PrismHR empowers PEOs and ASOs to deliver world-class HR, benefits and payroll to small and medium-sized businesses.
PrismHR is the largest payroll, benefits, and HR software platform for Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs) and Administrative Service Organizations (ASOs).
When it comes to changing the habits and processes of a sales operation, there are no overnight successes. It starts with a vision and a commitment by your organization to work incrementally toward a goal. In the case of G&A Partners, the evolution of the sales process occurred over the course of a few years—and it will continue to be refined as the company grows and the marketplace continues to mature. So what was G&A’s blueprint for building more efficiency and consistency into their sales process? John G. Allen, Executive Vice President of Sales at G&A, outlines the six steps the organization took to build a foundation for success.
Step 1 — Contact & Opportunity Management
Getting all of your account contacts, leads, and opportunities into a CRM system gives you visibility into who those individuals are. It’s the first step to creating a more efficient system for managing sales activity while improving collaboration across your entire organization. However, it’s important to remember that this is an ongoing process. Keeping your data clean, consistent and complete is challenging, but it’s an investment that will yield high quality insight to help you accelerate your success and reduce delays in the sales process.
Step 2 — Task Tracking
Setting up task tracking gives you visibility into activity levels for each of your sales reps and across the entire team. But first you need to identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) that you will measure to assess the effectiveness of your sales organization. The challenge is there are dozens of sales metrics you can measure. You might start with some basics around activity level per rep, monthly sales vs. target, and average sales cycle. (See Part 3 for more about measuring performance metrics.) By aligning tasks with KPIs, you reinforce the desired behaviors (e.g., call volume, meetings), create greater accountability, and begin to collect data that can be analyzed to identify trends between activities and closed deals.
Step 3 — Pipeline Visibility
You need a real-time view of each opportunity in the pipeline, from early stage (initial meetings) to late stage (proposal and negotiation). This helps you create more accurate revenue projections, understand your conversion rates at each stage, and home in on where to focus your efforts. It’s also critical that sales reps have access to their performance metrics as well as regularly scheduled pipeline reviews with their manager.
Step 4 — Dashboard Creation
Dashboards allow you to get snapshots of the data you want to see on a consistent basis to help you manage salespeople and their activities. The data available in sales management software can get deep, and repeatedly running reports can cause confusion and slow you down. Customizing a dashboard with your need-to-know information helps you and your executive team get the answers they need quickly, and the data will be there if you ever need to drill down for more detail.
Step 5 — Data Analysis
Now that you’re tracking activity and have access to this information, you can start tracking individual data points like closed deals by industry or referral source, as well as advancement ratios and close ratios by lead source or industry. That way you can go even deeper and offer data-driven guidance to sales reps. For example, you may decide not to focus on an industry because it has a long lead time or a history of not closing as successfully. Your analysis can also inform higher-level sales strategy as you think about defining your target market (see Part 1) and focusing sales resources on more profitable opportunities.
Step 6 — Process Integration
The final step is taking your process and integrating it with other sales enablement tools to help you become even more efficient. Those technologies need to map to steps in your sales process—and communicate with each other—to increase speed and insight. If the technology is too disconnected from each other or your process, it can slow down your sales team and have a negative impact on productivity. Allen explains that a turning point for G&A was hiring a dedicated resource to manage the organization’s sales enablement tools. “Many small PEOs can’t afford to hire this position, but if you have your sales leadership managing your CRM, you’re not going to take it to the next level. We hired someone to manage our sales enablement tools that came with the specific skill set.”
The experience walking in a HR tech buyer’s shoes at the HR Technology Conference & Expo in Las Vegas was emotionally and physically exhausting. Nearly 450 vendors spread across the massive expo hall. Up and down the (fifteen!) rows I went, the slick-branded booths and eager faces behind them blurring together. I think it’s safe to say any Fitbit-wearing attendees closed in on their personal bests during the event.
My first impression: this is all a bit overwhelming. And I’m not the only one. In the buyer panels I attended, I heard the same sentiment about trying to navigate the HR tech marketplace. That’s not to say some vendors didn’t create interesting experiences and stand out (one comes to mind which I’ll explain later), but as Josh Bersin said in his keynote at the InfluenceHR event earlier in the week, “HR buyers are totally baffled, they’re not tech analysts.”
The good news is there is more demand than ever for HR technology and outsourcing, and there are opportunities to stand out and win business amidst the confusion. They say what happens in Vegas stays there, but after flipping through dozens of pages of notes from the events, I feel the need to share three key takeaways worth thinking about.
