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Honing in on HR services

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Human resources departments and organizations spent $44.6 billion on HR services in 2006, an 8% increase over 2005, according to a study published by IDC in April called “Worldwide and U.S. HR Management Services 2007-2011 Forecast.”

“HR service providers have an opportunity to enhance their business proposition through the pursuit of several strategies, including focusing on talent/recruiting management and on less-served midmarket buyers,” said Lisa Rowan, IDC's program manager for HR and talent management services. Rowan also indicated that there's a re-emerging war for talent, and that HR audiences are starting to take a closer look at outsourcing their processes to strengthen their strategic positions.

“No longer is the administration and workload of making sure payroll goes out on time or ensuring all employees are enrolled in benefits the key contribution of HR departments,” said Dusty Rhodes, VP- marketing and business development at PlatformOne, a provider of back-office HR services. “These administrative functions should be outsourced more and more, making way for the time, resources, budget and the like that contribute to overall corporate performance.”

From résumé searching to applicant-tracking technologies, HR professionals are looking for turnkey, outsourced or self- service solutions to hiring and retaining top employees, said Rich Milgram, CEO and founder of Beyond.com, a network of more than 15,000 career-focused Web sites. “In today's tight labor market, the opportunity to be proactive versus reactive in recruitment efforts is paramount,” Milgram said. What HR audiences specifically want from these products and services is to have qualified candidates come to them; to be able to find, sort and contact those candidates immediately; and to have as much of the process automated as possible, he said.

The trick, however, is that hundreds of vendors offer such products and services, making it extremely difficult to break through the clutter even though HR decision-makers have their eyes and ears open for solutions. HR vendors must demonstrate two key selling points—that you'll save them time and save them money—to differentiate themselves from the immense competition, Milgram said. “Executives with purchasing power are typically eager to hear more about how recruitment products and services can save the company money, decrease cost and time per hire, and generate a high ROI,” he said.

ROI increasingly critical

ROI is increasingly critical to HR departments, said Charles Epstein, president and founder of marketing company BackBone Inc. “More so than ever before, organizations are looking to HR as a profit center,” Epstein said.

“They need to answer questions such as, 'What is HR's return on recruitment?' 'What is HR doing to contain runaway healthcare costs?' 'What is HR's contribution to employee preparedness and overall productivity?'”

HR vendors that speak to these issues can turn a challenge into a big opportunity, Epstein said. Having the right messages for the right audiences isn't enough on its own to deliver marketing success, Beyond.com's Milgram said. “Your tactics and delivery methods have to be different and special,” he added. “Most HR professionals only reserve time to review offers that are truly compelling.”

Beyond.com has done this is by giving HR audiences something they can't say no to. “One way we have been effective is by providing free limited access to our products and services,” Milgram said. “It allows prospective clients to become familiar with our user experience, take advantage of value-adds and find their recruiting candidates before ever buying anything. It also acts as a means of qualified lead generation and allows us to collect specific information from our users.”

Credibility marketing works

PlatformOne's Rhodes swears by credibility marketing when approaching the HR market. “It has been a proven communication technique for us that convinces key decision-makers to objectively consider the value of our products and services,” Rhodes said. “Convincing no longer takes a super salesperson, a catchy ad slogan or technically slick Web site.”

Rhodes said his company strives to use key influencers—namely publications, analysts, industry experts, business partners and, most important, its customers—to catch the attention of and win favor with prospects. “Today, we exploit credibility marketing techniques in virtually 100% of our company's efforts,” Rhodes said. “What these influencers say about us and our services is the single most important factor in our success. Sure, we want each prospect of our services to come see our operations and meet our HR services team professionals, but we'd rather them talk one-on-one with our customers first.”

John Hollon, editor of Workforce Management, a publication of Crain Communications Inc., which also publishes BtoB, said marketers should turn to the Society for Human Resource Management to reach a broad HR audience. He also recommended using magazines to target high-level executives and HR decision makers.

“SHRM's membership roughly mirrors the HR profession, although the organization has struggled somewhat to reach high-level HR executives,” Hollon said.

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