• Ettie Holland

Five ways HR tech businesses can overcome resistance to change

Updated: Aug 1, 2019

HR tech companies have a harder job than many in the B2B tech world. Because HR tech companies sell tech to HR. Tech. To HR.

Anyone who’s worked with HR folk knows, HR can be slow to hop on the change bandwagon, especially with new tech. Especially when "the next big thing" crops up (and sinks back down) on an almost weekly basis.

The problems you solve are huge, expensive problems. And the solutions you offer are proven, cost-effective solutions. But convincing HR to try out your product can be an uphill struggle.

Overcoming resistance to change isn’t just Sales’ job. All your written communication has to work hard to overcome objections.

Get that right and you’ll get more leads from all your channels, as your audience decide your solution is worth a shot.

#1 – Identify your prospects’ unique perspective

This might be preaching to the converted but I’ll say it anyway, because 56% of B2B marketers still don’t use buyer personas. And if you don’t use personas, you probably haven’t identified the unique perspectives of the people you need to persuade.

One of the 56%? Check out our kick-ass guide to creating HR tech buyer personas.

There’s an old copywriting mnemonic – WIIFM – that holds true whenever you need to compel and persuade. That’s ‘What’s in it for me?’.

HR Hannah or L&D Larry or whoever do loosely care about the same thing – business success; meeting targets; happy people - but from their unique perspective.

An example. Say you sell onboarding software that improves employee retention, productivity and performance.

  • For recruiters, you might explain how improving post-hire metrics means all your hard work recruiting the best people pays off. And makes sure your commission isn’t clawed back two months later, of course.

  • For L&D, you might focus on how new hires get the training they need, when they need it, so they can more quickly move the needle for the business.

The point is this. Identify what your prospect cares about and pitch to that perspective. And ideally stick that into a formal buyer persona so everyone in your business communicates consistently across every channel.

#2 – Evoke loss as well as gain

You probably already structure your conversations by telling your prospects what they stand to gain by working with you. That’s a persuasion tactic that comes naturally. Work with us, and you’ll enjoy a smoother, more streamlined recruitment or HR function and happier, more engaged, more productive people. All to the benefit of the business bottom line, naturally.

But there’s a problem with this approach.

That wonderful future you’re evoking is at battle with something. Fear. Fear of change, because change means uncertainty and uncertainty might mean loss. And loss, we’re not OK with.

Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky coined this idea in 1991 in their paper, Loss Aversion in Riskless Choice. The essential idea is that we make decisions primarily based on the desire to avoid loss, even when that loss is only the status quo.

So you’re painting the best-case picture of an idyllic HR function, but they’re imagining the worst-case, upset-the-apple-cart scenario. Which wins, every time, because you’re competing on an unfair battlefield.

Which is why you sometimes feel completely exasperated by seemingly irrational HR resistance to change, even when the solution is a no-brainer.

Level the playing field instead, by talking about loss. In other words, tell your prospects what they stand to lose if they don’t invest in your solution.

Paint your own fire-and-brimstone picture of an HR department slowly falling apart because they didn’t act quickly enough. It’s not about overt salesmanship or unnecessary doom-and-gloom – but about bringing the true cost of inaction to life.

Embed that into your written communications and you’ll have a much better change of moving your readers to action.

#3 – Help them to help you

HR folk can super receptive to your solution but sometimes that still doesn’t translate into a sale.

That’s often thanks to resistance from decision-makers outside HR. It’s the particular plague of B2B, these ‘buying units’, and even the most indirect influence can disrupt the buying process.

The problem is, senior leaders outside HR sometimes don’t appreciate the gravity of the problems we solve. And HR often isn’t great at making their case.

This idea of HR having a seat at the strategy table is relatively new for many companies, and HR often faces an uphill struggle trying to secure buy-in for new people initiatives. People projects are generally the first to get sidelined when anything more urgent crops up.

We can help them by, as Harvard Business Review phrase it, “talking to the resistors”.

Identify the persuasion bottlenecks outside HR and engage them directly. If you use cold email outreach, for example, it’s often worth building a scenario for other C-Suite personas, like the CEO or CFO.

Look to understand their unique perspective and objections, to “diagnose the roots of the resistance” as HBR say. You’ll often find you need more content focussing on the ROI proof points for your solution.

Along that same line, content that helps HR construct a business case for your solution often works very well.

It’s win/win because you give HR a valuable resource to show other stakeholders – and you get indirect access to other stakeholders you mightn’t have contact with, via HR. It’s like sending your sales reps into the heart of the company in disguise.

#4 – Bring implementation to life

You’ve almost certainly butted up against this recurring, but often unvoiced, objection: implementing your solution will be too hard.

Because HR projects often get sidelined in favour of other projects (the ones that shout loudest about impacting the top-line), HR often have lots of experience of failure. Projects often never quite get off the ground, and the result is lack of engagement from grassroots up to C-Suite.

Often you hear HR folk complain that processes are like pulling teeth. And even though your solution promises to solve exactly that issue, they feel they’ve heard it all before.

Even if they love the idea of your product, they imagine the work involved with setting it up, integrating it and worst of all, driving uptake. Their worst nightmare is money wasted on a platform none of their people will use. And the constant bellyaching from employees who hate the new thing because people always hate new things.

So what can you do? The solution is pretty straightforward. Surface the objection directly. Prove you know why they feel as they feel, and give specific, concrete reasons your product overcomes their resistance.

Specificity is your friend. Be absolutely clear about what needs to happen to get your product up-and-running.

  • Who needs to be involved?

  • How long will it take?

  • How long until they see payback?

  • What tools does it integrate with?

  • What tools doesn’t it integrate with?

  • How will they train their people?

  • Can you lead the training?

  • Do you have easy-to-follow, clear training materials?

  • Do you have case studies walking them through the process?

  • Can you build a step-by-step guide?

  • Can you get positive testimonials from your customers’ employees?

In summary, don’t try and hide from the objection because it’ll come back to bite you. Instead, bring the process to life. Anything is better than the murky, time-suck and resource-drain they’re imagining.

#5 – Don’t gloss the human element

We think tech is awesome but HR people usually don’t agree. At least not under the surface. It’s an honest person indeed who comes right out and admits they’re scared tech will steal their job – but they often are.

Scared of being redundant. Scared of making their people redundant. And they feel tech just can’t get it. HR by nature is about people – how can technology fit into that? Words like ‘instinct’, ‘culture fit’ and ‘gut feel’ start to surface.

It’s really important that HR technology companies don’t gloss those concerns in your copy and content.

So HR technology companies need to curb our shared enthusiasm for tech just a little. Because tech can do loads of cool things. But so can humans. We’re not trying to replace anyone.

We know that – but we need to make sure everyone else does too.

The key message for most HR technology businesses comes back to this: we free HR bandwidth to focus time, energy and attention where you can add most value. Be careful not to imply your solution solves humans out of the equation.


Last year, Harvard Business Review reported that 50%- 75% of organisational change efforts fail. That figure proves how difficult change is generally, let alone change specific to HR and their unique objections.

Understanding those objections is the first hurdle for HR technology businesses to engage more authentically with HR and recruitment folk. And ultimately to sell more of your solution, to help more people, and to bring about the change you imagined.

HR Tech Copy is a communications consultancy. We help HR technology businesses communicate their message more clearly in writing. That's because we intimately understand your audience of HR and recruitment folk, so we know what worries them, inspires them, and encourages them to buy. Drop us a message over at writers@hrtechcopy.com and let's have a chat.


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