HR tech buyers are overwhelmed and confused—stand out with storytelling, personality and own your niche
Bersin tracks more than 7,000 vendors in 37 categories in his research on the HR Technology market. Based on those numbers, six-and-a-half percent of the market was represented in the expo center and this is what the phone directory-like exhibitor list looked like:
(Click to Enlarge)
According to Bersin, HR tech vendors look remarkably alike to buyers. On top of that, many major companies—including Facebook—have entered the marketplace, and startups are coming fast and furious. Many companies are hiring consultants to guide them through the buying process and implementations.While most SMBs don’t have the resources to hire this type of specialist, they struggle with the same level of overwhelm and confusion. It’s an opportunity for you to be that consultative business advisor, and use diagnostic selling to build rapport and help them identify their ideal solution.
Bersin warns there is no perfect fit between vendor and buyer today, and advises HR teams to “buy what you need and expect to throw some of it away in a few years. The market hasn’t yet consolidated and there is a good chance the vendor you choose today may be acquired and you’ll need to deal with [a technology reconfiguration] then.”
So how can you give buyers confidence and a sense of security?
Bersin says to clarify your message and position yourself well in a niche you can own. No one is successfully partnering with every type of customer, he says. Customer stories can be very effective in showing buyers what you can do for them. In fact, case studies have the highest completion rate (87%) among types of B2B sales and marketing content, according to research presented by Russ Heddleston from DocSend at InfluenceHR.
Sharing case studies are not only effective in telling your stories to customers, but also to the media. In the InfluenceHR session, “So, You Want PR?”, Andrew McIlvaine from Human Resource Executive and Lisa Holden from Entelo agreed that customer stories break through the clutter of product information that is most commonly pitched to journalists.
Buyers value relationships as much as technology
While many of the panelists represented larger companies, their HR challenges and needs share much in common with organizations of all sizes, including SMBs. We want to do business with people we like, people we trust, and people who come to the table with empathy and understanding for our unique situations.
Effectively communicating the outcomes your technology can deliver is important but don’t overlook the value of relationships. “Vendors are winning because the buyer likes the salesperson,” says Bersin. “At Bersin we have a saying: We don’t sell research, we make friends. Sales and marketing need to think about their personality.”
Bersin points to the investment Deloitte (which acquired Bersin’s agency in 2013) still makes in client dinners, face time, and relationship building even when today’s technology makes digital engagement easier and more scalable.
“You’re buying a relationship along with the technology,” says Susan Collins, Director of Talent Acquisition at Talbots, who appeared on the buyer panel, “Selecting the Right HR Technology: From Need to Implementation”.
On another buyer panel, Kelly Hoven Ortelli from Great-West Financial, advised salespeople to “work on my timeline and not yours. Understand what our business roadmap is, including where we’re at with implementing other technology.” For enterprise and SMB buyers alike, not showing empathy toward their unique situation is one surefire way to torpedo a nascent relationship.
Customer experience matters—and it starts with employees
After registering for the HR Technology Conference, my inbox was peppered with dozens of emails from vendors inviting me to stop by their booth for a demo and chance to win a voice-activated device/gift card/smart watch. (Disclaimer: I did snag a stuffed monkey and foam ninja for my three-year-old.)
One email stood out because it was unexpected and offered me something exciting without any salesy strings attached. The email said Qualtrics had assembled a group of employees to fulfill “dream requests” for each of the conference attendees. All I had to do was complete a form and they would take care of it. Some attendees asked for Starbucks, a blanket for a cold session room, or a hard-to-find charger. And Qualtrics delivered, literally.
I submitted a request on behalf of my six-year-old son who has been obsessed with rocks and gemstones for the past several months. Before my trip he said, “Daddy, did you know there’s gold in Nevada?”
Would the Qualtrics Dream Team sift through all the requests to help me find a golden souvenir for my aspiring geologist? I received a text message from a member of its team confirming they were on it. A few hours later I got a second text asking where they could meet me to fulfill my wish. Outside the expo entrance I met Allison who handed over a black bag with a smile, no questions asked.
While there wasn’t pure gold in the box, my son’s reaction surely was.
Now this looks like a campaign about delighting a customer (or prospective one), but it all starts with employees. In fact, Qualtrics delivers “dreams” through its Employee Experience Bonus, offering each employee $1,500 to have an amazing experience—no questions asked. It’s part of the culture that makes interactions like the ones I had authentic.
As you consult your SMB clients on themes such as recruiting and employee experience, a good place to start is to try to understand what motivates your employees (e.g., salary, being part of a growing company, flexibility) and why new hires choose you (and why they stay). It could give you insight into the culture and personality at their company, and how they can create those exceptional experiences for their staff and customers.
“The ‘New Normal’ changes with each new person who joins your organization and with each change you make,” says Gretchen Alarcon from Oracle.
The same can be said for each customer and employee interaction. So, how can you make those moments golden?
