Instruct each team member to use your prioritized requirements list as a scorecard for assessing and ranking the solutions
based on customer feedback, product materials and demos customized for your organization.
Don’t let yourself, or other members of your evaluation team,
get distracted by the bells and whistles of a solution that doesn’t
really meet your needs. “Don’t chase it just because it’s new and
sexy,” warns Matthew Kaiser, managing director at Lockton
Benefit Group. “There are hundreds of things I could throw in
there. [But] the more I throw in, the more confusing the whole
package becomes.” Instead, he says, stick to the checklist. Then
bring the group together to compare notes and decide on two or
Take a Test Drive
The next step is to bring the finalists in for a more extensive demonstration of the solution’s capabilities, with an opportunity for
different user groups to try out the solution.
For foundational programs such as an HRIS or payroll system, plan to devote significant time to the finalists’ presentations.
“We suggest that most in-depth demos [should] take four to six
hours per vendor,” Mandacina says. Even for less complex solutions such as health and wellness tools, build in time for end-users
to try the technology in realistic scenarios.
“We believe it is important to demo the system focusing on
how the organization will use it, not just rely on a canned presentation,” Mandacina says. Thatcher agrees: “Test and verify
whether it will function like the salesperson says it does.” Ask the
vendor to provide a “sandbox,” an open-ended test environment
that your evaluation team can navigate on its own.
This process may bring issues to light that your team had
not previously considered. This is the time to ask pointed questions, to find out how much (if at all) the solution can be adapted
to meet your preferences and whether doing so will incur additional costs.
Do Your Homework
You’re getting close to the finish line, but there’s still more to do.
One of the most important steps in the vetting process is to talk
with a handful of current and former clients to gauge their real-life experience using the solution.
Ask finalists for a variety of references, including a client currently in the implementation phase, one that implemented the
tool a year ago and one that has stopped using the vendor, Mandacina advises. This will give you a broader perspective on the
solution and the vendor. Also reach out to user groups and social
net works such as LinkedIn and SHRM Connect or websites like
Software Advice to gather customer feedback from sources not
provided by the vendor.
Above all, “don’t trust the salespeople,” Thatcher says.
Closing the Deal
“You need to do your own research.” In a recent selection pro-
cess, Thatcher’s team did some independent work to identify
companies that were using the solution being considered. After
contacting several of them to inquire about their satisfaction,
Thatcher got some valuable insight. “What we found was that
almost every one brought up the same issues [with the solution].”
The insight was enough to disqualify the vendor.
Once you’ve completed these steps, the choice should be fairly
obvious. But don’t show your cards yet; experts recommend
negotiating price and terms with the vendor before letting them
in on your decision.
“We don’t tell the company we’ve made our selection until
we negotiate the price,” Thatcher says. “Companies will make it
sound like you have to agree to their terms, but it’s all negotiable.”
Be sure to consider the complete cost of implementation, including setup and licensing fees as well as add-ons for additional users
or increased volume, especially if your workforce is growing.
Evaluate the time frame of the agreement. “You don’t know
what your needs are going to be in a few years,” Thatcher says.
“If your company expands much more quickly than you anticipated, you want to be nimble.” He advises contracting for as
few years as possible to make it easier to move on or renegotiate
terms if circumstances change. And in licensing situations, avoid
automatic contract renewal language in your agreement so that
you don’t get locked into an outdated agreement down the road
if you miss a termination notice date.
Be assertive when negotiating service contracts with HR technology cloud vendors.
“Data extraction from cloud systems isn’t always cut and
dried,” says Jeremy Ames, president of Hive Tech HR, a technology consulting group in Boston. “Vendors will sometimes
give your data back in unfriendly file formats, with long delays
or even extra fees if the terms on data retrieval aren’t clearly
spelled out,” he says.
Contract negotiation can be an intimidating prospect. If this
step takes you out of your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to ask
an experienced colleague from another department to take the
lead or consult with an attorney. Doing so increases the odds of
a positive outcome, and you can learn a lot by watching a master
negotiator at work.
Experts say a well-planned vendor selection process can be
completed in a few months. It may be tempting to skip some of
these steps in the interest of time, but shortcuts often end up costing you more time and money in the end. “Choose wisely, take
the time to check references, play around with the tool yourself,”
Thatcher says. “I’ve seen too many companies make a decision
based on what an online demo looks like and then cost themselves six months to a year of pain because they didn’t do their
Jennifer Arnold is a freelance writer based in Jacksonville Beach, Fla.