Marketing to human resources execs

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With an aging work force, more rapid advances in technology and increased competition for talent, the human resources industry-and job function-will play a much more vital role than ever in the next five to 10 years, said Dave Lefkow, VP-professional services at online job search and recruitment company Jobster Inc.

"Preparing for the demographic shift caused by retiring baby boomers will soon be the paramount concern," Lefkow said, and there will be many questions for HR professionals, and the vendors that serve them, to answer during this shift. He said HR professionals will have to determine how to better compete for skilled talent, and how to prepare for and accommodate retiring baby boomers-a group that will be redefining retirement.

Lefkow said the products and services that can help solve these challenges-talent engagement, talent management and project-based deployment in particular-will be very lucrative markets in the very near future.

HR critical to success

But retiring boomers aren't the only reason HR departments are more critical to U.S. corporations now than at any other time in history, said Brett Starr, principal of customer relationship management company Jet Powered Group, who sees HR as a lucrative target market. "During the last five years, HR executives have earned a seat at the table where they are viewed as critical to the overall success of the business," Starr said. "As more corporate executives put into practice their belief that great companies are built on great employees, the importance of tools and techniques to hire and retain top employees has greatly increased."

This trend has been exacerbated by the fact that there are simply fewer available workers for skilled positions, Starr said. "Employees don't stay put anymore; they jump from job to job," he said. Starr said the products and services that are in the biggest demand are those that help companies gain a competitive advantage by finding the best candidates and retaining them.

This would include applicant tracking systems, assessment tools and strategic HR services that help companies offer self-service utilities and provide them with access to superior benefits, Starr said.

"In big demand with HR executives are any new online offerings that reduce their workload, as well as programs to help manage a diverse workforce," said Don Mazzella, COO of Information Strategies.

Getting through to HR executives with these offerings isn't easy, however, according to marketers. They're under stress to succeed and are constantly bombarded by offers. "Getting their attention at a time when they are being pressed on many sides by new initiatives and are losing staff is a major challenge," Mazzella said.

Breaking through the noise

Starr said the biggest hurdle is simply breaking through all the noise to get your message in front of the right people in the company. "Imagine trying to sell CRM [customer relationship management] in the 1990s, and you have a pretty good idea of what it's like to sell HR products and services in the 21st century," he said. "[HR executives] are fatigued from the constant flow of marketing solicitations they receive from HR software and services vendors. The only way to succeed is to build a community of prospects by providing them with value and nurturing that community over three to five years, not three to five months."

Jobster's success in marketing to the HR sector has come in connecting with early adopters looking for the latest and greatest in electronic recruiting, Lefkow said. "Largely, we've succeeded in these efforts by avoiding the huge, overblown, general industry conferences and focusing on highly targeted audiences," he said. "In addition, evangelism marketing is something that has had a very high ROI for us-our goal has been to take a thought leadership position in our industry."

HR executives are hungry for research and best-practice content, Starr said. "HR executives get most of their information from peers, consultants and professional associations," Starr said. "They prefer to be contacted initially through passive mediums like print and online advertising, direct mail and e-mail."

But Starr said it's not where you approach this audience, but rather what you approach them with. "Unlike other audiences, HR folks will still respond to compelling offers when they hold value for them-I'm talking about good white papers and research articles, not ball caps and bouncy balls," Starr said.

"The secret is to have a great offer that makes them want to contact you," he added. "The choice of marketing vehicle and the creative elements of the vehicle are not important if you don't have an offer that is compelling to senior executives."

Carlson Marketing, a marketing services agency, aims to present a compelling offer to HR professionals concerned with health insurance and employee benefits. "Employee benefits are corporate America's third-largest expense and health insurance is its fastest-growing component," said Anne Pryor, senior director of product development at Carlson. "Costs are skyrocketing because higher health care utilization by employees means higher insurance premiums. Engaging employees in wellness initiatives results in lower health care costs and increased productivity."

Carlson markets its Health and Wellness Management Solution to companies of all sizes, with an online platform called MyHealthLink at the heart of its technology offering."HR departments are challenged with providing the tools to educate their employees about their health care plans," Pryor said. "Our solution helps employees become better motivated in company health and wellness initiatives and that translates to improved bottom- line results. We've demonstrated that decreased health care costs plus a reduction in employee turnover and absenteeism can deliver a three-to-one return on investment by implementing our program. That makes for a very compelling business case that companies find hard to ignore."

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