Axios HR increased its conversion rate by 65% through a diagnostic-oriented sales process and by implementing software that improved consistency, efficiency, and collaboration. The results were highlighted in Blythe Kazmierczak’s session, “Tips on Improving Sales Efficiency to Win More Deals,” at PrismHR LIVE 2018. In it, Kazmierczak—EVP, HR Solutions at Axios HR—discussed the framework her sales team uses to have more strategic conversations and win more deals.
A Consistent, Consultative Approach to Complex Deals
So what is diagnostic selling? According to Jeff Thull who introduced the concept in his book, Mastering the Complex Sale, the role of the salesperson is to “help a buyer diagnose their problem and design, evaluate, and implement a solution that provides a high level of value to their customers. It requires taking on the mindset of a physician and advising the customer, and it really is a deeper, more complex process than most salespeople are accustomed to.”
In diagnostic selling, the ultimate goal is not to get a signed contract. In his article, The End of Solution-Based Selling, Thull says, “The goal is a high-quality decision based on an honest, thorough and rational evaluation of the correlation between the customer’s problem and the seller’s solution. That decision may well indicate your solution is not the best fit.”
Axios HR uses a four-stage sales process based on Thull’s “Prime Process” model: Discover, Diagnose, Design, and Deliver.
The Discover phase resembles a traditional qualification stage but is much more comprehensive. More than just identifying a company that meets the requirements of a prospect, sales need to understand their business, make informed assumptions on the symptoms they are challenged with, and gauge the prospect’s willingness to actually make a change.
In the Diagnose phase, conversations with prospects resemble more of a doctor-patient conversation than a sales presentation. Axios HR develops a personalized “HR Diagnostic Report” around the 5 Cs: Cost, Compliance, Care, Competitive and Culture.
“At a high level you’re managing across these five areas as an employer. We do a diagnostic in each to show symptoms around things that might be an issue,” explained Kazmierczak. “When we think about our solutions, there are so many things we could do. The diagnostic helps us have a strategic conversation about their business, where they want to be, and where they think opportunities are.”
For example, in Culture, the team will take a look at average staff tenure—an indicator of retention—and diversity, and then get feedback from the prospect on how well they stack up against an industry benchmark. In Competitive, indicators such as “attrition” and “time to fill” help kick off a conversation about employees the prospect has lost, how it impacted their business, and any challenges in filling open positions. Did an employee leave because of an issue with their manager, culture, job design, or something else?
Many traditional sales presentations lead with the solution. In the Design phase, the input from the diagnostic conversations informs the ideal solution for the prospect. This is a more collaborative approach, and in some cases the best alternative at the time may not be a service your company offers. What is paramount is getting to the right solution together rather than attempting to find a fit for your solution.
The Deliver phase doesn’t end with a signed contract—or even the implementation of the product. Closing a deal is one milestone in a long-term process of building a relationship and ensuring the client’s success using the solution.
Improved Visibility and Collaboration with Sales Management Software
With 500 local SMB clients and three divisions within the organization, Axios HR was running into issues with salespeople running into each other.
“A staffing person was just [with a prospect], and two hours later somebody else was cold calling. So we needed a common sales tool that would allow everybody to see what was going from a sales activity perspective,” said Kazmierczak.
Axios HR uses two types of sales management software which integrate with each other: Salesforce during the front end of the sales process (i.e., Discover and Diagnose phases) and PrismHR Pulse to streamline the proposal and underwriting activities.
“The input we receive during the Diagnose phase is summarized into a proposal that is also generated in Pulse. So it’s really been helpful to get the sales team to stop using pet documents and follow a common process,” said Kazmierczak. “When I do my deal checks with the sales team I can get a better sense of whether they’re actually finding out what the client really wants.”
Investing in technology to help support Axios HR’s sales process has helped improve visibility and collaboration. It has also eased the burden of sales training while accelerating how quickly new team members can start contributing.
“The thought process around putting [the technology] in place was being able to onboard someone and not have it take three years for them to be productive, which was kind of our track record with the old process,” said Kazmierczak. “Part of the business case was to be more consistent, but also have a more structured process in onboarding and getting new salespeople up to speed faster.”
Technology upgrades to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) reporting process improved the user experience for e-filers in 2018, but the system is far from perfect. “The complexity and nuances of the employer mandate still pose unique challenges for PEOs, especially when supporting a diverse client set,” says Chris Babigian, a Product Manager at PrismHR who specializes in compliance.
Let’s take a look at the good, bad and ugly of the updated process.
The e-filing system, AIR (short for Affordable Care Act Information Returns Program), has made usability enhancements and accelerated the registration process. Notably, the IRS now sends you a required PIN electronically, replacing a snail mail method that took as long as two weeks. The responsiveness of the AIR system has also been vastly improved, processing submissions in minutes instead of hours.
