Jan 19, 2011
Increasingly, I’m seeing organizations change their buying habits, at least in theory. Vendor selections are no longer the total domain of functional requirements as they once were. We don’t care nearly as much about feature functionality and our ability to customize the software to our specific needs. Instead, we’re shifting to a couple of different concepts: first, it’s about the outcome. Second, it’s about the partnership. Maybe…
The problem is when we actually get into a vendor selection. I’m constantly in vendor demos where both the buyers and the sellers are totally focused on the functionality they need to present. Consultants still focus on the scripted demos that vendors need to skip, hop and jump through, and audiences still sit through demos asking questions like, “what does that button do?” Accordingly, vendors go to demos prepared with the full arsenal of System Consultant knowledge, tailored systems with client logos, and the ability to demo as much of the application’s “flashy stuff” as is available.
We like to pretend we are thinking differently, and in the back of our minds, we know we should be. But get us down to the details and we just can’t help ourselves. It’s almost impossible for buyers to back up a few steps and ask, “Can my employee link their career path to their internal job searches?” rather than “We have a field on the search results screen that tells employees what business unit the job is in.” One is outcomes oriented, the other is purely tactical.
The point of this post is that while we know the market is changing, it’s going to change with our without us, whether we like it or not. Forward thinking buyers are interviewing HR vendor executives to understand the level of partnership they are going to have. They are asking for client referrals and not talking about the software experience, but instead about service and support. Forward thinking vendor sales reps are not putting their eggs in the product demonstration – that is only a hurdle to them. Instead, they are creating relationships with HR executives outside of normal sales presentations to show clients what the experience would be like and to introduce them to key members of the product development and executive teams.
At the end of the day, we should care less about the software that vendors are providing to us. They all pretty much do the job. In the future, the differentiator will be about how dynamically a vendor will go through hoops to find solutions for the things about you that are genuinely unique. It’s about whether they care enough to find a solution and work with you, or if it simply goes on an enhancement request list 3 years long. It’s about whether your HR VP can pick up the phone and call a vendor executive when there really is a problem. I’ve seen good and bad vendor relationships throughout the years. While I’ll admit that in the past, poor functionality could certainly sink the relationship, the one commonality between the good relationships was the agreement to partner and understand how to provide and receive services.