perspective, but what would a vendor say about their role in this process? Do they try to over sale? Are they okay with that and they’ll kind of make it up down the road a little bit? I think that this will be an interesting discussion.
William Tincup: Our little corner of the world software’s sold, it’s not bought. Software firms do a lot of education in the market place, so they’re the ones that do the calling, they’re the ones that do that do the aggressive because typically we avoid getting into new software sales. We avoid the demos, we avoid that stuff. We’re very reactive in the way we go after software, so it would be really great how we understand how and why we go about that. How they want to approach us, how they talk to to us? What questions they wish that we would ask? Basically how do they render themselves?
Both themselves, the company, the products the ecosystems that they might have behind them. How do they render themselves? I always kind of give people the advice of how do you feel? Trust your gut. If you feel like that gal or that guy is just not trustworthy, you don’t stay there. Don’t go further than that.
Because if you get the feeling that they’re not trustworthy, they’re not trustworthy. Don’t let your gut, don’t override your own instincts. The only other thing I’d probably add here is, if you can get to a comfortable place with a sales person where you ask them about deals that they’ve lost. Everyone’s done won, loss analysis or win, loss analysis, so the deals that you win as a software firm, you kind of know why win. It could be price, it could be terms. It could be a lot of different things, but why do you lose deals.
Jeremy Ames: Yep.
William Tincup: I think as a practitioner, you’d like to talk to a couple people who got really far in the process, but for whatever reason they picked something else. Talking to those people, different from talking to just regular references. Because references are like job references. These are people that you’ve already vetted. They’re going to say nice things about you, but people that have said no, I want to know why they said no.
Jeremy Ames: At what point in the process did it fall out?
William Tincup: Right. Was it about product? Was it about salesmanship? Was it about support? I’ve seen people balk at just the flexibility of taking 30 cents off of a price, PMPM. That people have balked at the deal and walked away from it, so it could just be the inflexibility and pricing.
Jeremy Ames: Right.
William Tincup: You love the product. You love the team inflexibility in the contract or they wanted a five year contract, we wanted to do a three year contract. Any of those things that can give you pointers as to why, I think helps you make good buying decisions.
Jeremy Ames: Yep. We wrote about the negotiation process and this would be interesting to talk about because one of the questions we were asking in the writing was for the buyer to dive into how is the vendor making their money and be specific about it. Most often we think of negotiation as how can we get the best price, but in the end you also need the vendor to be comfortable with where you end up on the price point. Getting that perspective of the vendor should be interesting to talk about their side of it.
Are they trying to make the most money they can or would they like to get in that sweet spot where they know that their buyer made the right decision and potentially in the future will become a better reference because they got a good price value comparison?
William Tincup: The only thing I’d like to add, first of all I love everything you said. I think the only thing I’d add is to put yourself in the mindset of you’re getting married. You’re buying software and you’re getting married. A lot of couples they have prenups that basically kind of sort out how things will go if and when you part ways. It’s already kind of predetermined.
Jeremy Ames: Yeah.
William Tincup: You get this, I get that. It’s already kind of, we’ve already negotiated it essentially. It’s done and if that ever becomes what happens to us, well we’ve already got a document. If you think of the negotiation phase where you’re already thinking about life without this vendor, then it enables you to then to ask tough questions. Like okay, so how fast could we get out of the contract. At the end of the day, is that a 90 day, is it a 30 day? Is there a process?
Do you have a team in place like what does it look like when I want to move and go to a different vendor? If you don’t ask that question, kind of get it in writing it down, what happens is you get into the contract and you get years down the contract and something happens and you want to go with a different vendor and then all of a sudden it becomes a fight. It becomes a new battle or a battle that could have been completely avoided had we actually had the foresight to ask the tough questions during when we bought.
Jeremy Ames: Yep. That would be a fascinating conversation from the vendor perspective. Do you point blank asking them do you make it difficult for your [inaudible 00:12:27] present their contracts.
William Tincup: Think about that to go further. Let me talk to three clients that have exited.
Jeremy Ames: Yep.
William Tincup: Can we talk to three? I want to talk to three people in the last year that have left your firm. That have core clients, maybe even happy clients, but they decided to do a different direction for whatever reason. I want to talk to those three people.
Jeremy Ames: They are on today’s webcast.
William Tincup: Right?
Jeremy Ames: Surprise visit.