A failure to match an employee’s last name and Social Security number is the most common error that PEOs encounter in the AIR system (and one that can result in penalty). Prefixed and “double-barreled” surnames are often the culprits (e.g., De La Cruz, Lee-Jenkins). While resolving these issues isn’t particularly difficult, it introduces delays during the filing process. One resource that can help is the Social Security Administration (SSA) Name/SSN Verification Service.
Full-time and total employee counts reported on forms 1094 and 1095 are causing headaches for some PEOs as they manage inconsistent time bases for measurement between the requirements on each form. To further complicate matters, on the 1095, “only an offer of coverage or enrollment for an entire month counts as an offer or enrollment for the applicable month.” With three time standards in play, it’s no wonder some e-filers are left scratching their heads (and reaching for the aspirin).
What You Can Expect for 2018 Filing
If the trend continues, the IRS will post forms, instructions, and eFile specification updates for 2018 in August or September. While the IRS has not yet indicated any significant changes, small but important modifications (and points of clarification) have occurred each of the past two years.
How to best prepare for what’s to come?
Many organizations perform self audits during the course of the year and work with their clients to ensure 1095 and 1094 mid-year results are accurate. Additionally, any organizations new to ACA year-end processing in PrismHR are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the platform’s functionality and coding logic before January. Investing time in audits and building system knowledge will pay off with greater certainty in your data and a better experience during the filing process.
We’re all on many journeys. One of the most important journeys in our life is the journey to our job. Not just the commute, but the journey of our careers. That journey starts with a single form – a new hire form.
Onboarding is a critical part of an employee’s first impression of their new employer, and a mobile-centric, user-friendly onboarding process is central to that. PrismHR has been on a important journey towards understanding what makes the best onboarding experience for employees, their employers, and for HR service providers. And attendees of PrismHR LIVE in June were given a first-hand look at the results of that journey.
Watch Jim Richmond, PrismHR Product Manager, share the journey in his conference session – “Introducing PrismHR Onboarding.”
As a PEO or ASO, you offer a distinct kind of HR outsourcing. It’s a unique combination of services and technology. For some clients it may be heavily service oriented, very hands-on, and of course, co-employment may be core to your offering. Technology allows you to bring the best service possible to your clients by automating a lot of HR functions and making it easy for you, your clients, and their employees to complete HR tasks quickly and efficiently. But your offering definitely isn’t just HR technology. Your high-touch, HR services and your close working relationship with your clients is at the heart of what you do.
There’s More Competition Than Ever
The challenge is that there are more and more players in the market competing for your SMB prospects. Many of those competitors are not offering anything close to the services you provide, but they do offer software with a modern and compelling interface. As valuable as you know the whole package of your services is, do SMB buyers really understand exactly how different your offering is from what pure HR software vendors offer? You probably spend a lot of time educating prospects on the value of personal service, your industry experience and your HR and compliance expertise. But often those prospects are lured away by the modern, streamlined, easy-to-use interface that HR software vendors offer.
When you lose business this way, you know those prospects will learn the hard way that they don’t just need a fancy software interface. You know that the HR needs of small businesses are complex, ever-changing, and require personal attention to truly solve their HR challenges. You know that when those challenges arise while using the HR software they chose, they’ll encounter a severe lack of service, support, and expertise. They’ll probably regret their choice to go with the “shiny object” software. But even then, the likelihood of that prospect changing their minds and coming back to the table is very small.
The challenge HR software vendors present is not going away. In fact there’s growing evidence that they may be looking at the PEO space even more aggressively.1 This problem of prospects comparing “apples to oranges,” comparing your extensive HR services and technology to just HR software, will only build over time. Your organization needs be ready to address it head on.
Can You Answer the Challenge?
You need to be ready with a strong answer when your prospect says, “But this other vendor I talked to has this really cool interface that my employees and I can use. What have you got?”
What you show them needs to be just as “cool,” even if at the end of the day, the interface is only a fraction of what you offer to small businesses. Your technology needs to be just as cutting edge, just as user friendly, just as modern and responsive as the HR software out there that is really nothing but that – just software.
Does your HR technology have the “cool” factor, allowing you to compete with the slick HR software packages your prospects are looking at? Does the employee interface make it easy for employees to complete their tasks quickly and with a mobile device? Are you proud to show your client- and employee-facing technology to your prospects, or do you secretly hope they never ask?
To stay competitive and continue to grow your business, these are all questions you need to answer and then honestly assess if your HR technology is helping you or hurting you when it comes to acquiring new clients.
Watch this demo to get a sense of what a “cool” employee interface looks like.