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The Talent CRM Buyer’s Guide: Questions to Ask CRM Providers

Talent CRMs—otherwise known as recruitment CRMs—play a crucial role in a time-poor industry where there are always more emails to send, interviews to schedule, and roles to fill. Because it automates repetitive recruiting tasks and serves as a central repository—a “source of truth”—for candidate data, a CRM can help you manage every stage in your hiring process with greater efficiency, better organization, fewer resources, and lower costs. With all that extra time, recruiting teams are free to focus on what matters: building and nurturing relationships with talent. After all, it’s ultimately the candidate experience that matters.

Of course, all of this is only true if you choose the right CRM for your team. Because while a CRM can mean streamlined workflows, new analytical insights, faster hires, and improved candidate experience, it can also become a bottleneck if team members can’t get onboard, or the workflow is clumsy, or the CRM simply hasn’t been thought of as part of a larger recruitment strategy by its providers. And this will trickle down to talent. Prospects and candidates won’t know what recruitment tech you’re using, but they will observe how they’re being treated. And a negative candidate experience can mean more than losing that candidate. It can mean losing those in their networks as prospective candidates—as well as prospective customers. 

That’s a big ripple effect. So there are plenty of things you’ll want to be clear on before making the commitment—and they’re all questions to ask CRM providers. Of course, you’ll arrive at your shortlist by reviewing your processes, mapping your team’s priorities, and determining your CRM requirements—processes we’ve written about elsewhere. But the demo is where you’ll be confronted with a well-oiled overview of the CRM with a sales rep who isn’t likely to volunteer their solution’s shortcomings, and who doesn’t know the particulars of your needs.

That’s why you’ll get the most out of your time with a recruitment CRM provider by arriving with the right questions. You’ll have ones specific to your org, yes; but here’s our list of questions every talent acquisition team should be asking: 

1. Is Your CRM Built Specifically for Recruiting Teams?

We’re a little biased at Gem, but we think this is the first question you should ask of a provider… and for good reason. If a “talent CRM” provider doesn’t actually have expertise in the recruitment industry, it shouldn’t be calling itself that. A lot of talent CRMs brought to market are imitations of sales CRMs and marketing automation platforms—which focus on features like branded emails rather than maximizing the productivity of recruiting ops or the personal touch that inspires prospect engagement—and serve them up to TA teams as though recruiters’ needs are the same as marketers’ and sales teams’. But recruiters aren’t selling products; they’re nurturing and delivering people. They have unique demands, and require unique functionality. 

Different forms this question might take include:

  • How many recruiting teams use your product?
  • How many recruiting agencies use your product?
  • Can you provide customer case studies?
  • Can you provide references?

Those last two questions you should absolutely ask. Case studies and references provide “social proof” that teams (specifically recruiting teams!) with similar use cases to yours have seen success with that provider. Make sure the CRM provider can point to customers of a similar size, with similar workflows and hiring goals. 

2. How Long Does Implementation Take, and How Long to Get Recruiters Up-to-Speed?

If your organization is opening a second office and needs to hire 900 new employees, a 6-month CRM implementation simply isn’t going to cut it. Find out what the provider’s average implementation speed is. In fact, one of the most valuable decisions you can make before the conversation is what your time frame needs to be: When do you need your CRM to be fully functional, and your team to be onboarded and trained by? Does the CRM provider have documented success of implementation with current customers? If the provider promises to have the solution implemented by a certain date, but can’t deliver, what happens? Discuss the entire process step-by-step, in detail. You want to know what you’ll be in for when it comes to rollout. 

Additional questions to ask CRM providers around onboarding include:

  • What’s the extent of your training for current recruiters? What about for new recruiters down the road?
  • How many training sessions does your solution typically require? Does the training take place onsite or online?
  • Do you provide additional training when new features are released?
  • Do you provide online resources for new and current users (e.g. FAQs, tutorials, user manuals, best practices)?

3. What Does Customer Support Look Like? 

Support teams are often at their best when you’re still in the evaluation stage. But what happens during implementation, or if there are future bugs in the system? Look for a talent CRM vendor that’s responsive. You’ll likely get this through word-of-mouth; but you’ll also get a sense of a vendor’s support model if they encourage you to contact their technical support team “about anything.” How can you contact them if you run into a problem? On what channels does it occur? How quick are they to resolve issues? What is the average resolution time?

4. Do You Integrate with My ATS / Email / Events Platform / LinkedIn?

The whole point of a CRM is to gain visibility so you can streamline your hiring processes. But that won’t happen if your CRM doesn’t talk with your other software solutions. The most efficient CRMs integrate with your applicant tracking system (ATS), so you can access every person who has historically identified in some way with your company, search out those former silver medalists, segment and reconnect with them. They integrate with your email, where so many touchpoints occur—often with many members of your team—before prospects are ready to apply. This way you have the full history of candidate engagement in your CRM, and recruiters don’t have to move between platforms for the full narrative. 

The most efficient CRMs integrate with your events platform so information can be auto-populated when talent RSVPs or attends your talent talks or your college career fair booth. And they streamline workflows by pulling prospect information directly from LinkedIn. As such, you’ll have a seamless ecosystem in which every step of the candidate journey is logged in the CRM. So check in about all of these integrations.

