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6 Min Read

How to be a Savvy Buyer of Performance Management and Employee Engagement Software

Brett Ungashick

Brett Ungashick is the founder of OutSail, a Denver-based company that provides free services to help HR teams research, evaluate and select new technologies. Brett started his career by selling software to HR teams at LinkedIn, before recognizing a growing need from software buyers for support throughout their buying processes. OutSail was founded in 2018 and has helped over 500 companies with new HR software purchases including companies like SalesLoft, DoorDash and the Boys & Girls Club of America

Since the pandemic started, many businesses have begun making their first significant investments in performance management and employee engagement tools.

Remote work and hybrid workplaces are here to stay, and company demographics continue to skew towards millennial and Gen X workforces. With all of these external changes, businesses are trying to figure out how to create dynamic, high performing teams in this new world.

The right software platform can help a business check-in on their employees well-being, get continuous feedback from their workforce, develop high-performing managers and enable a more dynamic performance management cycle.

However, as many buyers know, the wrong solution can end up with low adoption and wasted spend. So, how do you – a savvy HR software buyer -get the decision right?

1.) Start internally

Determine your biggest priorities

Before you go to market, make sure you know exactly what you’re looking for. If you don’t know exactly what you need, then it will be very hard to discern between different options and you’ll also open yourself up to being sold unnecessary features and functionality.

When it comes to finding the right performance management and employee engagement platform, it is important to determine what business challenges you want to prioritize solving.

We always recommend our clients boil their needs down to a few key outcomes. If this project could only succeed in three areas, what would those be? Often that can be: better insights into employee sentiments, integrations with existing HRIS/Payroll systems, more transparency from employees on where they stand, additional resources and insights for people managers to leverage.

Build consensus

Get your team together and bought in before you go to market. The last thing that you’ll want to do is spend hours falling in love with a certain software platform, only to find out that your teammates aren’t onboard with the decision.

We always recommend having a project kick-off call with your cross-functional stakeholders. This meeting helps you bring allows you to hear from your key stakeholders early on and it makes the project real for everyone.

In this meeting, ask each member of the project team two questions:

  • What do you hope to get out of this transition?
  • What do you need to see from a vendor to be comfortable enough to move?

Having this meeting will allow you to determine who are your project advocates and who are the people who you will need to work on, in order to get their buy in

2.) Shortlist efficiently

Start broad

Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s time to figure out who can do it.

The first thing you’ll want to do is just start broadly. Build your initial list by canvasing review websites and blogs, and reaching out to your colleagues and peers to see which names pop up the most.

It will be easier to feel confident in your final decision, if you’ve already ruled out a number of competing options.

Additionally, there are free services that can recommend the right vendors for you, based on your requirements and goals.

Narrow quickly

But how do you rule out options without getting on demos? I’m glad you asked. There are three ways:

  1. Missing functionality – Go to software vendors websites to see if any of them do not have key modules that are in your requirements (i.e., vendors that only do performance management, but not engagement surveys)
  2. Size Match & Scalability – Go to software review websites and see what sized companies are predominantly reviewing these platforms. If all of the reviews come from companies with fewer than 50 employees, you’ll know this is an SMB tool and might be too limiting. Vice versa, if all of the reviews are from companies with 1,000+ employees, you’ll now this is an enterprise tool and might be too robust
  3. Low Market Presence – Check each software vendors’ LinkedIn page to see how many employees they have, their Crunchbase page to see their ownership structure and funding. Also look at different review websites to see how many reviews they have. You don’t need to go with the biggest option in the market, but the vendor should have a decent sized team, some customer reviews and growth potential

3.) Evaluate discerningly

Prepare for demos

Don’t show up to the meetings empty handed and expect the salesperson on the other end to give you all of the answers you’re looking for.

Your job is to be the one driving the evaluations, not the one who gets sold to.

Create a meeting agenda to make it clear to the vendor what needs to be covered. Come up with key questions and workflow scenarios that you want to see the vendors respond to in real-time.

A little preparation will go a long way in making sure you get everything you need out of your 60-90 minute demonstrations

Align around key criteria

Don’t forget about that key criteria that you worked so hard to build in the first phase.

When you’re preparing for your vendor meetings, build a scorecard tool that can weigh each of those criteria accordingly.

Also, make sure that when you’re preparing your agenda and questions, you’ll have a chance to cover each of those key drivers

4.) Select confidently

Check references

References are a high variance resource. The right reference can really open your eyes to what to expect moving forward. However, many references are available because they had the perfect experience, which may not always be replicable.

Request each of your finalists to provide references. And be specific about what type of reference you want (i.e., someone who left the same platform as me, is in the same industry, built a similar integration, etc.)

When speaking to those references, get a real sense of what the day-to-day partnership is like. Ask about support turnaround times. Ask about the process of setting up integrations.

A great question to ask is always: What did you wish you knew when you were in our shoes?

Always negotiate

Negotiations are the most underutilized step in the HRIS buying process. Buyers just assume that the list price is fixed and can’t be moved.

But in our experience, almost every single buyer who negotiates ends up with a far better deal.

We’ve built a long guide detailing how to negotiate, but a few of the key things to keep in mind are:

  • It’s a give and a take, so if you want better terms, you’ll likely have to agree to signing a contract by a certain date
  • Your sales rep is your ally, so arm them with what they need to bargain on your behalf
  • Annual software fees are always more valuable than implementation fees