Smashfly CEO, Thom Kenney

Are employers gaming Glassdoor? Why is the TAtech Recruitment Marketing Summit going to be so kick ass? WTF is going on out there?

Smashfly CEO Thom Kenney has an opinion that you have to hear. Oh, and he covers a lot more than that with the boys on this Nexxt exclusive.


PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION sponsored by:Disability Solutions helps businesses find qualified candidates with disabilities for their job postings.

Announcer: This The Chad and Cheese brought to you in partnership with TATech. TATech, the Association for talent acquisition solutions. Visit

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Chad: Yeah, I know. I call it our Pavlovian dog reflex to text messaging.

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Chad: What?

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Announcer: Hide your kids, lock the doors. You're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, brash opinion and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls, it's time for The Chad & Cheese Podcast.

Joel: We have 2/3s of the show being military men today. Real treat. We've got Thom Kenney, CEO of SmashFly . Thom, welcome to the show.

Thom: Thanks Joel. Good to be here.

Joel: Before that you were a CTO, right, of SmashFly?

Thom: I was.

Joel: You're an army guy and you're a Notre Dame grad. What else should we know about you?

Thom: I actually sing opera.

Joel: Really?

Thom: I do. Yeah, I've sang with the Boston symphony for a little over a decade or so before I became CEO.

Chad: How do we not know this? How did we not get some type of operatic with Guinness in Ireland? Last time we had you on the show, oh, that would've been fucking perfect.

Joel: He's a very humble man. Although you can get him to stay up later for drinks if you say something like only marines stay out till 3:00 AM or something like ... He can be badgered in that way.

Thom: I can. And I can be lured in by pizza. I like what.

Joel: It's a little sucker.

Chad: Oh dude. Yeah. Yeah, and that's good stuff. So speaking of conferences because that was during a TATech Conference. We've got another marketing, was it recruitment marketing summit coming up in Chicago, right?

Joel: Chicago.

Thom: Yeah. In just a few weeks.

Joel: Chicago.

Chad: Yeah, it is just a few weeks isn't it? I mean it's in April. So SmashFly is like the headliner on this bitch. So why'd you guys want to get involved? Tell us a little bit more about how this all came to be.

Thom: Well I tell you the experience that we've had with TATech just in general. Well the TATech team has been really, really positive. And when we look at some of the conferences that we've been to, some of the insights that we've gained and also that we've been able to give, it's a really good audience for us to talk to. And when we looked around the landscape, you've got conferences that are in Europe, you've got conferences here in the US, you've got the AI conference that's coming up in Arizona in just a couple of weeks.

Thom: We looked at this from the perspective of where is SmashFly really in this whole ecosystem? And part of that recruitment marketing platform, part of what recruitment marketing is, as we look to the future, especially as we look to push this idea of how we're leveraging automation and personalization to really create great candidate experiences. We thought what a perfect platform for us to be able to share with the industry where we think things are going and invite some really great folks working with the TATech Team to really put on a great conference specifically focused on the recruitment marketing side.

Joel: And just as a side note, the show really took off once they started featuring Chad and Cheese at the conferences, but that's neither here nor there.

Chad: He's being humble. He's being humble.

Joel: Thom the last time you spoke, it's almost been about a year since we were in Dublin together. You've been CEO for almost roughly a year now. Tell me about what you've seen, what kind of changes have really stood out to you in the last year in recruiting technology?

Thom: I think one of the biggest things that we've seen, especially in the last year, is you look to all of the small point solutions that are really coming about to help build that automation or that personalization, whether it's conversational AI, chat bots, whether it's sourcing, whether it's intelligent interviewing, psychometric analysis. There's been a lot of movement in the industry. And what I think is most interesting about it, because like you said, I was a CTO before I was a CEO, to geek out on some of this tech is phenomenal. The challenge that we have is that it's not getting easier to talk about the tech and to talk about the value of the tech.

Thom: It's almost getting a little bit harder because the tech is becoming more advanced. There's more that you can do with it and demonstrating a business proposition to the economic buyer has been one of those things that we and a lot of our friends that we're partners with had been spending a lot of time with to really demonstrate, this isn't just a really cool, neat little trick of technology. It actually moves the needle for the business because at the end of the day, that's what everybody wants.

