How to Sell HR Software Right: 8 Top Mistakes That Undermine the Value of Your Solution & Stretch Your Purchase Cycle

From harping on about compliance to overlooking employee needs to leaving the deal to luck, this piece covers the good, the bad and the ugly of HR software selling.

Five years ago when I started working with the first HR solutions company on my resume, I would spend hours browsing articles to beef up my knowledge around “how to sell HR software”.

I would have been better off going by gut instinct. Because my experience showed that most of the instructions available are archaic at best or just plain wrong!

Yes, every self-respecting HR expert advises against the “hard sell”, the “pushy salesman persona” and the pitfalls of a poor pitch.

But somehow the focus is on turning “selling” into the enemy. Which is rather ridiculous. Selling is absolutely essential.

In fact, if you are not selling your HR solution – you are doing your clients a disservice. They might sign up with someone else – a brand that is simply not geared to serve their best interests.

Wake Up. HR Managers Know the Game.

Yup. Human Resources has been dealing with humans for a very long time. They see through that complicated orchestration of maneuvers you think constitute “sell free” selling.

They couldn’t care less about how aggressive you are, if what you bring to the table is exactly what they think is right for them.

So you have to sell. The only thing is you must sell right. Here are 8 common mistakes to avoid and alternative approaches to ensure that:

  • You set the right expectations
  • You deliver on what you have promised
  • You have a short purchase cycle followed by speedy deployment
  • You get clients the all-important first win and turn them into high lifetime value (HLV) customers

Mistake #1: Selling Features Instead of Solutions

People aren’t really like widgets. The ones with anger management issues are often the star performers as well. The target laggards are hard workers who keep trying. Who should stay? Who is dispensable?

No decision is black or white. This is why pitching a list of features that do A, B and C isn’t a successful approach to take with HR software.

Managers do want the payroll integration, the exit interview formats and easier performance review templates.

But in the end they are looking for comprehensive solutions that take them from where they are to where they would like to be with their workforce.

Features look fine on brochures. But when you are trying to establish the value of your offering,

  • Take time to build rapport with your point of contact
  • Understand the goals of the organization and how the HR asset can be leveraged to hit them
  • Prepare a presentation or a client specific Unique Selling Proposition that uses your software features as the backbone to propose a solution. A solution that is capable of eliminating the problems faced by the HR department and equipping employees to facilitate the goals

Mistake #2: Failing to Go Beyond “Not Getting Sued”

Compliance is big in HR. And yes, it has its place. I am well aware of the fact that a company has an 11.7% chance of being slapped with an employee lawsuit over the course of a year.

With so many sweeping changes (like the New Overtime Rule) it is better to be cautious than to be caught on the wrong side of law.

But here’s the deal, compliance isn’t what HR managers live, breathe and worship at the altar of.

In fact a survey by SkillRoad shows that 53% of the talent management community is invested in finding ways to build an attractive organizational culture and 51% want to source the right candidates in one go.

The unspoken focus is “reducing employee churn”.

So make that your Holy Grail as well. Speak to your clients in the language they understand and show them how your software solution can deliver results in the arenas they are concerned about.

Mistake #3: Going Tech on HR Managers

This was nearly three years ago. I was preparing the webinar slides for a SaaS HR solutions company.

And the content was so technical that I with my engineering background had to pull up several references to understand and then express what the CMO wanted to convey.

That particular presentation had the lowest engagement rate of all our efforts till date.

People, HR leads from large firms, started dropping off the stream like flies. And I seriously do not blame them.

So here’s a tip. Don’t suggest that your software works on an algorithm. Do not bring “Big Data” into conversations if you are not really leveraging BI concepts like predictive and prescriptive analytics (see how painful that sounds?).

Just steer clear of the jargon.

When you are asked a question, answer it in a way your HR manager or contact will understand right away and better still resonate with. Make it easy for them to sign on the dotted line.

Playing hard to “get” only looks good in Hollywood movies!

Mistake #4: Holding Clients Hostage for Modules

Remember I suggested that you should propose a complete solution to your clients with your features as the backbone?

There is something else to that recommendation. Your software is likely tiered if it is a physically installed product.

If you are a SaaS variant you have multiple subscription plans.

Always gauge the budget of the company, get a good idea of the option they are aiming for and in your proposed solution use only the features that they will get in the plan they are the most likely to choose.

