How knowing what you can and can’t be flexible on will help you make better HRIS decisions, and how this and other things can help you make the most of pre-sales sessions.

By Tom Elliott

I don’t know about you, but whenever I start a new job, or take the next step in my career, for the first six months the first thing I think about when I learn something new is – ‘I wish I’d known this in my last job!’. Whether it’s a new technical competency, or a soft skill I’d never had a chance to develop before, my immediate thought is how I would have done things differently in the past if I’d had the benefit of that knowledge then.

One of the things that was completely new to me when I started with was pre-sales consulting. I didn’t really understand what it was, much less how to do it well. I did a lot of watching and learning from other very skilled people and adjusted my approach through experience and practice.

Although obviously that experience and practice is helpful now, I quite often look back on selection processes I was part of in the past as a customer, and wish I’d had then the knowledge and understanding that I have now.

So, I guess you could call this – a letter to my former self. How you, as an HR leader, or anyone who has a voice when it comes to the selection of new solutions in your HR function, can make the most of the pre-sales process.

First of all – what is pre-sales? For me as a consultant, it’s an opportunity to show you the solutions we have available, and what they can do for you. If you like it, you might buy it – but believe it or not that’s not my main aim. My main aim is to make sure you understand what we have and help you make the right decision for your business.

For you as a customer, it’s an opportunity to measure one or more options, compare them to what you need and what your budget is, and make a purchasing decision.

If you’re about to start that evaluation process – even if it’s me or my team you’re going to be talking to – here are my five top tips for getting the most out of it.

1. Brief me in advance

Some governance-heavy procurement processes preclude this – which I never understand. If I’m going to help your business move forward, I need to know things about you. Some of what I can offer, you might not even have thought about yet.

Don’t let your own imagination be a limiting factor in your future success. Tell me where you are now. Tell me what works and what doesn’t. Tell me where you want to be in the future. Tell me what you’re like as an employer – good and bad. Tell me what your staff would say about working for you.

Ask me to sign an NDA if it makes you feel more comfortable, that’s all fine. Just give me a sense of your current state and your future ambitions and let me do what I do best.

2. Know your non-negotiables

It helps if these are part of the briefing, but you absolutely have to know them before you make any big decisions. What are the things you cannot flex on for whatever reason.

If you’re a design firm where your people are very aesthetically focused and look and feel is paramount – tell me. If you must be able to track leave in both hours and days – tell me. If your managers don’t like to be called managers and so you need the system to use the words ‘grand high inquisitor’ instead (joke, but I have heard something similar) – flag it up.

I have a whole toolkit of HCM solutions for you and which one I pull out of the kit bag is very much dictated by how much I know about you. I’m more likely to hit the nail on the head for you if you’ve told me where that nail is.

As an aside, for non-negotiables, think about:

  • User experience
  • Policies that are set in stone
  • Problems you’ve had in previous systems that have to be fixed or it’s not worth doing anything
  • Reporting capabilities

3. Ask me to show you at least two processes

I’d suggest picking the most commonly used one (i.e. the one that everyone will moan the most about) and the biggest pain point. Let me show me how they work in our bag of tricks. This gives you a pretty good sense of how your users will experience the system. Combine this with your non-negotiables and you’ll get a pretty good idea how good a fit our solution could be for you.

4. Challenge me

Ask me about a difficult process, or a nuance which is particular to your business. I’m not afraid of telling you when something’s a gap for us – we’ll find it sooner or later when we start implementing anyway. Let’s uncover it now and have an open discussion about how we solve it. Then you’ll know what to expect, and you’ll also know that I’m not trying to fob you off with sales-speak.

5. Ask me about our culture

It always surprises me that more people don’t ask this overtly. I train the HCM delivery team to think as members of your extended team throughout the implementation. This means being careful with the budget, treating people and their time with respect, and raising problems (let’s not try and pretend there never are any) for discussion early so they can be addressed and resolved. If we’re part of your extended team, then pre-sales is as much a job interview as it is product selection.

Ask me what our culture is like. Ask me how we treat each other. Ask me how we deal with difficult conversations. We’re likely to be around for six months at least – you need to be confident we’re not introducing toxicity into your carefully curated culture.

These five things are safely stored away in a notebook marked ‘things I want to remember when I go back to being a customer’, and they apply just as much to HCM purchasing decisions as to other software. Of course, if you want to practice these and have a little look at Microsoft’s HCM solution toolkit while you’re at it, you know where we are.