How to Be a Savvy Buyer of Performance & Engagement Software

The right performance management and engagement software can bring great value to businesses, especially as workplaces and demographics change. But many buyers have never purchased these types of solutions and need some guidance on how to make the right choice

Brett Ungashick
OutSail HRIS Advisor
July 4, 2023
user comparing HRIS systems

Since the pandemic started, many businesses have begun making their first significant investments in performance management and employee engagement tools.

Remote work and hybrid workplaces are here to stay, and company demographics continue to skew towards millennial and Gen X workforces. With all of these external changes, businesses are trying to figure out how to create dynamic, high performing teams in this new world.

The right software platform can help a business check-in on their employees well-being, get continuous feedback from their workforce, develop high-performing managers and enable a more dynamic performance management cycle.

However, as many buyers know, the wrong solution can end up with low adoption and wasted spend. So, how do you - a savvy HR software buyer -get the decision right?

1.) Start Internally

Determine Your Biggest Priorities

Before you go to market, make sure you know exactly what you're looking for. If you don't know exactly what you need, then it will be very hard to discern between different options and you'll also open yourself up to being sold unnecessary features and functionality.

When it comes to finding the right performance management and employee engagement platform, it is important to determine what business challenges you want to prioritize solving.

We always recommend our clients boil their needs down to a few key outcomes. If this project could only succeed in three areas, what would those be? Often that can be: better insights into employee sentiments, integrations with existing HRIS/Payroll systems, more transparency from employees on where they stand, additional resources and insights for people managers to leverage.

Build Consensus

Get your team together and bought in before you go to market. The last thing that you'll want to do is spend hours falling in love with a certain software platform, only to find out that your teammates aren't onboard with the decision.

We always recommend having a project kick-off call with your cross-functional stakeholders. This meeting helps you bring allows you to hear from your key stakeholders early on and it makes the project real for everyone.

In this meeting, ask each member of the project team two questions:

  • What do you hope to get out of this transition?
  • What do you need to see from a vendor to be comfortable enough to move?

Having this meeting will allow you to determine who are your project advocates and who are the people who you will need to work on, in order to get their buy in

2.) Shortlist Efficiently

Start Broad

Once you know what you're looking for, it's time to figure out who can do it.

The first thing you’ll want to do is just start broadly. Build your initial list by canvasing review websites and blogs, and reaching out to your colleagues and peers to see which names pop up the most.

It will be easier to feel confident in your final decision, if you've already ruled out a number of competing options.

Additionally, there are free services that can recommend the right vendors for you, based on your requirements and goals.

Narrow Quickly

But how do you rule out options without getting on demos? I'm glad you asked. There are three ways:

  1. Missing functionality - Go to software vendors websites to see if any of them do not have key modules that are in your requirements (i.e., vendors that only do performance management, but not engagement surveys)
  2. Size Match & Scalability - Go to software review websites and see what sized companies are predominantly reviewing these platforms. If all of the reviews come from companies with fewer than 50 employees, you'll know this is an SMB tool and might be too limiting. Vice versa, if all of the reviews are from companies with 1,000+ employees, you'll now this is an enterprise tool and might be too robust
  3. Low Market Presence - Check each software vendors' LinkedIn page to see how many employees they have, their Crunchbase page to see their ownership structure and funding. Also look at different review websites to see how many reviews they have. You don't need to go with the biggest option in the market, but the vendor should have a decent sized team, some customer reviews and growth potential

3.) Evaluate Discerningly

Prepare for Demos

Don’t show up to the meetings empty handed and expect the salesperson on the other end to give you all of the answers you're looking for.

Your job is to be the one driving the evaluations, not the one who gets sold to.

Create a meeting agenda to make it clear to the vendor what needs to be covered. Come up with key questions and workflow scenarios that you want to see the vendors respond to in real-time.

A little preparation will go a long way in making sure you get everything you need out of your 60-90 minute demonstrations

Align Around Key Criteria

Don't forget about that key criteria that you worked so hard to build in the first phase.

When you're preparing for your vendor meetings, build a scorecard tool that can weigh each of those criteria accordingly.

Also, make sure that when you're preparing your agenda and questions, you'll have a chance to cover each of those key drivers

4.) Select Confidently

Check References

References are a high variance resource. The right reference can really open your eyes to what to expect moving forward. However, many references are available because they had the perfect experience, which may not always be replicable.

Request each of your finalists to provide references. And be specific about what type of reference you want (i.e., someone who left the same platform as me, is in the same industry, built a similar integration, etc.)

When speaking to those references, get a real sense of what the day-to-day partnership is like. Ask about support turnaround times. Ask about the process of setting up integrations.

A great question to ask is always: What did you wish you knew when you were in our shoes?

Always Negotiate

Negotiations are the most underutilized step in the HRIS buying process. Buyers just assume that the list price is fixed and can't be moved.

But in our experience, almost every single buyer who negotiates ends up with a far better deal.

We've built a long guide detailing how to negotiate, but a few of the key things to keep in mind are:

  • It's a give and a take, so if you want better terms, you'll likely have to agree to signing a contract by a certain date
  • Your sales rep is your ally, so arm them with what they need to bargain on your behalf
  • Annual software fees are always more valuable than implementation fees
1. How do I determine my organization's biggest priorities before purchasing performance management and engagement software?

Before going to market, it's essential to identify the key outcomes you want to achieve with the software. This can include better insights into employee sentiments, integrations with existing HRIS/Payroll systems, transparency from employees, and resources for people managers.

2. How can I ensure consensus within my team before selecting software?

Hold a project kick-off meeting with cross-functional stakeholders to gather input and ensure buy-in. Ask team members about their expectations and requirements for the transition to ensure alignment.

3. How do I efficiently shortlist performance and engagement software vendors?

Start by building an initial list through review websites, blogs, and recommendations from colleagues. Narrow down options based on missing functionality, size match, scalability, and market presence.

4. What should I prepare for vendor demonstrations?

Create a meeting agenda outlining key questions and workflow scenarios. Be proactive in driving the evaluation process during demos to ensure all critical criteria are addressed.

5. Why is negotiating important when selecting software?

Negotiating allows you to secure better terms and pricing for the software. Most vendors are open to negotiation, and it's essential to leverage this opportunity to get the best deal for your organization.

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Meet the Author

Brett Ungashick
OutSail HRIS Advisor
Brett Ungashick, the friendly face behind OutSail, started his career at LinkedIn, selling HR software. This experience sparked an idea, leading him to create OutSail in 2018. Based in Denver, OutSail simplifies the HR software selection process, and Brett's hands-on approach has already helped over 1,000 companies, including SalesLoft, Hudl and DoorDash. He's a go-to guy for all things HR Tech, supporting companies in every industry and across 20+ countries. When he's not demystifying HR tech, you'll find Brett enjoying a round of golf or skiing down Colorado's slopes, always happy to chat about work or play.

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