How to Sell to HR


The human capital and HR industry is a hard nut to crack. It’s an elitist and exclusive female dominated bunch. The men in the industry likely came from the recruiting or operations side of the house. Outsiders are viewed skeptically particularly those who have something to sell or market to the buyers in our industry. Selling and marketing in human resources is not an easy thing.

HR Tech is a Huge Opportunity for Investment Firms & Founders

I find this in direct conflict to the creative and technology boom that is upon us. HR technology startups are springing up nearly every single day on the heels of the success of recent acquisitions and IPO’s of Bright, WorkDay and SuccessFactors. Click here to view a comprehensive list. Both investment firms and startup founders see huge opportunity in developing technologies and tools for our industry without really understanding the nuances and complexities. One investment firm associate told me his job isn’t to understand the HR industry. His job is to fund companies who can scale to $1 billion in revenue. I totally, understand where this guy was coming, but I still think it’s important to protect your investments, and that starts with really understanding the human capital industry BEFORE to invest any money.

A couple years ago, I met with a startup at a recruiting conference in San Diego who contacted me to set up a briefing. The founder was bright and had built an interesting full service platform that included an application tracking system, interviewing technology, video, and HRIS and payroll processing system. It was quite impressive, however, he had built the platform  without all without talking to, studying or researching his target sales demographic which for him was the small to medium sized business HR practitioner. He told me, “HR is stupid. This fact is the reason I created the technology.” Not exactly the best way to build a relationship with the audience you are selling to.

How Not to Sell to HR

This is often the case when it comes to marketing and sales generation in HR and recruiting especially among startups. Companies can’t afford to bring in an expert or maybe they refuse to. Instead they hire on a young and hungry marketer or sales professional who doesn’t know the first thing about what it’s like to be in HR. Sometime this risk pays off, but most it does not. There seems to be a lot of turnover in marketing professionals who work for small startups in HR. This first mistake is one that leads to many, many more and often the death sentence that results in failure of a startup in the HR. Remember UpMo, JobFox and BetterWorks? They are examples of failures we, as technologies in HR can choose to learn from.

In this series, I’ll be taking a more in depth analysis of how HR is currently being sold to and the trends and current practices that vendors are using to target buyers in what many predict in 2015 is an $8.1 billion industry. Sales and marketing uses a funnel theory like you see below. It’s important to differentiate between the activities of sales activities like lead generation and sales qualifying from PR and buzz marketing as well as brand building. Sometimes the path to a sales is foggy especially when you factor in social media and influence marketing. These two are extremely important components in marketing in the HR and recruiting space. These are also not activities in this industry that are free. Do not expect to woo experienced consultants or bloggers with the promise of free exposure or product access. These are not things that appeal to those who do this for a living and not just a part time hobby.

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At current, there are five ways to sell to HR. Each one is unique and there are certainly best practices that are happening in the space. I’ll be discussing each of these give at length as part of this series focusing on the trends, tactics and what works in order to sell and market to HR and recruiting.

  • Pay for Placement including PPC, online advertising and magazines
  • Conferences & In Person Events
  • Buzz & Content Marketing
  • Webinars and Online Lead Gen Marketing
  • Relationship Marketing & Networking

Selling to HR starts with understanding your intended sales target, learning and understanding what keeps them up at night. This allows you to develop a product, a strategy and formulate a marketing conversation that provides an opportunity to showcase your product in a way that is different than your competition. And in a meaningful way.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, SHRM-SCP (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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