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How NOT to Buy Talent Tech

“Buying talent tech” means getting an off-the-shelf solution for your talent needs. The right talent tech stack is your secret weapon, ensuring the best experience for candidates and employees in hiring, onboarding, and retaining top talent. With over 2,500 talent tech vendors now available, the choices are vast and often confusing. We’ve written best practice articles previously about how to Re/design your Talent Tech Stack and how to get the most out of an RFP process. These are brilliant resources that can help you navigate these critical yet overwhelming processes, we’re not going to try and build on those today.


Instead, we’re going to take things back a step, and look at the pre-purchase “market scan” talent professionals will undertake at the very start of their talent tech journey. They often say the first step is the hardest, and it’s absolutely true in this case - your success here will determine your entire journey.


The Trough of Disillusionment


Imagine this: you’ve just inked a new multi year, hundred-thousand dollar contract with a new talent tech vendor. Moments later, you see a LinkedIn post from an acquaintance, sharing a great new solution for the exact problem you are trying to solve, from a vendor you’ve never heard of. “Argh!”, you think, “How did I miss them? Are they better, cheaper, faster, stronger??”


This feeling was coined by Gartner as the “trough of disillusionment”, this fear that you’ve inflated your expectations, then potentially missed out on a better solution.

The impact of buying and implementing the right tech

What we want to do is lower expectations, ensure we have done enough due diligence to avoid the trough of disillusionment, and then slide right on into the plateau of productivity.


What people usually do


In my years of Consulting, I’ve not come across many TA or HR professionals who don’t love being part of tech selection. It’s understandable, the process allows you to step out of BAU and for a while, be part of something new and exciting which is generally triggered by a desire to solve a problem or achieve a goal. When most TA or HR professionals get started with a market-scan, it’s usually done in a handful of predictable ways. Here’s what they do, why you shouldn’t, and what you should do instead.


1. Expecting the Vendor to provide a silver bullet

Many expect the technology to solve all their problems, asking vendors to tailor their solutions to the specific nuances of their organisation. This often happens without a thorough understanding of their own business processes and requirements before making a purchasing decision.


Why you shouldn’t: Technology is a powerful enabler but alone it cannot fix broken processes or replace missing capabilities or misaligned mindsets. Vendors are primarily focused on getting a workable solution "live," which may not be the best possible solution for your needs. Additionally, unexpected issues often arise during the design phase or rollout, which can derail the entire project. Therefore, it's crucial to fully understand your own processes and requirements before engaging with vendors.


2. Go with what you know


If you’ve had a good experience with one vendor, or already have some of their solutions within your stack, chances are you’ll consider them again. Failing that, you’ll think of tools you’ve worked with in other positions, demos you have seen, and other familiar faces from events or whatever fills your  LinkedIn feed. Put bluntly, you know these guys, and they sell a product that solves your needs. 


Why you shouldn’t:This one should be obvious, but if you only go with what you know, there’s no way you’re going to get a good evaluation of all possible vendors. Remember the stats, there are over 2,500 unique talent tech platforms available in the market. Are you considering new entrants to the market or the rising stars that are growing fast in other regions (or outside your bubble?) The issue with this approach is it means you’re likely taking a very narrow view of the entire market, and are exchanging due diligence for comfort.


3. Seek Social Proof in Industry Groups


After exhausting their personal rolodex, many TA or HR professionals will branch out to their LinkedIn community, Slack groups or other industry forums where professionals share their experiences. They pose questions like “Has anyone used company X for use case Y?” or even simpler “Can anyone recommend an HRIS?” in order to get some valuable insight from actual customers.


Why you shouldn’t: Replies to these questions often come from the vendors themselves, referral partners (who stand to make money with each referral) or people who have “heard great things” but don’t necessarily use the product themselves. Mainly, your community will share unqualified recommendations without truly understanding your business requirements, strategy or budget. While you might get some valid suggestions, you’re also likely to burn hours filtering out the noise.


