The state of HR software from the lens of Marketing

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In an exclusive invite-only virtual roundtable held on the 6th of May 2022, marketing leaders in HR SaaS companies discussed the rapid growth of the human resource management software market, the challenges they are currently facing, how providers stay competitive, and how they can identify the best channels to target key accounts.

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The human resources management software market is rapidly growing and projected to reach $43.29 billion by 2028. However, the client base is particularly difficult to tap, and several key players have already positioned themselves near the top with no clear-cut leader emerging. Nevertheless, there is plenty of room for growth despite the crowded space, especially for those more marketing-savvy.

The scope of the HR department is vast, and its needs are numerous, so it is unsurprising for its leaders to find themselves inundated with sales calls and offers from disparate platforms. Whether it is on data, security, employee experience, or something else entirely, it is a matter of getting to the core of HR decision-makers’ needs while speaking their language.

  • What challenges do Marketing leaders in workplace software companies face?
  • How can companies stay competitive in an increasingly crowded market?
  • How can leaders identify the best channels to target HR professionals?

Human Resources has been a challenging market to tap for technology and solutions companies, especially SaaS, even for HR software specialists. The people-centric nature of HR functions and their variance from market to market make it difficult for tech companies to connect and capitalise on their different needs. However, Human Resources are slowly catching up with the rest of their organisation in terms of digitalisation, and the market is there for the taking.

The challenges
Differentiation is a constant challenge faced in the SaaS space as companies are getting more and more technologically advanced, and innovation has become a game of inches. Any given set of competitors could be selling more or less the same sets of products and services, but what sets the leader apart is their outcomes and customer experience. This has been a focus for marketers in the space, becoming the needle-mover in a saturated market.

“Being able to build that team out to satisfy the external and internal needs of the company is definitely a big challenge.”

‘I feel that, in the SaaS space, you can figure out the tactics and channels that are going to work,’ said one senior executive. ‘What differentiates you from the rest of your competitors is execution.’ Instead of harping on what makes one’s offerings better than the other’s, companies are focusing on why they do what they do the best as well as what experience the customer can expect working with them. Will it be a fast, seamless adoption? Will there be constant support? What type of quality can customers expect? These are the questions marketers aim to answer in their messaging. ‘Execution eats strategy for breakfast,’ another executive said, echoing the sentiment.

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The narrative a company puts out will have a profound impact on the success of its marketing, but differentiation, even in this regard, is difficult to sustain. ‘Sometimes you see competition catching up to your narrative, and that leads to multiple other challenges,’ said an executive. Constant innovation in messaging is required, as is the subsequent education surrounding that narrative.

Another challenge being faced is the measurement of success. Data and statistics abound with today’s technology, but how can companies find the proper metrics to indicate whether certain initiatives are successful or not? The answer varies from case to case, but identifying early on the key indicators of success remains vital.

Marketers in this space also have trouble scaling their teams and resources in response to their organisation’s growth. As companies and customer bases grow, marketing functions must keep pace in order to sustain and drive success. ‘More often than not, we’re playing catch-up. As the sales, customer success, and operations teams are being built out, there comes a sudden demand for a lot of marketing activities and initiatives,’ shared an executive. As businesses expand their presence and utilisation through different channels, needs shift and evolve, and marketing teams must be able to scale and stay agile so as to not lose the competitive edge. ‘Being able to build that team out to satisfy the external and internal needs of the company is definitely a big challenge that we face.’

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“There are a lot of linguistic, cultural, and structural nuances that are especially pronounced in select geographies.”

The HR SaaS field is filled to the brim with players, but some markets are much more difficult to tap, making others prime targets. ‘What is happening is more SaaS companies end up selling to the US,’ said one senior executive. ‘The market is very large, but the cultural nuance when it comes to HR is not very diverse when compared to Asia.’ Asia is a notoriously difficult market to manage as small neighbouring countries differ greatly in their culture, language, and general approach to technology. 

This is in stark contrast to the United States, where diversity is not as common. ‘When we are doing it centrally, it gets very challenging to understand the buyer persona, the culture, and the needs of the market.’ A much greater amount of market research and localisation is necessary to succeed in Asia compared to other regions. ‘There are a lot of linguistic, cultural, and structural nuances that are especially pronounced in select geographies,’ said another executive.

Another hurdle companies face as they scale is attribution. ‘While the company is smaller, there is this mindset of focusing on the goals and not caring about where opportunities and customers come from,’ shared an executive. However, as business comes in, companies must be more nuanced in their approach to attribution. From there, strategies can be formulated and fine-tuned, and growth can be sustained well into the future. Beyond the start-up and SME stages, partner attribution becomes a more significant issue as companies grow. One factor in this challenge is trust. ‘You’ve got trust issues. There’s always that question of how safe my opportunity is going to be if I share it with my partner,’ shared another executive.

“What works well for us is having a good amount of technology backing up marketing.”

