A Marketer’s Guide to Understanding the Human Resources Industry (and Marketing to HR)
The Human Resource Department – aka Talent Management
The human resources function of an organization is responsible for all the practices and processes that impact the company’s most important asset, its employees. From recruiting to training to employer, and employee branding – HR now finds itself in the middle of social media.
More specifically, a company’s human resources (HR) department is responsible for finding, screening, recruiting and developing talent, overseeing organizational leadership and culture, administering employee-benefit programs and ensuring compliance with employment and labor laws. HR is also responsible for aligning HR practices to the strategic and long-term goals of the organization.
The Human Resource Marketplace
The human capital marketplace is a multi-billion dollar industry encompassing tens of thousands of suppliers selling hundreds of different types of products and services. When you consider virtually every business purchases at least one HR product or service, you can appreciate the total size of this unique marketplace. In fact, the HR department, arguably, makes more purchasing decisions for more products and services than any other corporate department.
In a given year an estimated $785 billion is spent on employee benefit products and services alone (Thomas Weisel Partners).
- Consolidation. Large HR software and services companies continue to acquire smaller vendors across all HR categories as they strive to be an ‘end to end’ solution provider. However, this does not mean the total number of HR vendors is decreasing. It is not.
- More vendors. Cloud computing and other technological advancements have significantly reduced entry barriers. This, combined with and an abundance of new investment capital, has lead to an overall growth in the number of HR solution providers.
- More partnerships. Many corporations prefer to work with a limited number of vendors. This, combined with the trend of larger HR solution providers wanting be end-to-end has resulted in an increased number of partnerships amongst HR vendors (e.g., a large talent management vendor partnering with a smaller video interviewing company).
- More choices and pricing pressure. With the number of HR solution providers increasing (more supply) businesses now have more choices and this has resulted in price wars within certain HR product categories.
- More social. HR has traditionally been a hard to reach group compared to other business departments. While this is still the case, more and more HR professionals are active on social and this makes communicating with them easier.
Needless to say the HR industry is crowded and competitive. Having a great product doesn’t guarantee success. To stand out, you need great messaging, quality content and aggressive marketing.
Categorizing the Human Resources Marketplace
Before you can claim your target market or markets, you should have an overall understanding of how the HR industry is organized. We understand there are many ways of categorizing the human resources industry but we believe the simplest and most logical method is to organize the industry within the following HR pillars:
- Recruitment and Staffing: The area of human resource management responsible for finding and hiring new employees. Types of products and services related to recruitment and staffing include: job boards, job distribution technologies, applicant tracking technologies (ATS), relocation firms, recruitment process outsourcing (RPO), talent pools and communities, employment branding, video interviewing, background screening, testing and assessment, mobile recruiting, candidate marketing, candidate relationship marketing (CRM), reference checking, executive search/placement firms, internet recruiting, background checking services, etc. For the most part, this category ends when the employee is hired.
- Compensation/Payroll: The area of human resource management responsible for compensating employees. Types of products and services include: Payroll processing, time and attendance, tax and compliance, compensation design, compensation modeling, forecasting and management, salary statistics services and total compensation statements,. The products and services related to compensating employees is highly integrated with the next category, employee benefits.
- Employee Benefits: The area of human resource management responsible for a wide variety of non-wage compensation (e.g., benefits and perks) provided to employees. Types of products and services include: traditional health and welfare benefits, worksite/voluntary products, discount shopping, pharmacy benefit programs, benefits administration and communication software, third-party administrators, retirement plan services, wellness programs, workers’ compensation/disability insurance services, employee assistance (EAP) and work-life, dependent care and on-site childcare services, professional employment organizations (PEO), etc..
- Talent Management/Employee Relations: The area of human resource management responsible for all the human resources services related to managing the individual once they are hired as an employee. Types of products and services include: screening and assessment, performance evaluation, employee surveys, rewards and recognition, diversity, mentoring, succession planning services, talent management software, etc..
- Training and Development: The area of human resource management responsible for training and developing employees. Types of products and services include: instructor-based training, eLearning solutions, analytics and measurement, blended learning, learning management systems (LMS), gamification technologies, online collaboration tools, surveys and evaluations, etc..
- Workforce Planning and Analytics: The area of human resource management responsible for identifying an organization’s future workforce needs. Types of products and services include: Workforce planning software, organization charting and redesign, predictive modeling, change management, benchmarking, HR scorecards, competency analysis, internal mobility, labor supply and demographics, etc.
- Legal and Compliance: The area of human resource management responsible for ensuring compliance with employment and labor laws. Types of products and services include: labor relations, legislation, litigation, alternative dispute services, contract disputes, employment contracts, employment discrimination, OSHA, HIPPA, ADA, FMLA, ACA, disability, wage and hour, privacy, I9, termination, etc.
In addition to these specific human resources categories, it is also important to highlight services that are cross functional in nature and relate to one or more HR categories:
- Consulting Services: This cross-functional category includes the thousands of consulting firms that can help HR departments with one or all aspects of human resources management and process improvement.
- HR Technology: At one time this might have been considered a separate pillar within HR, but today, technology is integrated with and impacts all aspects of HR. The Internet, social, big data, and other technologies are fundamentally changing the human capital marketplace as companies strive to become more efficient. Technology allows HR to automate processes and eliminate many of the more labor-intensive transactional and administrative processes that have burdened HR professionals for years.