William Tincup: The thing is if you can do that, well now you’ve vetted out. You ask them, but usually people are going to give you the answer that you’re already thinking about. If you can ask people that have been through that process, it’s gets you even more clarity there.
Jeremy Ames: Yep. This is my bread and butter because I work on this consistently is the implementation, so again like the questions that the buyers are asking is all about how well they manage their implementations. Who manages them? The questions to be asking the vendors who might come on this one so I have to choose this person wisely. How important are implementations to you as a company? How are you managing them? Are they loss leaders? Which happens a lot of times.
That will be a very fun conversation.
William Tincup: There are two things that I would say there are the concept of done and the concept of success. As a practitioner how do you define done? Because it’s been my experience on the implementation side that it’s actually never done.
Jeremy Ames: Yeah.
William Tincup: It’s never over. That’s hard for everyone to kind of get their head’s around because the vendor wants it done and actually the practitioner wants it done. What we find is that you get into it and all of sudden you have new employees or you just acquired a new firm. No you have to lay off, like there’s chaos.
Jeremy Ames: Yep.
William Tincup: It’s just never is to, so what are you going to call done? What is the definition, quote 101, what is the definition of done? How will you define when it is completed? Second is how do you define success? What does it look like? We mutually agree on what success is. Is adoption success? Is it sign up? Is it data import? What is success? You have a shared view and vision of definition of what is and isn’t success.
Jeremy Ames: Yep. Instead of defining [inaudible 00:14:54] which is sometimes weird.
William Tincup: Well, in your work you get 80 percent into it or maybe three months from go live and now you want to have a discussion on what is success.
Jeremy Ames: Yeah or you move the target. That’s what happens a lot of times.
William Tincup: Yeah, that’ right.
Jeremy Ames: Training, that should be a good one. I know this is this the part of the lifecycle of the process, so from the buyers perspective finding out if a lot of companies are offering free training to their buyers now, so talking about that from the vendor’s perspective if that’s a goal of them. It’s going to be interesting to dive into how much value the vendor places on training.
William Tincup: Yeah. A couple words for practitioners kind of put in there, their vernacular is adoption, usage, consumption, so essentially softwares were these things that the more you use it the better you value and the more value you get out of it. It’s time served. You’ve got to be able to use it. Your folks have to be able to answer questions. They’ve got to be able to leverage it et cetera. On the other end of adoption, usage and consumption, is this concept of love.
Do they love the software? Do they love it. Now working records from training how do you hit that? How do you actually manufacture what is adoption and usage and consumption to get to love? If they love the software, then what you’ve created is something they can’t do without. It’s not just software that’s added to their job description, it’s now something that helps them do their job. Which more often than not, software usage is actually not a part of people’s job description.
They have jobs and they have software, but the two aren’t necessarily linked together. I think once you get to a place where they love their software it becomes a part of their job.
Jeremy Ames: Yep. Actually just to kind of tease ahead or look ahead, I will plan on, adoption to me is kind of the holy grail of everything and in our series it was number six, primarily because like I said you’re stepping through the process, so you’re working on the adoption as you’re rolling out the software. Then afterwards you’re dealing with support of it, but in the series my plan is to make adoption kind of the last thing we talk about because it’s not only at the point in which you’re going live, but like two years down the road, the goal of both the person spent all the money on the software as well as the vendor who sold it to you, they want you to continue.
There’s no intent to implement something, spend all this effort, this money and a year later be like all right next. I’m ready to implement something else.
William Tincup: Right.
Jeremy Ames: Adoption is ongoing and that’s why I do plan on making that like the last thing we talk about.
William Tincup: Good. It’s in everyone’s best interest. That’s the beauty of adoption.
Jeremy Ames: Yeah.
William Tincup: It’s in the practitioner’s best interest. It’s in the finance or procurement department’s best interest. It’s in the vendor’s best, it’s in the consultant or implementation folks. Everyone wins when adoption happens. Then it just becomes a game of how do you do it?
Your particular place of business, what is it going to take to get people to adopt the software? Some of that comes down to training, comes down to change management, comes down to communications, it comes down to a lot of different things, but it’s the manipulation of the system to then say we want this to be adopted. No one is fighting us. The only people that are fighting it is people that are still thinking about the old way. That is still attached to the old software, the old way of doing things. Even those folks. You’ve got an adoption curve that you’re going through from early participants, early adopters all the way to laagers, you’ve actually got to think about how we manufacture. What do we do to create adoption? Because it literally is in everybody’s best interest if you adopt the software.