Companies are also struggling with the adoption and proper utilisation of technology. This is vital as knowledge retention is crucial in a fast-paced environment. When sales pipelines are not put into the system, leads may be lost, and potential revenue goes down the drain. This is especially true with companies that experience rapid turnover of personnel. While technological adoption is critical, so is the discipline in use.

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Lastly, companies face a lot of competition in the space, and more players are always coming in. ‘The marketplace is a bit too crowded. There are also a lot of start-ups coming, and they’re very aggressive,’ said an executive. One issue that stems from this overcrowding is the retention and poaching of talent. Talent well-versed in the intricacies and complexities of modern technology is a rare and valuable commodity, so it goes without saying that companies will find and source talent by any means necessary. One HR leader shared their experience, ‘I had one software salesperson pitching to me months ago, and today they’re pitching to me again but for another company.’ When a company loses their talent, the pipeline is lost as well. Furthermore, while the personal connection is made, trust in the company that a nomadic salesperson represents is difficult to gain. Buyers are more likely to trust someone who has long been with their company, knows the ins and outs of their offerings, and can back their organisation up for reasons beyond employment. ‘I do feel confident when I speak to someone that has been in a company for much longer. I would prefer to speak to the founder or someone who has actually seen some form of stability with the company because I’m investing in the relationship.’

Today’s best practices
Marketers often find themselves in a hole of their own making by being esoteric. In an effort to share as much information in the most attractive or impressive way possible, marketers complicate dialogues and lose their audience. ‘Simplify things and stay authentic to the story,’ advised an executive. ‘You cannot tell a story you don’t believe in. It starts from that principle. Being authentic to the story is something that cannot be taught.’

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“Leaders are getting younger and younger. How you get in front of people is basically getting people who are up and coming.”

Being and remaining authentic is easier said than done, especially when expanding to different regions. How can a marketer for a company based in one area truly understand and appeal to an environment thousands of kilometres away? This is where product marketing comes in. A good product is something that one can always market, as long as the marketers know their audience and can address their specific needs. ‘What worked for us is having a very strong product marketing function very early on to articulate what the product does to the end user in the language that they want.’

Customer centricity is vital not just in sales or customer success teams but also in marketing. Marketing teams must have visibility into every portion of the funnel and be able to cater to the customers found therein. Whether they have just opened a promotional email, are taking a peek into the website, or are answering a sales call, marketers must find ways to offer value. This can be in the form of content marketing, events, special offers, and so on. ‘These are all mindset shifts. These are not tactical changes. These are the principles of marketing,’ the executive said.

From a tactical or operational standpoint, the importance of technology cannot be overstated. ‘What works well for us is having a

good amount of technology backing up marketing,’ said an executive. ‘We are able to build a well-oiled machine with our tools like CRM and marketing automation.’

Branding is also incredibly important moving forward. This goes beyond just the aesthetics a business aims for when creating its logo and promotional materials. ‘You really need to dig down deep within your own brand and have conversations with the leaders who built your company,’ advised a senior executive. ‘Figure out what the core parts of your brand are.’ Differentiation in technical capabilities and narrative may be hard to sustain, so the brand is something that a company can always lean on.

An increased emphasis on technological skills and adaptability in building teams is key. ‘If you’re hiring for marketing, if the person doesn’t understand digital marketing and doesn’t have a focus on technology, you will not hire the individual,’ said an executive. ‘I believe HR is on the cusp of that.’ HR functions are steadily becoming more tech-savvy, and the requirements in marketing to these individuals will continue to evolve.

Reaching your audience
The optimal channel for sales and communications will always vary depending on region, services, target audience, company maturity, and many more factors. Because of this, it is up to the companies themselves to continuously experiment and identify the ideal channel for them and build their strategies around it. It is also equally important to maintain flexibility and agility. What works today may not work tomorrow, especially as businesses mature. ‘Being married to a channel is like buying houses on rented land,’ quipped an executive. ‘You will be evicted eventually.’

For some companies, this could come in the form of inbound sales driven by influencer marketing. ‘What’s worked best for us is engaging with influencers,’ shared one executive. 

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‘This resulted in a rise of inbound inquiries via search engines.’ Increasing awareness of one’s brand is vital, and the organic side of marketing is one that often takes a backseat to other initiatives.

One way of building on the tried and tested methodology of connecting with decision-makers is investing in relationships early on. ‘The potential HR leaders of the future will probably be your clients in the next five to 10 years,’ said an executive. ‘Leaders are getting younger and younger. How do you get in front of

people is basically getting people who are up and coming.’ This is not just a long-term investment, as current leaders are the people training and sculpting these young professionals. Building relationships with the leaders of tomorrow will get your foot in the door and is one way of getting into the office of the leaders of today.

Lastly, one cannot forget about the other functions that play a part in decision-making. Marketers cannot afford to spend all of their time and effort appealing to HR leaders when in reality, the CIO, COO, CEO, CTO, etc. can all play a part in deciding whether to employ one’s services. Marketers must also appeal to other internal influencers and learn to speak their language as HR leaders are not making decisions for themselves but for their whole organisation.


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