With so much money pouring into HR and recruiting software at the moment, there’s never been a better time to monetize your confirmation bias, take up that cliched chorus of “recruiting is broken” and release a tool that takes any element of “human” out of Human Resources.
In this market, all that stands in your way are those shadowy, purse-string-wrangling HR leaders and decision makers you’re going to need to get past to make a sale and cash in.
10 Steps For Selling HR & Recruiting Software (Even If It Sucks)
But how, exactly, does one direct an HR Director to buy their software and profit from the power of their purse strings? It’s not easy, but here are 10 things HR and recruiting technology vendors can do right now to start up, cash in, sell out and bro down!
Step 1: Say, “It Has An Algorithm.”
First, don’t worry if you have no idea what the hell an algorithm actually is – neither do the majority of HR software buyers. What they do know is that it’s one of those big buzzwords that internet and consumer technology companies seem to be using all the time, and it sounds really important.
Of course, all you have to do is say “it’s like Google,” which all of them obviously use, and some of the more savvy ones might even understand more advanced technical terminology like “matching” or “ranking,” but don’t worry about backing up your BS.
Just keep saying that your tool has a new algorithm, and if pressed, tell them it’s proprietary and shoot them a knowing look. They’ll shut up. If not, just say it’s better than the search feature on LinkedIn, and you’ll inevitably kill off any further questions. Remember, it’s always a best practice to point to the purported strength of your algorithm to cover up your horrific design choices and terrible user experience.
If a prospective customer mentions that they’re considering another tool or talking with one of your competitors, make sure to belittle it and claim that the clunky, ugly interface you preside over is “hardcore computer science.”
Step 2: Hold your clients to a lengthy ‘implementation period.’
Sadly, the development of user friendly, intuitive and powerful software in the consumer market (and every other business function, for that matter) has caused HR buyers to expect more before finally signing on the dotted line.
That’s why it’s important to help indemnify your company against any expected or promised level of service by insisting on a lengthy “implementation period.”
In almost every other discipline, software is now sold as a service, with data stored on servers in the cloud (which, like algorithm, is another ubiquitous buzzword worth busting out). Tell your buyers that storing data remotely is insecure and a “risk” that could lead to potential liability.
The mere mention of the word “risk” will get their attention; after all, this is pretty much the Kryptonite of every HR department.
Step 3: Don’t Open Your API; Make Clients Pay A Premium For Existing Data or 3rd Party Integrations
After your buyer has agreed to the customary, lengthy implementation period, you’re now ready to start delivering half of the functionalities and features you originally promised or that they requested during the software selection process.
Be sure to intentionally omit any particular features that they seemed to really like when you were demoing your product, as these can be added on after the fact as “modules,” which can be priced and upsold accordingly. Similarly, if they’d like to import their existing candidate or employee database, make sure that you charge them to migrate and/or access their own data.
Remember: compatibility is for wimps! Why the hell would you even think about letting them use another tool that’s probably far superior to yours?
The easiest way to preempt this is simply to make exporting their data as difficult as importing it was. Problem solved.
Step 4: They”ll Want Analytics. So Add A Graph!
If you’ve been to any conferences or read any blogs recently, you’ll already have heard that “big data” is the next cool thing that every HR and recruiting pro needs to succeed.
This is why you should start peppering this meaningless buzzword into any conversation about your tool/app/rebranded ATS, which, of course, takes a “Big Data approach” to anything that it can’t actually handle.
Don’t worry about getting called out on this; like “algorithm,” it’s a magic #HRTech word that no one has to know is really an empty cliche.
You will, however, probably have to provide some basic “analytics” to your users. This is why it’s important your software not measure anything that encourages end users to ask more questions or discover the limitations in your software; this is best achieved by making generating reports or analyzing data so impregnable and counterintuitive that the user is forced to rely on the templates that come prepackaged with the system.
Don’t encourage them to expect anything that they can really use; you, of course, will be providing everything they need right out of the box. They can’t question what they can’t measure.
Hey, culture is hot right now, so when selling to HR and recruiting buyers, make sure to tell them your software can help them “differentiate” themselves and “level the playing field” in the “war for talent.”
For most buyers, the concept of ‘culture’ will probably boil down to uploading some generic photos of their office and a company logo. Let them do this, and maybe even score extra points by allowing them to link to their Pinterest page.
If your buyer seems really fixated on their unique culture, refer to candidates and applicants as a “talent pool.” They’ll love it.
Step 6: Copy a competitor’s tool.
The HR and recruiting technology has seen the proliferation of so many products at the moment that there’s undoubtably going to be some tool out there that does the exact same thing as the software you’re selling. It probably even does it better. But beating these competitors means more than just relying on buyer ignorance or indifference.
In some cases, you’ll be well advised to implement a “sort of” feature that does “almost” the same thing if you need to ensure a sale when up against a direct competitor; don’t worry if it’s not as good as the original tool you’ve copied.
All that really matters is that you’ll still hit the requirement and let them check the box on the RFP. There won’t be any repercussions, since the buyers are invariably not the ones who actually have to use the software, so will never know that your solution doesn’t deliver as promised.
The best thing about these MSFs (minimum saleable features) is that with enough of them, you can bolt together a bunch of crap on the same code base and call the resulting Frankensuite a “platform,” which in turn lets you make even loftier claims about your software’s capabilities. While the most prudent recruiters know how to use the right tool for the right job, let’s reiterate that buyers are not the users in this case.
