A Letter to the Talent and Learning Vendors: From Your Concerned Buyer

As we wrap up January, mergers and acquisitions and new product launches are heating up – Two this week that may have an impact on the Brandon Hall audience include:

Brandon Hall Group has been taking briefings non-stop since the first of the year – but these two announcements were of particular interest to me this week. In different ways, both of them address some very real issues voiced by the learning and talent buying communities.

With all the changes in the market – buyers are a bit bemused, frustrated, and overwhelmed. They feel like they are facing both great opportunity and great risk when making purchasing decisions and they are desperate to make the right choices for their organizations – as well as their own careers.

I thought it might be helpful if I shared a few comments on the recent industry announcements, in the context of what I’ve been hearing from the buying community. As it were, directly from the buyers lips:

Don’t tell me you can help me manage my Talent if you can’t. If you tout yourself as a Talent Management system or solution provider, but you don’t have strong talent acquisition, performance management, and learning and development capabilities that are actually integrated then you are missing fundamental elements. Solid partnerships are good to know about and I’m smart enough to know the value of those connections. But don’t sell me on the value of integration when I still have to do most of the integrating myself.

Peoplefluent and Strategia’s announcement was a positive, if a bit overdue, announcement. Strategia is a solid LMS platform that has built a loyal client base. Peoplefluent is the descendant of two of the most successful performance, succession, and recruiting platforms in the industry (Authoria and Peopleclick). This is a good match between two organizations with similar philosophies in customer care. For Peoplefluent adding Strategia to their portfolio and discussing aggressive plans for technology integration puts them in a much better market position as a Talent Management solution provider.

Don’t underestimate my user community. My audience is made up of savvy consumers. They have high expectations for technology today and they have very little patience for awkward user interfaces and outdated platforms. They want to manage their talent and learning in the same place where they accomplish their work. If you can help me accomplish this, then I will be successful.

A major opportunity that could come out of the Peoplefluent acquisition is their ability to transfer their unique approach to creating an immersive mobile environment for managers and end-users to the learning industry. When talking to the Peoplefluent product team, you really get the sense that they understand where work happens – and it isn’t inside a talent or learning tool.

On the other hand, the announcement that Rypple, a performance feedback tool, was purchased by Salesforce.com in early December indicates that the work world may not be willing to wait for HR to get their solution providers clued in on these issues much longer.

Don’t give me technology without experience. Look, as a solution provider you’ve been through multiple configurations, implementations, and change management efforts. Why is it so hard to aggregate that valuable insight and share it in a format that can help me? I’m floundering in bad data, internal politics, and people who just don’t get it. Help me look good!

The other announcement that caught my attention this week was Mercer’s product launch for iKnow. Known for their great consulting and advisory services in core HR, in 2010 Mercer threw their hat into the talent technology space by offering a customized version of the Peoplefluent  platform. With iKnow they are now launching a workforce analytics tool that would sit on top of the various systems a client may have, both Mercer and non-Mercer technology products, and provide both standard workforce analysis and capabilities for more sophisticated predictive models. By itself the tool isn’t extraordinarily unique. It is built on the backbone of a standard business intelligence tool-set, but integrated with Mercer’s years of consulting expertise and data, along with the bundled education and consulting offered with the service, they could possibly create something that is more than the sum of its individual parts. Time will tell if Mercer is capable of truly integrating the technology and their expertise, but their continued focus on offering this packaged approach is something to watch carefully. If they can build a successful model – the real winners would be their clients.

If I’m a client of an acquired company, be transparent and quick with your communications. Mergers and acquisitions are common in today’s business environment, but as a current client I want to hear more than just how great the acquisition will be for my organization. I’d like to understand realistic timelines, expected changes, and genuine explanations of how my service will change in the next 6 to 12 months. I realize some of those details may still be undecided, but without information I will imagine the worst. If you can provide me with clear upfront information on possible pricing changes, service reductions, and contact changes – then I look like I’m in control in front of my leadership. I can make a case for the changes and be prepared for the questions. If after we discuss the changes it makes more sense for us to move to a new solution provider and you can help me ease that transition – then you (the vendor) become a real hero. What an interesting concept.

Some companies handle mergers and acquisitions better than others. We’ve had a number of organizations coming to us with plans for switching from recently merged learning or talent providers because in their mind more features, more complexity, and less communication is just not better than what they had with their original organization. These are issues that can be addressed with some open conversations and honest assessment of both the clients needs and the new direction of the now merged solution provider. Many times buyers are making these decisions based on frustration and fear, versus solid information.

These were only a few of the topics that buyers have been bringing to our conversations – but if the solution providers just addressed these four areas they would go a long way in creating better conversations.

I’m excited about both of these announcements. I think these organizations have a clear view of what the buying community is looking for and they are working to answer these concerns. I’m rooting for all the solution providers trying to make improvements today – because If they get it right the real winner is the buying community. Buyers are looking to create partnerships with solution providers who can help them improve their own careers along with meeting the business needs.

Career enhancing projects used to rest squarely in the business systems space – if you successfully worked on launching the company’s new ERP, CRM, or Product website, then your contributions were valued in terms of business outcomes. This same level of respect was not generally allocated to those who implemented the HR, talent, and learning solutions, but this is changing. These solutions are now in the spotlight and so are the buyers making solution decisions or managing vendor relations.

Solution providers, your buying community has the opportunity to shine – how are you going to ensure their work with you is career enhancing and not career ending?

Stacey Harris

Brandon Hall Research Group

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