- Outsourcing: Any and all aspect of HR can be outsourced. According to research by Gartner, Inc., 80 percent of companies now outsource at least one HR activity, and the number is swiftly growing. For this reason, we do not consider outsourcing as a functional pillar within HR, but rather cross functional. Increasing numbers of organizations are turning to specialized firms to supplement various aspects of human resource management. While outsourcing makes sense for many reasons, the primary benefit is containment/reduction of costs of routine transactional and administrative work. Another key reason is the belief that a company should outsource all non-mission-critical aspects.
Selling to the Human Resource Department
In larger organizations, it is typical for HR executives to be strategically involved in business development, with the HR staff responsible for various HR-related functions including compensation and benefits, payroll, health insurance, 401(k) plans, etc. It is also common for IT, finance, C-suite executives, or even the CEO to play a role in the purchasing process.
In smaller organizations, it is common for a single person, working closely with the CEO, to have purchasing responsibility for all aspects of HR. And in many public sector environments, it is possible for a separate purchasing department, unrelated to HR, to play a role in purchasing HR products and services.
Regardless of the size or type of the organization, there is always a primary person or group responsible for purchasing HR products and services.
Your challenge as a supplier is to know who these purchasing influencers are because that determines which trade shows you attend, what publications and blogs you target, what mailing lists you purchase and the tone of your marketing messaging.
Here’s the bottom line. The HR marketplace is crowded. The market is saturated with content as vendors of all sizes invest in content marketing. And social has made it less expensive than ever to promote this content. As a result, it’s harder than ever to stand out and engage HR buyers. What’s an HR solution provider to do? In short, have great messaging, quality content and aggressive marketing.
Answering the following questions will go a long way toward helping you put together your HR marketing plan.
- What conferences does your target market attend? There are over 1,000 HR and related events each year in North America alone. You’ll exhibit at some of these conferences but don’t ignore all the others. Attend as many conferences as you can or at least engage with an event’s online discussion (including Twitter Chats). Both are great ways to build visibility for your brand and stay current with industry trends.
- What conferences does your competition engage with? Monitor the events they participate in and make sure you also have a presence. This is also a great way to get competitive information. And be sure to also monitor their own user conferences. HRmarketer’s Conference Engagement feature on Insight allows you to run reports of all the events any HR vendor engaged with on social for the last 12 months.
- What HR conferences offer speaking opportunities? Each month there are dozens of new speaking opportunities announced by HR conference organizers. Apply to some. Speaking is a great way to build a brand, network and generate leads.
- What are the ‘media’ outlets HR professionals read? And who are the journalists, influencers and hosts responsible for and engaging with this content? Trade magazines, columns in national daily’s and business periodicals, blogs and podcasts. All represent important visibility opportunities for your brand – and important ‘influencers” to be building relationships with.
- What analysts are relevant to your product and what are the analyst’s briefing policies?
- What award competitions is your brand eligible for? There are hundreds of award competitions for HR products and services. Winning awards brings recognition, visibility and credibility. Apply to some.
- What are the major LinkedIn groups that your buyers participate in? Find them, join them and contribute.
- What topics and hashtags are most relevant to your brand? This helps you identify the best content to engage with, topics for your own content, and the hashtags to help widen the reach of your social promotions.
Once you identify and have a system in place to maintain the accuracy of the above information, you are in a better position to execute your ongoing marketing tactics. What marketing tactics should you be investing in month-to-month? A sampling of some of these tactics is below. To be successful, stick to a disciplined marketing workflow. Keep in mind that the amount of campaigns and how active you are is dependent upon your budget and market penetration goals but you should at least be doing the following on a regular basis:
- Creating QUALITY content: Articles, white papers, research reports. This will fuel all your marketing activities. Don’t write bad content – you’ll regret it.
- Blogging. A minimum of two posts per month. Ideally, one per week. Length between 400-700 words. But quality is more important than quantity. And after you write the blog, here’s how to promote it.
- Press releases and media relations: The search-optimized news release is not as powerful as it once was but it’s still important – and nothing brings more brand credibility than a mention by traditional media.
- Conference marketing: Most vendors should exhibit at least two to four conferences per year and attend at least six to twelve. If you have a sales rep in the area, send them. The cost is minimal. You should also be engaging online (using Twitter) with HR conferences each week.
- Speaking: Apply to speak at all the major HR conferences and also reach out to the many industry influencers that offer guest appearances on their Internet radio and podcast programs.
- Direct email marketing: Nothing provides leads faster than a direct email campaign. But don’t rely exclusively on this tactic because it’s not sustainable and doesn’t provide ongoing SEO benefits.
- Webinars: Another quick lead generator. But unlike direct marketing webinars can be archived and help with ongoing SEO.
- Advertising: Most vendors don’t need or can’t afford print advertising. But all vendors should invest in some online advertising (e.g., pay-per-click, remarketing, Twitter cards).
- Commenting: The most under utilized marketing tactic. Try to comment on at least one blog post or breaking news story (relating to your product category) each week. Here’s an example of how this can payoff.
- Social Marketing: Be active daily on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn at a minimum. What to do?
- Follow and Connect (grow your network)
- Share (your content, their content)
- Reshare (your most popular posts)
- Engage (with conference and event hashtags – e.g., Twitter Chats)
- Recognize (like, favorite, thank, comment)
- Direct Twitter Marketing (lead generation).
- LinkedIn Groups: Actively participate.
The following resources go into greater details on the above:
- The Right Mix: A B2B Marketing Allocation Guide for HR Brands: https://www.hrmarketer.com/web/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/MktgAllocation_2011.pdf
- How to Reach and Engage Human Resource Buyers and Convert Them to Leads: https://www.hrmarketer.com/home/SellingToHR_HRmarketer_eBook.pdf