If you can sell them on the Quixotic dream of “seamless interactions” and “end-to-end solutions,” then they’ll play along – and probably be blind later on to the reality that your platform is nothing more than a hodgepodge of “almost tools” cobbled together.
Step 7: Say Your Software is “Social.”
The social bandwagon is still trundling along nicely (at least if you’re in consulting or product), and while the early adopters and forerunners have already realized that being truly social requires actually having the time and personality to create meaningful engagement, there’s still a huge percentage of the market that still wants a shortcut – and is willing to pay a premium for the privilege.
You can cash in and make money off these lazy laggards by simply providing links to Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – throwing in a few feeds and calling it an “integration” should be enough to get away with calling your software “social.”
Remember, the best part about “social” is that it can’t be owned by a service provider. Instead, it relies on the end user taking the time to develop authentic, compelling communications and content – so if it fails, it’s never the fault of the tool; the blame lies entirely with the end user. Brilliant, right?
When you inevitably talk about “social” as a vendor, it’s very important to remember to only do so in the broadest and most sweeping of terms, as HR departments are a bit flighty, as a rule; only last week, they banned all use of social media and set up restrictive policies and procedures to preempt its use.
Now, they’re at the other extreme end of the spectrum; every HR department really, really wants to adopt social, and are doing so with “social tools” that basically do nothing more than spit up and regurgitate job postings to the few bots that happen to follow them. Of course, if you just RT them or are that one like they get on their careers fan page on Facebook, they’ll think you get it.
Step 8: Reinvent the Wheel; Charge Them For A Tool They’re Currently Using for Free!
When adding features, it’s important to monetize the tools that HR and recruitment are already using for free. For example, Skype and Google Hangouts are free of charge, easy to use and have been successfully utilized for years for remote interviewing at employers all over the world, resulting in abundant cost benefits, scalability and sustainability.
Of course, one can easily argue that Skype and Hangouts have inferior quality or (as always) put companies at risk due to data security issues, for example – you might need to get creative, but you should easily be able to get away with adding some weird functionality like recorded responses or a rating system to get them to start shelling out the big bucks for your shiny new software.
Video interviewing is valuable because it allows a human connection, after all, so obviously the best way to create that connection is to throw up a bunch of standard questions and have people pre-record their answers so that you can’t engage or follow up with them at all, nor personalize your approach in any way. Makes sense, right?
Step 9: Force the Customer Into Your Workflow
Despite their protestations that they face unique challenges and possess particular competitive advantages or market positioning, that hasn’t stopped a huge number of employers from forcing their candidates to fill out a ton of generic and redundant forms, often forcing them to duplicate efforts like inputting personal information several times throughout the hiring process.
This sucks for them, obviously, but you’re a software provider, so you only have one concern: pleasing the buyer. Forget ‘candidate experience’ and remember that it doesn’t matter to you in the slightest if candidates have to apply in triplicate if it makes the client happy.
Remember, you’ll only have to actually reveal the absurd workflow or arcane user interactions your system requires after the buyer has already been locked into a contract. What happens after the fact is their problem, not yours – the onus is on them if their end users get so fed up with your system that they try to bypass it by doing insane things like e-mailing themselves resumes or even – gasp – printing off hard copies for easier access. Not your circus, not your monkeys.
No matter how badly your system sucks, clients are trying so hard to differentiate themselves to prospective employees they’ll never notice that you make all of them jump through the same hoops or use the exact same instance of your software. It’s best to make sure that these workflows cannot be altered, and maybe even add a few roadblocks or extraneous steps just for fun.
Step 10: Never talk to anyone during the sales process who will actually be using the tool.
We’ve saved the most important step for last, so pay attention. Before selling anything to anyone, before you even go to market with your software product, it’s imperative to never, ever talk to any actual HR or recruiting end users. Most people who will eventually be stuck using your tool actually want to be saved from repetitive tasks, manual data entry or other high effort, low reward tasks probably required by their current software.
In fact, they’ll want a tool that enhances their capabilities, have a list of workarounds or process gaps that they want addressed to fix shortcomings in their existing technologies, and maybe, worst of all, come with a few ideas or additional requirements of their own.
While listening to these end users would probably improve user experience and the overall efficacy and adoption of your tool, these iterative improvements and boring back office offerings are incredibly unsexy and unattractive to the buyers and decision makers in HR, who will never themselves touch the tool you’re building. This is why it’s best to completely disregard potential users entirely.
Rule of thumb: If they don’t pay, they have no say. Which is why candidates really should just shut up, already.
Time To Start Selling!
Armed with this sage advice, you’re now well prepared to produce a tool that’s going to generate a lot of buzz and a sizeable amount of venture capital or other institutional investments while doing nothing to improve an employer’s ability to recruit or retain people.
Remember that there’s no individual or human interaction that can’t be successfully suppressed, ignored or automated away into oblivion – as long as you’ve got the right tools in place, of course.
Which is where you come in, naturally. Now, go close some deals.
About the Author: Matt Buckland is Head of Talent at Forward Partners an investment studio for early stage UK ecommerce startups.
Based in Hoxton, London, Forward Partners combine investment with practical hands-on expertise and insight. He also blogs at The King’s Shilling.