The Five Commandments to Guarantee Success Selling to HR

The Five Commandments of Selling to Human Capital

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Marketing & Selling to Human Resources

Having been an HR practitioner for a lot of years, I can say that I understand the frustration that we face when being approached by a business to business HR and Recruiting sales guy. He or she is cocky or confident and is offering us a solution to our HR problems they believe just can’t live without. Every encounter is nearly the same. Either through a sales call, email or casual networking encounter, my skin beings to crawls. Ninety-five percent of the time, the sales guy or gal and the marketer have no clue what it is that we actually do every single day. Here in lies the fundamental problem. The service provider doesn’t believe in HR. Because understanding HR is too much work, hassle and just gets in the way of developing leads and corralling hoards of HR professionals to that lead generation funnel they spent hundreds of hours developing instead of investing time in HR.

Five Commandments to Sell in Human Capital

A couple weeks ago I sat on a call with a handful marketing leaders who think they understand how to reach HR. Marketing words like sales lead, funnel and content marketing were thrown around with no mention of the value their product or service actually brings HR. They laughed together and patted each other’s backs discussing lead to sales ratio and their current pricy marketing campaign to sell into HR. It’s weird being on this side of things because I’m a practitioner first, and I got a really sick feeling that wouldn’t go away. I decided that it’s my duty as an HR practitioner to help educate marketers and sales professionals in this industry on how to engage and sell to HR. In my business, it’s a large amount of what I do. Hence, how I came up with the five commandments that guarantee success selling to HR.

  • HR is More Than a Sales Lead. We are actually civilized human beings. While we enjoy an occasional drink or two at an HR conference, we love our work. Working in this industry is not an easy job, and we’re tired of being seen as a walking dollar sign. I have senior HR leaders at Fortune 50 companies who don’t carry business cards or include their phone number or email on their card for that reason. Therefore, we don’t open your email marketing, answer the phone or come by your conference booth for more than that ridiculous swag you give away. We are more than a sales lead. Repeat after me. 
  • Quality is Better Than Quantity. While I listen to marketers discuss email conversation rates buying lead lists like they are going out of style, I am an advocate of quality over quantity when it comes to selling to HR. HR is a broad and complex industry covering topics like employee benefits, recruitment strategies and 360 review programs. Quit selling everything and anything to every contact in HR because our jobs are not created the same.
  • Present a Solution Instead of Offering a Sale. Because it’s so easy to create a direct mail piece with the sole purpose of selling into instead of providing value to HR. Because talking to HR requires knowledge, time and effort, companies should work to help solve our problems through adding value before rushing to the sale. Try establishing a relationship by establishing value and lead with a solution or resource to help us in HR. This can be in the form of online content through social media, blogs, white papers, webinars or in person meetings learning, absorbing and adding value to the thousands of proud practitioners who work in HR.
  • Kiss a Lot of Frogs. In this industry, practitioners are a social bunch and that means not making the conversation about you under any certain terms. While we are slow to trust, we are open to meeting and engaging new people who do the work. And by work I mean attending conference sessions, scheduling calls, asking questions and stepping outside of that 10 by 10 conference booth. Get to know us and kiss a lot of frogs to really learn about HR. Quite naturally, the conversation will lend to a mutually beneficial HR relationship and not a sale in HR.
  • Work Inconspicuously to Understand HR. I’m very proud of one of my current HR technology clients who is relatively new to HR. The CEO has spent thousands of hours casually meeting with practitioners, reading white papers, digesting knowledge and information in order to understand HR. Treating this time much like an anthropological research study, he is quietly positioning himself and his company for large enterprise sales in HR without a press release, any fanfare or a marketing angle. He is doing the work to understand and really sell to HR.

Perceptions and Hurdles Working in HR

Working in the field of human resources can be no picnic as we battle a corporate war on not two but three different fronts every single day.  The first is fighting to establish credibility with our executive team. The second is fighting perceptions by the media and thirdly by our employees. We are placed in organizations to serve as a intermediary that works for the larger organization but has a vested interest in representing the employee. Articles like this only damage our credibility because our role in the business is often misunderstood by many. We are so much more than the finger waving talking heads the media makes us out to be.

The key to really selling into HR is by taking the time to understand our work, our lives and our roles by immersing yourself into our quirky and sometimes cynical subculture that we appear to be. Because understand that for every single email you send or phone call you make to me, there are hundreds of service providers perpetuating the HR sales and marketing cliche that keeps you from guaranteeing your success in selling into HR.

Wanna learn more about creating good content and conversation that’s value focused for HR? Download my free ebook in blog post ideas by clicking here or check out the services I provide to industry service providers.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Learn more about Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource, and the host of the Workology Podcast. More of her blogs can be found here.

Reader Interactions


  1. Adam Donato says

    Jessica, thanks for the great article! I’m one of the founders of Card Isle (, and we are effectively a “Redbox” for personalized, print-on-demand greeting cards. Right now, we’re partnered with the HR teams at companies like Intel, Rackspace, and Belk. These locations have been thrilled to be able to empower their managers to genuinely recognize employees’ contributions. And the additional benefit of making sure that no anniversaries or birthdays are ever forgotten helps as well. I’d love to learn more from you about strategies for connecting with more HR professionals.

  2. Brooklyn Dicent says

    Wow this is awesome! I, like you have been in HR and now on the other side. I love this article. But it’s crazy AND an example, how the previous comment ignored the whole point of the article. Sellers are too eager to talk all about themselves without a thought about the HR leader. Frankly potential customers could not care less. Thank you for being so frank and open about this topic!!



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