Note: This was originally published on the Blog

Gene Marks recently presented a popular and provocative article on Forbes titled, “Why It’s A ‘Glorious Time’ To Be In HR” in which he wrote:

“There has been a quiet explosion of cloud based HR applications during the past few years. And venture capital firms are literally throwing money at the companies that make them.”

Marks goes on to offer three reasons for the popularity of these cloud HR solutions:

  1. Acceptance of the cloud.
  2. A pent-up demand.
  3. A more affordable answer.

By and large, I agree with Gene, including his supporting details for the above. But I’ll go one better about the growth: the explosion has not just been limited to cloud offerings. The entire HR space is growing at an unprecedented rate.

But a “glorious” time? Exciting, maybe. Dramatic, certainly. But for HR vendors, the stakes are high, the competition fierce, and the pace frenetic, and those lacking the chops to follow the changes will soon be singing sad songs unless they realize who the real stars are in this brave new universe: marketers, not engineers.

Consider Gene’s opening statement:

“Last month employers in the U.S. added 288,000 jobs. It marked the best five month stretch of job creation since 2008 and the U.S. economy has now officially recovered from the job losses of the last great recession.”

And then contrast it with the following from Stephanie Pomboy (Micromavens):

“As for booming payrolls, we now have three months of data to demonstrate the gains are a function of increased part-time jobs, as companies look to eschew [the Affordable Care Act]. In June, 523,000 full-time jobs were eliminated, leaving full-time employment a stunning 3.4 MILLION below its pre-crisis level.” (Forsyth, R.W., 2014. Stuck in funky town. Barron’s, Jul. 12.)

If you’re like me, you see a problem.

I’ve been in the HR space for nearly 20 years and I have never seen more vendors in this space than at present. And as Gene points out, there is a lot of money being invested. After all, the stock market is seeing all-time highs and interest rates are still at all-time lows, so why not invest in a growing industry with a bright future? Why not indeed? But that’s not the problem. The problem is that we have excess capacity on the vendor side, and not even the rosiest of employment and corporate spending forecasts can justify or support the imbalance

Geoffrey James, writing recently in Inc. on the subject of startup failure, offered up an excellent twist on a classic phrase to explain how similar companies with similar products experience dramatically different trajectories (i.e., why one fails and the other succeeds), and why marketing makes all the difference:

“Building a better mousetrap is a waste of time if nobody knows it exists.”

I’ll go one better here as well, and state that a better mousetrap isn’t even particularly possible, or relevant. The fact is there are not a lot of technical differences amongst most of these HR-cloud offerings in their respective categories, and the unique democracy of the cloud means it has actually become exceedingly difficult to build a better mousetrap. So cue the marketers. Because the department that has the best messaging and the best overall tactical execution will get the awareness, interest, adoption, and sale.

If I may, I’ll take the liberty of mashing up the best of Marks’ & James’ aphorisms, and offer up the following as a conclusion:

It’s a glorious time to be building better marketing.

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