As I have written before, selling HR software is not easy. Truthfully, I am not sure if there is anything harder to sell than HR software. Before creating CompareHRIS.com, I sold HR software systems for 15 years. I want to take this opportunity to offer advice to others who are currently selling these types of systems or are just getting into the industry. For those looking at purchasing HR software. this article should also reveal what to expect from a professional HR software sales rep.
Why is it tough selling HR software?
Overall, I think the one issue that makes selling HR software so hard is that the people we are selling to are usually not the ones who have the ability to approve the final purchase. With other types of sales you are selling to the individual who can make the final purchase decision. HR sales don’t work that way. HR has the need so, ultimately, you sell to them and then they sell the solution to someone else.
Numerous HR sales managers will disagree with me on this concept but I am basing my opinion on 15 years of experience with selling these systems. At some point, you will work for a sales manager who will insist that you try and involve the purchase decision makers in the process. This is a little bit of a dangerous road. If you are able to contact the decision maker directly, they will likely tell you that it’s HR’s decision so your contact is with them. Or it is likely that you may tick off HR by going behind their back to the decision maker. Be careful with this process. My approach was to work directly with HR and ask HR if those making the final purchase decision wanted to be involved in the process or the demo, but rarely did they want to be involved. Instead, the vast majority of time I worked directly with HR on the process and then worked to assist them with justifying the decision to upper management.
I recently received a comment from a HR sales rep that said the problem with some of the leads he was receiving was that many of the contacts were low level HR people. It’s important to note that this person’s background was mostly in payroll sales as opposed to HR. The two work differently. With payroll, it may be the decision maker driving the purchase but with HR only systems, that is rarely going to be the case. My advice to this individual would be that there are no “low level HR people” in this process. The HR assistant did not decide to go investigate these systems on their own. It is likely that the HR assistant was asked to start the process by the head of HR who then, will likely become more involved when it comes to later stages of the process or the demo.
Getting the approval for an HR software system also depends on how valuable HR is perceived to be by those holding the purse strings. If upper management believes that HR is important for meeting future organizational goals, then the system has a better chance of getting approval than if upper management believes HR is mostly a clerical position or more of a cost center than a revenue center. How do you tell the difference? If you are dealing with a HR professional who has a degree and is certified, you are more than likely dealing with an organization who believes in the value of HR. If you perform an on-site demo, see how well the HR department is staffed. The national average is one HR person for every 100 employees. If you have two HR people in a five hundred employee company, that organization may not see much value in HR. If they did, they probably would have already invested in additional HR resources.
Be more of a consultant than a sales person
The trick of selling HR software is to show the HR department, and their organization, how your system can assist HR, management, and employees with their day to day work and make all of them more productive with their jobs. In order to determine exactly how your system can achieve this goal, you need to have a complete understanding as to the HR department’s goals, needs, and the organization’s goals and objectives. During your first meeting with the prospect, you will need to perform a detailed needs analysis to determine what their needs are for a system and if your product meets those needs. Our HRIS selection Tool, provides an initial needs basis which you can then ask additional clarifying questions of the prospect. With the needs analysis, you need to uncover as much information as possible about the client’s existing pain points and needs. Find out how they are currently tracking their HR data and what problems they are having. Are there potential problems that your software can address? Find out exactly the type of reports they will need created or the systems to which they need to tie the HR software solution. You will also need to determine the HR goals of the organization. If, as an organization, management wants to see turnover decrease or improve internal promotion capabilities, then you will also want to make a note of these items for the demo. It’s highly likely that these goals were created by the individual who will be approving your decision; so it’s extremely important to uncover this information.
You can’t provide the client a solution unless you know their needs and current problems. Later, when you perform the demo, the demo should address areas which support how the system meets the client’s needs and organization’s goals. If the client has very specific reports they need, in the demo, show them how to create the reports from scratch.