5. Can I Pull Reports, and What Kinds of Analytics Will I Have Access to?

The best talent teams are tracking numbers and using them to make data-driven decisions. Your CRM should generate custom reports based on this data, so talent ops and hiring managers can get a birds-eye view of the state of hiring and individual recruiters can shift strategies where needed. Here are some of the metrics you should be able to access, download, save, and share: 

  • Outreach stats: Track engagement with open rates, click rates (content stats), and reply rates on prospect emails.
  • Activity views: Where are recruiters spending their time? How many prospects did they upload to the CRM last week? How many messages did they send? How many phone screens did they conduct? Productivity reports help you observe bottlenecks, identify top performers, and reproduce their habits. 
  • Pipeline analytics: What do conversion rates look like for each stage of your hiring funnel? Where are candidates getting stuck or dropping out? The passthrough rates for each stage will help you forecast for future hiring.
  • Filtering: For all of the above, you should be able to filter by individual recruiter, hiring manager, time period, job, location, gender, and more. (The gender filter is particularly important for teams who are prioritizing diversity hiring initiatives.)

6. Does Your Talent CRM Have the Key Features I Need?

“Key features” will be determined in part by your organization, your team, and its hiring needs. We walk you through the process of mapping your CRM priorities elsewhere; you should bring those into any conversation with a provider. But here are the features you shouldn’t do without:

Automatic Data Capture. Whether that means auto-populating CRM fields with LinkedIn data; tracking email sends, opens, and responses; providing email addresses and social links; or syncing touchpoints to the ATS; your CRM should take as much candidate research and data entry off recruiters’ hands as possible. Ask what manual activities the CRM allows you to dispense with.

Email Templates and Bulk Emailing. Choose a CRM that allows you to build out messaging with the help of tokens that auto-populate for each person in that talent pool when you hit “Send.” (By the way, choose a CRM that allows you to segment candidates into talent pools!) Otherwise recruiters have to cut-and-paste messages and click a separate “Send” button for every email.

Mail Scheduling and Sequencing. A good CRM should allow recruiters a set-it-and-forget-it mentality: They can build out nurture sequences, schedule the emails to go out one at a time in the coming weeks or months, then move on to their next project. 

Follow-up Reminders. If a prospective candidate says they’ll be ready to chat in six months, recruiters should be able to set a reminder in the CRM to go off six months from now. 

Search. No one wants to grapple with their CRM to unearth a candidate. Your CRM should allow you to search your entire candidate database by attributes such as role, location, education, skills, and more. It should also allow you to conduct Boolean searches (keywords + “AND,” “OR,” “NOT”), and save your favorite searches so you don’t have to recreate them every time a certain role is open.

Notes. A good CRM will log recruiter behavior and interactions with candidates; but you’ll want a place for recruiters to leave more detailed notes about those interactions. Why isn’t the candidate willing to consider a new role now right now, and when would they be? What reason did the candidate give for dropping out of process after onsite? Why were they rejected for the role? And so on. A complete candidate history means better visibility—and a better candidate experience. 

Customized Workflows. If you have different stages in your pipeline, your CRM provider should be able to reflect those in your analytics. Make sure you can customize the solution to your processes and workflows.

Collaboration. You can’t have a successful recruiting and hiring process if your team can’t effectively review prospective candidates with hiring managers or see a candidate’s history with your company. Look for a CRM that connects the right stakeholders with the information they need and provides each user with as much visibility as they need into a candidate’s previous engagements with your hiring team.

Analytics. We talked about this above, but it’s worth reiterating. Your recruiting org has to be data-driven these days if it is going to thrive. Make sure the CRM offers the numbers you need to make better decisions.

7. What Security Measures Are You Taking? 

Your records contain a lot of candidate data, and you don’t want those databases compromised. Your CRM provider should be SOC 2 Type II compliant, support SSL (https://), use encryption for data transfers and passwords, and set limits on what information can be collected. Remember, your organization’s reputation is at stake here.

Additional questions to ask CRM providers about security include:

  • Will I retain full ownership of my data?
  • Do you have multiple backups of my data? Will I be able to execute my daily activities under all circumstances?
  • Do you have standard processes in place for disaster recovery?
  • Are you GDPR compliant?

8. How Often do You Release New Product Features?

At its heart, this question is about innovation. Ultimately, you want to be working with a CRM provider that’s investing in consistent improvements to the product. Find out how often they build out new functionality, or how often they release system updates. If their engineers ever sit in on customer calls to better understand the nature of users’ pain points, all the better. 

9. Can I See a Live Demo?

Any CRM provider worth their salt will of course say yes to this. A demo will help you see whether the reality looks anything like what the provider has promised. It will also get you the answer to one of the most important questions: Is the solution intuitive and easy to use? The best CRM out there is pointless if your team won’t adopt it because the interface is complex and the user experience is unpleasant. Every task recruiters have to perform should be accomplished in a matter of clicks. 

10. Are There Hidden Fees?

Hopefully your CRM provider of choice is up-front with you and their pricing plan is straightforward. But to avoid future headaches, ask about data migration fees, setup fees or implementation charges, support fees, integration partner fees, integration partners’ support fees, and taxes. What’s the cost of adding new seats? Remember: You want a solution that can scale with your business, and that you can continue to afford as you grow.

Over the course of conversations with prospective CRM providers, there are other questions you’ll be able to answer about provider integrity and care. If they’re asking detailed information about your recruiting processes, your hiring needs, and what’s caused you to look for a solution, that’s a good sign. If they’re asking about business requirements, recruiter workflows, and future goals to ascertain how their software can best support your business, that’s a good sign. If they’re willing to provide multiple demos; if they’re honest and transparent about functionality and pricing; if they’re straightforward about implementation times—these are all good signs. 

A good recruitment CRM can turn your recruitment org into a remarkably productive and profitable team. And if you go into your conversations with providers asking these questions, the one you end up choosing will almost certainly be the right choice. 

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