Jeremy Ames: What I think will also be very interesting is who owns it? The people are implementing it might be a third party and they might not think it’s their job. The vendor a lot of times says well no, the company really has to become engaged at this point and have to own the software themselves. A lot of times, everyone’s saying it’s not me. Not raising their hand, they’re throwing up their hands saying, “This is not my job.” Be point blank asking a vendor, “Do you own adoption?”
I know I would get different answers from different vendors. I’m curious to know how that conversation is going to play out.
William Tincup: Right.
Jeremy Ames: Nobody wants to own it, but it’s critical to everything.
William Tincup: It’s right.
Jeremy Ames: Somebody has to.
William Tincup: Somebody has to. The more experience they have in adoption and change management and things like that, the better the adoption. Not only does somebody need to own it, but really the better that you can put a person there that has experience in adoption, the better and deeper adoption you’ll get.
Jeremy Ames: Yep. Then like I said, this one is still critical to make sure that nothing breaks down and that you’re getting the right support and every vendor handles this differently. It is important to make sure that are you getting a dedicated rep? There’s a lot about the structure of a help desk that warrants at least some discussion.
William Tincup: The best thing a practitioner can do here is define every poor support experience they’ve ever had and ask those questions. Real questions. Okay, it’s Friday night, we have payroll due on Monday morning and no one’s login works. Tell me how that happens. What happens next? Literally take them through a battery to understand how problems get solved.
Jeremy Ames: Yep.
William Tincup: Because it’s inevitable that problems are going to exist. It’s inevitable that implementation will get sideways. That just happens. It’s called the inevitable disaster. There’s always something that unforeseen. The same thing is true in support. There’s always a moment where you thought you bought this or you thought that this was an easy fix. Or you thought that this was something that was supported only to find out that it’s not.
The more you suss this stuff out in the buying process, the more you really understand what you bought. The easiest way, at least one of the ways I’ve explained it to people is just go back to your car buying experience. When you bought the car and you bought the extended warranty, okay cool. What does that mean? Is that just powertrain, is that the engine, is it tires, is it the windshield wipers? What exactly did you buy. Most people don’t know that about their cars and I would say even a larger number of people don’t know that about the software they bought.
Jeremy Ames: Yeah, but even, cars if it’s not working, you’re just going to leave it in the garage. The software comparison, we’re not buying CRMs here, where like if they’re down, maybe you’re not able to reach out to your prospects or things like that. We’re talking about systems that control [inaudible 00:21:54], your payroll. Like stuff where if it’s not working, people are not going to get their paychecks.
William Tincup: It’s mission critical.
Jeremy Ames: Yeah, it’s mission critical stuff that is really often times belittled during the whole buying process. It’s not something that should be taken lightly obviously.
William Tincup: Totally agree.
Jeremy Ames: Yep. That’s kind of the process I plan to go through on this. It’s going to be fun. Part of the fun is going to be choosing who to bring on and also trying not to play favorites when I go through that process. It should be a good time. How do you feel Bert?
William Tincup: Well, first of all I feel you’re helping practitioners understand kind of the game. Again, because of where you sit in this process, you can help the vendors explain themselves better and you can help the practitioners understand what they need and what questions they need to ask. This is actually something that’s going to be really helpful to both sides. The industry’s doing a better job of explaining themselves and having something that they can point to and discussion that they’ve had.
For the practitioners, it helps them, the better more apt they are to ask great questions in the sales process, the more that they can protect against being burned.
Jeremy Ames: Yeah.
William Tincup: No one’s going, like you said, no one’s going to go out and try to burn somebody just because. If anything, it’s just a miscommunication or misunderstanding. Let’s try and get the misunderstandings under control.
Jeremy Ames: Yeah and that part is not going to be a tough sell, because almost everyone has gone through a process. We either feel like we got screwed or a couple years down the road having buyer’s remorse. Again it’s something that’s going to add value to most people.
William Tincup: Agreed. Totally agree.
Jeremy Ames: Yeah. All right. I really appreciate you coming on here William Tincup. Like I said, writing the series was a whole lot of fun and I think if you dive into each one, there’s obviously some interesting things that are going to come out of this.
William Tincup: I can’t wait to, consider me one of your biggest fans. I can’t wait to you produce the series and hear what people say.
Jeremy Ames: Great. All right. Well, I’m going to shut down the recording now, but thanks so much for your time and we’ll see where this takes us. Thanks.