A sales person is just going to show the client what their system can do. A consultant is going to tie the capabilities of their product to the specific needs of the client. It’s very important to understand the difference. A
sales person may have slick sales lines or methods, a consultant does not. So what’s it going to take to get you to into this new car? Would you like the red one or the blue one? If this is your idea of sales, you might want to keep selling used cars or time shares as opposed to professional HR software systems.
What if your system can’t meet some of the prospect’s needs?
Let them know; don’t ignore the issue. Just by informing the client, you gain credibility as someone who is assisting with their needs as opposed to just being another sales person. In your past sales training, you were likely trained on handling objections. A needed feature, that your system does not offer, is a little more than an objection. It’s important to find out how important the item is and find out if it’s a deal breaker. If it is, don’t be afraid to walk away from the sale and move onto the next deal. Before you walk away, I would do a little investigation into the deal breaker issue. I would ask the client directly if the issue is a deal breaker. Find out why the issue is important. You may want to determine if there are any third party options or custom programming options available to meet the need. If these are an option, present the prospect a potential cost for the solution and ask if the need is worth the cost. By doing this additional investigation, you may find that the actual deal breaking issue is not one.
Product Knowledge and Human Resources Knowledge is extremely important
You can’t be a consultant with the process unless you really understand your product and HR processes. If you are going to sell HR software, spend as much time as possible on product knowledge and look at the needs analysis process as an educational opportunity for gaining a better understanding about the processes of HR. You will be amazed at how, with each demo you perform, you are asked questions you have never been asked before. In order to answer a large number of questions that you can’t easily prepare for, it’s important to have detailed product knowledge that allows you to answer the wide range of questions you will receive. It’s all about credibility. And if you don’t know the system you are selling or understand the needs of HR, you aren’t credible.
Project Manage the selection process
If you have been selling HR for any amount of time, you fully understand that the process can be a long one. I’ve had deals that I worked for years before I finally saw a paycheck from the effort. Here’s my advice of how you can potentially shorten the process.
Someone has to project manage the whole process. If HR is not doing it, then you might also want to consider the project management piece as part of your responsibility. With every contact or meeting, it’s important that you do something to advance the process to the next step. At the end of each meeting, I would ask what the next step was and then summarize any deliverables that came up and set time tables for the deliverables. If I had just provided references to the client, I would ask how soon they could follow up with these references and then determine what our next step was after that. This is referred to as “advancing the sale.” For me, it’s a little bit of project management as well. Someone needs to keep the process moving forward. If you have internal assistance from others who are gathering information for you, you need to stay on top of them to make sure they are meeting your timelines. If there are individuals with the prospect’s company from which you are waiting for information, you need to follow up with them, as well, to make sure they are meeting their timelines.
It’s hard to believe but I was frequently amazed how poor a job HR sales reps did with this part of the process. If you tell the prospect you will get them references, additional information, or a proposal by a certain date, you had better do so. There is no easier way to lose credibility than to constantly follow up later than the time frame you set or to not follow up at all. If you can’t meet a time frame, at the very least, let the prospect know and provide a new time frame which, again, you had better meet. The process of selecting HR software is long enough; you don’t need to add to it by not following through on time tables that you have set.
When I was selling HR software, I used a number of different customer resource management systems. They all had the ability to schedule future calls. I used this feature and back then, started my day out doing exactly this. If a client asked me to check back with them in six months, I did so. And I was amazed at how often others did not. I won deals that others lost by effectively following up.
As mentioned previously, there is nothing easy about selling HR software. There are literally hundreds of reasons why you are going to lose deals you thought you had won. If I won every HR system sale I thought I should have, I would be sitting on my sailboat down in the Caribbean instead of writing this article. I would never suggest that one of my articles would guarantee success but, at the very least, I believe the tips offered in this article will make you a more effective HR software sales rep. The article outlines how I sold HR systems and I was pretty darn effective at it. While with Sage Software, I broke just about every sales record they had. As a reseller for over ten years, we were in the top 20% for sales from their large number of participating vendors. I hope the consultative approach works as well for you as it did for me.