You shouldn’t be picking an ATS before you pick a CRM.
Most talent teams today have a good understanding of what an ATS does, and some idea of what a CRM can do. This is probably because the ATS has been around for far longer, so it has fallen by default in the role of central tool that TA teams build their stack around.
Even the most agile organizations have trouble implementing change in their processes, so it’s hard for a talent team to disregard the way they’ve been assessing and evaluating tools proactively, even when the change would bring improvements.
Here’s how we think about the difference between an ATs and a CRM:
ATS: Your applicant tracking system is a repository for applicants and manages the application process. It's often a compliance requirement and it's the system of record that recruiters traditionally rely on.
CRM: Your candidate relationship management system is for job seekers and candidates. It's the engine that drives your sourcing team, lets you create talent pools and helps you build and nurture relationships with passive talent.
Put simply, your ATS is a workflow that manages applicants and is built around vacancies, your CRM is an ecosystem and intelligence hub of all passive and active candidates, as well as everyone who has previously applied to your company.
There is a tendency to sometimes call both CRMs and Recruitment Marketing platforms “CRMs”, even though at the start, they were not the same. But for the sake of keeping this blog post simple, we’ll be referring to all CRMs, Recruitment marketing tools, and any combination of them both as CRM.
The Inhouse Recruitment Network approaches this definition from a similar angle, and adds the table below to give examples of what functionalities are usually included in a CRM that an ATS does not have.
Source: InHouse Recruitment Network
ATSs and CRMs serve different core purposes. There are different products on the market, with various functionalities that make these core purposes hard to discern, but it comes down to this: an ATS is built around vacancies, and to track the application process. A CRM, on the other hand, is built to manage relationships with people. An ATS might have extra features that allow you to send emails or job alerts to applicants, or enable the creation of a candidate profile, but it doesn’t enable the end-to-end management of a relationship with that candidate. It doesn’t set up the recruiting team for proactive outreach and pipeline building. It simply wasn’t built for that.
Inversely, a CRM might have vacancy application tracking capabilities, and be able to track candidates as they move down the funnel, but it probably wouldn’t have the kind of job advertising or onboarding features that a good ATS provides.
The CRM vs ATS decision process
The question of whether to pick a CRM or an ATS first comes up when a talent teams decides to upgrade their talent acquisition toolstack. We’ve noticed that often, they naturally approach the problem by starting at the ATS.
If these teams were able to take that specific problem out of its context and asked themselves: “what is the best way to pick the right tools for any business function?”, the decision-making process would probably be clearer, because it wouldn’t be weighed down with preconceived notions, habits, and unconscious bias against change.
In fact, it would probably go somewhere along the line of questions below:
Step 1: What is the end goal, the north star, the most important result that my function needs to achieve?
Step 2: What enables me to achieve that end goal? What is the core task that I need to accomplish everyday in order to move towards that goal?
Step 3: What smaller tasks and steps make up this core task? What is the best overall process for it?
Step 4: What tools are best suited to managing this core process in the most optimal way for our organization?
Approaching the decision-making process from this agnostic perspective can take the TA team in a totally different direction from where they first thought they would be going.
Why you need to pick a CRM first
Let’s go over those questions again, this time in the context of talent acquisition.
Step 1: What is the end goal? A modern TA teams seeks to supply its organization with a steady, predictable flow of high-quality talent. It’s not simply to fill roles when they open up anymore, it’s to provide quality, and a certain measure of confidence around the fact that those great hires will keep coming. That’s why talent acquisition is becoming a source of competitive advantage for businesses, and not just an order-taking cost center.
Step 2: What is the core task that enables me to achieve that goal? The answer to that boils down to talent engagement. Talent engagement is a wide array of activities and functions, involving every person in the talent acquisition team, as well as some people from the HR team and the wider organization, but at its core, it’s the activities that enable a company to build relationships with candidates proactively, and have a pipeline of talent in place in order to provide that predictability and quality mentioned above. Again, filling out roles is table stakes- the real value provided by modern teams is to be able to sustainably compete for high-quality talent.
Step 3: what smaller tasks and processes make up the larger, core task? This depends on the ambition and the resources of the team, but it’s always easier to do this exercise using a methodical framework, and not just by brainstorming and maybe letting things slip through the cracks.
When we work with a team to help them define what their talent acquisition processes should look like, we suggest they roughly group everything they might want to do under the following four categories.
Step 4: what tools are best suited to these processes?
If the TA team hasn’t involved a recruitment operations specialist in this process up to this point, then they definitely need to do it before going on with this last step.
For one, they will be able to formalize and illustrate the teams’ processes in a way that ensures the desired results are attainable in the most efficient, cost-effective way. They will also deal with pesky little issues like technical stability of the systems, security, compliance, and the like.
But mostly, they will be able to make a judgment call on what the tools available on the market actually offer on a technical level, in a way that might not be immediately apparent to the rest of the team.
A great example of that is integrations.
While most recruiting tech on offer today boasts some sort of integration with other tools, not all integrations are equal. How information circulates between tools is extremely important, however. It’s what enables tools to connect together to actually create the seamless, end-to-end talent engagement ecosystem that the team is looking for.
An integration can be something as basic and limiting as “candidate profiles created in tool A will also be created in tool B”. What this statement doesn’t say is that, the reverse is not true, or that not all data points about the profiles are carried through, for example. An operations specialist will know the right questions to ask to ensure that your toolstack enables information to flow as smoothly as possible.
When going through the decision-making process in this way, it becomes clear that it makes much more sense to define what the team needs to nurture candidates and manage relationships first. Their CRM will have a much higher impact on their day-to-day sourcing, screening, branding and nurturing operations than the ATS. it makes much more sense to Pick a great CRM, and find an ATS that integrates well with it and enables it to create a 360 acquisition toolstack
The talent tech market is now mature enough that, even with the confusing array of tools offered by vendors, no one still confuses ATS and CRMs - much. There is, however, still an opportunity for talent teams to gain ground on the competition by changing the way they choose these tools.
The ATS is an important pieces of the talent acquisition process, but it is not the main constraint. Where TA teams need to focus is where they can drive the most impact, and that’s their CRM.
Selecting the Right Recruitment Marketing Technology for your Business
According to Aptitude Research, over 70% of enterprise organizations are investing in recruitment marketing capabilities this year.In order to help with this process, Kelly Cartwright, head of Talent Acquisition Technology Strategy at Amazon Web Services, and Madeline Laurano, founder of Aptitude Research, will be discussing some of the latest trends in recruitment marketing and key recommendations for evaluating providers in our next webinar.