If their expectations from the software can’t be fulfilled by the option that their budget will get them, be frank about the restriction.

Transparency is highly appreciated, especially in HR departments where the asset being managed is temperamental to say the least.

Never, I repeat never, hold the client hostage for module upgrades after they are locked in the contract.

Mistake #5: Positioning Culture Even If You Can’t Ace It

You already know that HR managers are interested in strengthening company culture because 88% of Millennials (who are soon to be the largest segment in the workforce) value culture aspects like work-life integration and collaboration over compensation.

But don’t claim that your software solution can support branding and culture building if all you offer is the ability to upload the company logo and a rarely used community board.

A HR product that aces culture is one:

  • That adapts to the existing workflow of the employees
  • That makes collaboration truly easy with one touch video chats, conversation documentation and quick access to managers without endless protocol
  • That allows employees to review and realize the value that is added to their lives by the company through robust reward management

Anything less doesn’t qualify for the tag of “culture enhancer”.

Mistake #6: Not Talking to Your End-Users

Most HR software solution companies get down to selling without speaking to the end users who adopt the product and make it a success.

Their requirements are often quite different from the list of needs your HR contact hands you.

While it is essential to appeal to the managers and the final purchasers, it is also imperative to have features that improve productivity and enhance the competence of the end users.

Once the sale has been finalized, meet with and survey the HR department workers as well as the office employees.

Take the gold you mine from these sessions and prepare trainings which show them how to get the results they crave.

It’s all about balancing decision maker appeasement with true usefulness for end users.

Mistake #7: Not Helping Your Contact Re-Sell Your Solution

Selling HR software is hard. And it is because you end up pitching to someone who isn’t the actual purchaser.

The power to say “Yes” may lie with the CEO. Or the MD! But your tool will be a part of the everyday life of the HR department workers and the general employees.

So while your contact will appreciate the fact that retaining a sales person for three years instead of two actually increases the value of the company by 1.3 million dollars over the period, the decision makers need hard return on investment numbers instead of soft return on objectives.

Be the consultant who is eager to help as HR tries to re-sell your solution to the bosses. Offer data, insights, case studies – anything you can to make the job easier.

Mistake #8: Forgetting the Follow-Up

This isn’t your average follow-up sequence of reminders and free chat offers.

Selling HR software is like warming milk. Look the other way, even for a second and the whole thing turns into a mess.

You pretty much have to take on the role of a project manager. Ensure that every meeting ends with a clear understanding of the “Next Actions” for all the stakeholders.

There should be measurable progress after every touch point. And the onus is on you to make it happen.

When you are proactive and basically always getting back to the managers reminding them of how much your solution is needed, your efforts will pay off and the sales cycle will be shortened.

If you are stressing over how to sell HR software and not come across as a pushy salesman, first and foremost get over the notion that selling is sleazy.

Put the customer first, understand their agenda, be transparent and proactive and learn to say “No”.

The client isn’t always right and your product can’t do everything at one price point. Pitch a solution that is effective and feasible and you should do just fine.

I did!

– – –

If you are stressing over how to sell HR software, here’s a quick recap of the 8 steps to help you succeed:

  1. Don’t lead with features. Pitch a comprehensive solution that will take the company from where it is to where it wants to be in terms of talent utilization.
  1. Go beyond “compliance”. The people who will sign the deal are more concerned about employee churn. Highlight your product’s abilities in this regard.
  1. Steer clear of jargon. The decision makers don’t care about algorithms and Big Data.
  1. Don’t hold your clients hostage for modules. Get a clear idea of their budget and be upfront about what they will get in the subscription plans they’re considering.
  1. If your product doesn’t ace workflow flexibility, collaboration and reward management, it’s NOT a culture enhancer. Don’t even go that way.
  1. Talk to the people who will use your product every day, understand their challenges and add the insights to your pitch.
  1. Provide the company contact with everything he needs to “sell” your product to the decision makers. Case studies, insights and data – every little thing helps.
  1. Follow up. Follow up. Follow up. The sale won’t fall in your lap.

Just stick to these principles and you should do fine. Trust me, I did.


Written By

Trina Moitra

Trina is a part of the CakeHR content team. She is a marketing funnel creator who has worked with 5 reputed HR SaaS startups and established ventures over the past several years. She has experience understanding how HR software should be sold and uses persuasion based strategies to generate results.