4. Rely on Analysts Reviews

Some HR Tech analyst sites provide free and in-depth vendor recommendations and feel like a goldmine to inexperienced buyers of Talent Tech. “Wow,” they think, “These guys have ranked every possible solution in a really easy to understand chart, I have a ready made shortlist!” It almost seems too good to be true. That’s because it is. 


Why you shouldn’t:

Imagine this, you’re attending a big industry event (think HR Tech / Unleash etc). It’s finally time for the keynote presentation from a famous individual HR Tech analyst OR organisation. The presentation is slick and names of vendors are being dropped endlessly. The speaker is not name dropping out of kindness, they are paid handsomely by those vendors to make those mentions. It cuts the same for the Analysts producing the quadrants / ecosystem reports. These reports when published are lead magnets fuelled by the featured vendors own PR machines (as they pat themselves on the back). The reality is these reports operate on a “pay to play” model. In many cases, to be included in the research requires financial investment (or sponsorship?) Often (but not always) there is a strong correlation between the level of vendor investment and the vendor's eventual position in the top right hand corner. 


Some of the ecosystem reports have a tendency to pigeon hole vendors into the “Category” which they originally came to market as and not assess them on what solutions they offer today. This is an issue because of the general industry trend of category consolidation / platforming where one vendor may offer all the following. ATS, CRM, Conversational AI, Onboarding, Video Interviewing, CV Matching/ Scoring but for reasons unknown to us don’t feature in each of those categories, just their original category. 


As objective analysts, we recognise that the reports and recommendations are valuable as they generally highlight genuine best of breed performers. The issue exists in who is missing from the lists or who is on the list and really shouldn't be. Are SAP, Workday and Oracle really “strategic challenges / leaders” in Talent Acquisition? Relying exclusively on these sources may result in excluding the new entrants to the market or the rising stars whilst spending time evaluating the falling stars of yesteryear. 


5. Take review sites as gospel


Platforms like G2 and Capterra use meta-analysis of vendor information and user-generated reviews to provide recommendations based on your search criteria. Perfect! What’s better than actual customer feedback in determining the quality of a product?


Why you shouldn’t: These sites make recommendations based on simple maths and without context: how many “good” reviews does a company have. More doesn’t always mean better, and just because a company has a lot of positive reviews, doesn’t make them the right fit for you.


As an example, go to G2 or Capterra and run a search for ‘Recruitment Solution’ or ‘ATS’, after the featured sponsor listings you’ll most likely get a bunch of mid market HCM platforms rated highest. Yes, those HCM platforms have a recruitment module, (with a fair degree of confidence we can tell you now it’s most likely pretty poor) it’s probably not great, and definitely not as good as a platform from a smaller vendor that is specifically built-for-purpose.


What you should do instead

Okay we’ve told you what not to do and why, now here are four tips to keep you on your toes, and tick that due diligence box:


1. Read more. For detailed information and best practices on Re/designing your Talent Tech Stack click here. For more information on how to get the most out of an RFP process click here


2. Define Your Use Case and Problem Statement. Clearly understand your exact needs and problems before engaging with vendors. Prepare a detailed problem statement and ensure that demos are tailored to address your specific challenges. Generic demos won’t give you the clarity you need.


3. Conduct Thorough Demos. Schedule multiple demos with potential vendors, including your technical team, such as programmers and subject matter experts. Assess whether the vendor brings their own experts or just salespeople. This will help you gauge their seriousness and capability in addressing your needs.


4. Do your own research. Investigate each vendor’s financial background and future forecasts. How new are they? Do they have any notable clients? How many new customers have they onboarded in your country / region in the past 12- 24 months? Can you speak with 2 or more referees with similar use cases who implemented in the last 12 - 24 months? 


Conclusion

Evaluating the market for new tech solutions is hard and often overwhelming. The risk of making a bad decision can cost millions of dollars and seriously harm your reputation. Talent Tech Solutions are independent HR Tech industry analysts. We know the vendors, we implement the solutions. We can give you the real world take on what will work. In doing so, saving you time, money and the heartache of a poor decision.


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