#HowIBuy – Cheryl Kerrigan, VP, People at BlueCat

 In #HowIBuy

Originally published on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-i-buy-joe-chernov-vp-marketing-insightsquared-steve-woods/

For the next article in Nudge‘s #HowIBuy series, I had the pleasure of chatting with Cheryl Kerrigan, who is the VP of People at BlueCat. I have known Cheryl for many years, as we used to work together at Eloqua prior to her role at BlueCat.

I’ve always found Cheryl to be one of the most thoughtful and strategic HR executives out there. Her view on how businesses can best understand, grow, and develop their people has always been enlightening for me, and her perspective on buying was equally so.

I hope you’ll enjoy Cheryl’s thoughts on her buying process as much as I did:

Cheryl, tell us a bit about your company to set some context for everyone – what do you provide to the market, and how big of an organizations are you (roughly)?

BlueCat is an enterprise DNS solutions company that helps corporations manage and secure their networks. We are a global organization quickly approaching 400 employees across North America, Europe and Asia.

What is your role and what kind of things do you spend money on throughout a year?

My role is VP, People and I think a lot about how to hire the best talent and engage them as part of their journey at BlueCat. The People Strategy relies on technology products (anything from the basics such as the technology we use to pay employees all the way to how we capture information on what an employee is feeling about work on a given day). Technology is a big piece but I also spend money on leadership training, recruitment events, job boards, events for employees to just name a few. Honestly it seems every day I am approving an invoice for a spend!

Let’s look at how you learn. How do new ideas and concepts come across your radar?   How do you find out about what’s “out there”? 

I’m inquisitive by nature and also am comfortable being an early adopter of something if I can see the clear business value. I read a lot and subscribe to several blogs about HR. The HR tech community especially in Toronto is small and I find my network very willing to share about their experiences and what solutions work the best for them.

Over the last few years there has been an amazing community of HR thought leaders and meet ups that have been really instrumental in pushing the People function to be more innovative and I have learned so much from being a part of that. The best way that I learn is by having a lot of conversations with people who are “breaking glass” and trying new things. I have been really fortunate in being put in touch with some great companies and vendors that are elevating the People function and making it more efficient.

For example, I was looking for a tool to be able to better understand employee engagement and was introduced to someone from my community that was solving that problem. I was able to help influence the direction of that tool and really partner with the vendor to help shape what we needed. I think that as HR professionals we are often hesitant to be the first to try something new but throughout my career I have really benefited from being open to new ideas and trying things out on a pilot basis. Being open to new ways of doing things and not being afraid to be an early adopter is key.

What role do you play in the decision process? What role do your front-line leaders play in the decision process?

I am ultimately the one that makes the decision. However, I will not adopt a new solution without involving my “trusted advisors”. I seek out those leaders in the organization and bring them along in my process so that when we change something or implement something they have had a chance to ask questions and be a part of the process. As HR professionals we rely on ensuring that our leaders are supportive and I have seen many HR projects fail because the HR person didn’t take the critical step of involving others. The biggest suggestion I can give when implementing something that the entire company needs to use is to not make the decision in a vacuum.

How do you prioritize what initiatives are “now” and what are “later”?

My approach is to figure out what problem I am trying to solve and investigate whether there is a solution that can help address it. I feel often that HR people are bombarded by the “latest and greatest” products and the best advice I can give is to not get caught up in that. When I joined BlueCat a couple of years ago we didn’t have much infrastructure as far as technology to support our employees. One of my first initiatives was to survey our employees about where they felt things were lacking and look for solutions to address. In HR you fail by not knowing what your clients (internal employees) are looking for and a piece of technology won’t solve anything unless you can understand how it impacts the entire employee base and can point to the problem it will solve.

How do you evaluate competing solutions? What matters in an evaluation?

The biggest one is talking to others that have used the solution. References on the company, the services and response time they provide is the most important to me. I want to hear from other users about their experience. Free trials are also critical. A company that makes it easy for you to run a pilot program will always be my preference.

What is different about buying today than buying a decade ago?

Sheer volume of products. I am not exaggerating when I say I get contacted by vendors 4 times a day. It’s a lot of noise to cut through.

Where do salespeople play a role in your overall buying process? What is the most valuable thing a salesperson can do in selling to you?

The best salespeople I have dealt with are the ones who are collaborative in their approach. It’s those professionals that understand the multiple hats an HR professional wears and are there to consult and advise on how they can help you. One of the best experiences I had was when I dealt with a company and they let me run a free trial so I could see how their solution could help me. The differentiator for me was that they didn’t just “turn it on” and walk away. They worked with me to help give me time back in my day and make a process more efficient. They took feedback and were extremely consultative and gave me value where I wasn’t expecting it. I wish all of my experiences with sales were like that.

What is the biggest mis-match between what you need and how salespeople try to sell to you?

Them assuming what I need without asking any questions. OR when I can tell they are just going off a script.

How do you leverage your network in understanding the landscape or individual vendor offerings?

This is my biggest asset. I have access to a wide community of HR professionals in similar environments where we are constantly sharing our experiences with vendors and solutions. I was recently reminded me of how critical these people are to helping me shape decisions. We have a Slack channel set up so we can ask questions and get responses in real time. I wouldn’t make a decision without asking them first.

 

Tremendous thanks to Cheryl for providing these insights into how she approaches buying!

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Experienced SaaS CTO. Founded and guided the building of Eloqua to a market leading position in Marketing Automation. Now Co-founder and CTO at Nudge. Author of the book “Digital Body Language" with a passion for innovation, cloud computing and software evolution.
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