This post is for HR/TA practitioners who want to understand the process behind our research to better evaluate how much they can trust our advice, in addition to practitioners who want to hone their own abilities to discover and vet vendors. This post is also for the vendors who reach out to us and want to know what look for in vendors we feature.
There are thousands of software vendors in the HR/Recruiting ecosystem, and it's our job to understand which ones we should be recommending to our readers. While what we publish should never be the beginning and end of your research (you should do demos with multiple vendors to figure out what is best for you organization) - we strive to do the best possible job in identifying the companies you should talk to.
Top of Funnel Criteria
Of course, we think about discovering and vetting vendors in a funnel. At the very top are companies that we find in our own online research, companies that reach out to us, or those who are recommended to us by a trusted source (although these last companies usually make it to the next stage automatically).
Our first question is - do we want to spend time understanding this solution, or are there obvious reasons we wouldn't feature them? The most obvious reason not to feature a company is scale. We don't want to have our best of lists full of sub-scale companies that lack product/market fit, as well as the capabilities to support a large number of customers.
Scale can be customer count, revenues, employees, or traffic to their site. Most of this can be learned from a quick email exchange, or some basic internet research. If this is what your employee count looks like on LinkedIn, we probably don't want to feature your business:
Other deal breakers are companies that are super niche by geography, industry, or product. There are some companies that are really great at providing employee feedback surveys after 360 degree reviews for restaurants in Germany...but we aren't there yet. Instead, our content is to help the 80% of people who are looking for a list of the best ATS's, or trying to figure out whether recruiting chatbots should be a focus.
Getting to Know a Vendor
Once we've determined there are no obvious deal breakers, it makes sense to get on the phone with the vendor and learn more about their company and product. We have the advantage of typically talking to an executive or group of executives that are leading product or marketing. We don't typically get bulldozed by an account executive who's reading from a script, and can ask much more detailed questions that only the leadership team could answer.
We have an internal rubric we use to score vendors. Sharing the specifics would allow people to game the system too much, but we wanted to share some insights into how we think about this. Each bucket listed below can lead to a vendor getting -15 to 15 points (we think negative points are needed for lying on demos, really horrible user interfaces, products that have very few customers, etc).
Demo: The product demo gives us tons of insights into how useful this tool is. We ask hard questions about workflows, and question big statements like "we're the best AI tool for XYZ." It's not uncommon for vendors to lie and exaggerate here, and we penalize them accordingly.
UI: It's kind of silly, but just like a first impression, many times the quality of the user interface will tell a lot about whether a product is strong or not. The UI is an oft cited reason for practitioners abandoning/adopting, and it correlates highly with how forward thinking the product is in general. You'd be hard pressed to see one of the top software companies coming out of Silicon Valley with an outdated UI.
Retention: Customers stay with good products (of course, in some instances this is less important...it's hard to switch your HRIS, ATS). We want to know how retention stacks up to competition, and why people are staying.
Rule of 40: The rule of 40 is a quick way to know the health of a business's finances - the growth + net margin should be >40%. So, you could be growing at 200% and lose 60%, but still be above 40%. And, you could grow at 5% but have 40% margins. Financial health correlates with a great product, and a strong organization (customer success, sales, account management), around that product.
Scale: Scale is a great proxy for product/market fit. If you have a good product people will buy it. Scale also means you have the necessary things in place to support customers. We don't feel comfortable recommending companies without a minimum amount of scale.
Recommendation: Why list recommendation last...well, first off we want to be independent thinkers. Second, we never know why someone is recommending a product. Third, to be honest, many recommendations we get just aren't great (and sometimes that same person is saying "I hate that product!" two months later). It's great to get a solid recommendation from a trusted source. But many times this is a weaker signal than it should be as people tend to recommend when they have a great account rep, or a solution has an idiosyncratic feature they really like.
There are some other factors when it comes to selecting what software to feature. Some vendors are very disorganized and what should be a 45 minute call turns into two hour long calls. That's annoying, and it's boring. I wish this didn't have an impact on our decisions, but it does.
We are more biased towards companies based in the US, companies that are "growth stage" vs early or mature, management teams that speak the same business language (ROI, analytics, automation), companies where we may have met the team in person, and products that make us think "yes - that is exactly how I would've built this." Some of these bias's lead to better outcomes, some probably don't. And, there are definitely bias's we aren't even aware of!
My advice to vendors reading this who'd like to be on the site:
Don't waste our time (we shouldn't need a prep meeting, follow up meetings, etc)
We can go fast - do demos at 3x the speed of a regular meeting, we've seen it all 10x and don't need to see how a job gets posted in your ATS
Don't over exaggerate - it's easy to disprove and "because we're the best XYZ" isn't a robust answer
We may ask some uncomfortable questions -apologies, we're just trying to figure out who we want to put on the site!
If you want to advertise, that's great, but let's talk about it after we decide whether or not to feature you. We truly do not want to be biased here.
Please have an understanding of our site and our mission: to help HR/TA find and buy the right software.
And if you're a practitioner reading this, our advice is to take some of our courses on ROI or buying HRTech, or getting internal buy in - learning to do this the right way takes a long time. Start now!
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We spend all day researching the ever changing landscape of HR and recruiting software. Our buyer guides are meant to save you time and money as you look to buy new tools for your organization. Our hope is that our vendor shortlists and advice are a powerful supplement to your own research.