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#In321 with John Sumser, HR Industry Analyst

1. John, you have the distinction of defining a category, having guided so many vendors in the human capital management industry. What trends impressed you the most and what do you think withered on the vine?

Thanks for taking the time to do this. I've seen a lot of things come and go. I used to be sure that the best team with the most rational idea and the right marketing/sales configuration would win. It turns out that you are more likely to build a multi-billion dollar play with great sales, pretty good marketing and miserable product quality. Entrepreneurs and engineers all love to examine and crow about product functionality. It turns out to be less important than great service.

There are two trends I am holding a deathwatch for:

The first is HR technology’s incessant desire to load people up with administrative work. No one should be allowed to add admin work to any productive employee’s load but we do it with impunity and the functional groups are going to rebel.

The second is the idea that SaaS companies should avoid complex service, installation and support work. By forcing these dollars off the books and into the hands of subcontractors, SaaS companies are giving their core connection with customers to strangers. Ultimately, someone is going to figure out that the cost of maintaining a good relationship should be counted as an asset and valued like the rest of the SaaS revenue.

And a few others: I'd also love to see the end of marketing naiveté. In our industry, it takes six months or more to get a sales person to the point of productivity. Usually, you have to hire two to yield one. No one has ever used those numbers in a funding pitch. As a result, marketing and sales are always strapped, killing off the really good ideas.

The integrated software suite has come and gone a couple of times. Now it's back because the best analytics come from tools that don't require integration. Single stack suites make it possible to break down the silos with analysis from a single data set. People with single stack solutions have analytics that work. The rest, don't.

Analytics and metrics are more or less in their third generation. The first generation ended four years ago when SuccessFactors bought Infohrm. Before that it was innovations in reporting. Today, it's innovations in visualization. That hard truth, though, is that this generation will be frustrating because the data is fragmented and old school vendors still want to charge customers for their own data.

2. As one of the few independent HCM analysts, do you think buyers value counsel from others or do too many of them try to Google their way to their next purchasing decision?

Being an independent is an odd experience. Analysts make their money by straddling a line between the vendors and their customers. When you take money from both sides, you have to put a lot of work into faking objectivity. My work tries to minimize bias by only serving vendors and my reputation serves to keep things in check. I don't tolerate a whole range of things.

Customers can derive benefit from analysts and from the vendors themselves. What's generally missing is an easy to use tool that helps me understand my needs and who can serve them best. That means that you have to lean on people with broader experience.

If I were building out a market intelligence function for a company that wanted to be independent of analysts, I'd start by building some relationships with the analysts themselves. Learn who is expert in what and ingratiate yourself.

Unfortunately, no analyst house has ever been able to make it with income only from practitioners. This isn't true in all industries. But, ours is a staff function. The HR buyer will always be a little short of money.

There's another thing. As companies mature, they don't usually have embedded methods for executing technology projects. It usually takes making a mistake or two before you start to see some of the wisdom of acquisition.

Vendors could help themselves here. Imagine if the next white paper you read actually says something. The amount of crap produced by vendors, analysts, bloggers and other influencers is astonishing. And none of it says anything at all. I'm ready to see a series called "White Papers That Actually Mean Something"

3. Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention your upcoming Master Class. What was the brainchild behind this initiative and what will attendees take home from their participation?

Jeanne Achille, William Tincup and I have been working with and around each other for a very long time. We've been talking about how difficult it is to really prepare for the trade show season. WE got tired of seeing the problem being treated as marketing incompetence.

Most projects and conferences that try to help marketers are sponsor-intense offerings that treat their attendees like wallets with legs. We wanted to do something really different.

The Master Class in the HCM Market will be held on July 11 in Princeton, NJ. It is an intense data dump designed for people who are competent in their jobs. We believe that a lot of people don't get a clear picture of the marketplace. Jeanne, William and I have been serving the market for decades. We know its rhythms, its opportunities and its fluctuations. We know where the bodies are buried and who has the keys to the crypt.

The program covers the entire range of knowable facts about the marketplace from investment and acquisition trends to trade show prep and development. If you attend, you will emerge with a working map of the industry and its potential.

This is going to be fun. The three of us love working together. We have complementary styles and insights. You'd be well advised to find a way to be a part of it.