Chad: That's one of the things that really kind of pisses me off because I geek out over this tech that's coming out. But the thing is it's not being positioned appropriately. It's like, look at all this cool stuff? Look at this glitter? Look at this glam? But we're not seeing business solutions and there are business solutions that are actually baked into them, but it seems like there are way too many product people that are like trying to shape message and not sales and marketing people who are trying to shape message.

Thom: Well, what do you want there to shape the message? Do you want somebody that's willing just to sell you anything just because it happens to be a feature? Or do you want a real deep dive from a product marketing team? When you talk about a SWOT analysis, when you're talking about a market analysis, when you talk about a growth opportunity, the tools that are being built with only a sales and marketing focus are going to be vaporware. They're going to be gone. The tools that are being built in partnership with some of the best companies in the world, those are the ones that are actually going to have staying power because they're being built to a business need that's being articulated by the business, not by the neat little shiny object that somebody is going to grab and look out for a little while and then toss in the trash.

Joel: Yeah, one of the things that stood out to me in Dublin was you saying that companies were calling you saying we need a chatbot, but not really knowing why they needed a chatbot. So have we at least evolved to a point where companies know why they need a chatbot?

Thom: A lot of our customers are, and the interesting thing is that they're articulating a business case that really helps them move that needle. Because if you think about the history of the industry has really looked at how do we optimize what the recruiter and the sourcer are doing? How do we decrease expenses? How do we decrease our time to hire? And these metrics that are important. But the reality is, what you're really trying to do is grab the talent and the hiring managers and bring them together more quickly and the right talent to the right hiring managers at the right time is one of the most important things.

Thom: What we've started to see, especially in the past six months in some of our sales cycles is customers are asking us very, very specific details about how will this chatbot, this conversational AI transform the experience for the candidates? And when we talk to those customers about what they're looking for, we had a variety of different pieces of feedback. Either people just have too much volume and they need people to get engaged without always talking to the recruiter on the phone and other folks are well, we deal with almost all passive candidates who never want to pick up the phone to talk to a recurrence. So it's a great way just to create that initial interest in the organization.

Thom: Because when we think about recruitment marketing and to some extent the ATS and through the process of discovery all the way through to higher, there's really those three top tiers of that bucket. You've got to discover the talent or discover the company, that's on both sides of the equation. You've got to generate some awareness of what the value proposition is, whether that's for an opportunity or whether that's for a mission statement for a company. And then finally you get the interest and the interest is where the call to action is to actually apply and get into that process.

Thom: We talked to our customers a lot about where do you need to tweak your model? Do people know who you are? Great. Do they know anything about you? They don't. Okay, that's an area that we can help you with. And when you link all these pieces together between social engagement, email campaigns, the way we do career marketing sites and chatbots, you bring that together in a holistic view. You demonstrate a value proposition that really is both measurable and actionable that makes a difference for a company.

Chad: We've been talking about this new survey that came out that says 75% of recruiters have no confidence in most of the technology that's out there today, which means the new AI, the chatbots, so on and so forth, which means it's going to be hard from an adoption standpoint, which is exactly what a company like yours needs. You need that adoption. Just from your standpoint, how is Emerson helping defeat that no competence kind of feeling from a recruiter? How does a chatbot like Emerson do that?

Thom: It is hard to overcome that because you have a lot of solutions out there that regardless of the industry that are just bad. I mean I remember the early days of Verizon trying to use the chat bot that they had onboard. I mean, literally wanting to throw my laptop across the room because it was so stupid. I mean no intelligence in it whatsoever. And so a lot of that experience for the recruiters, they see chatbots, they see conversational AI across the industries and it isn't just recruiting. So when we talk to these folks, the way Emerson interfaces with a CRM, I think is one of the most important aspects of what it is that we're delivering.

Thom: You're not talking about two completely separate systems. You're talking about an integrated platform where the conversations flow into the candidate relationship management system in a way that's seamless. Now the interesting thing about it is when we get the pushback from folks about, well, this isn't worthwhile and this isn't something that we can really rely on. Then we get into a scenario where we can actually show them in real world examples where this is actually making a difference and we're pretty transparent too about this is what it can do and this is what it can't do. If you want it to be able to answer any question in the world, it's not going to happen. Natural language processing, semantic analysis, it's really, really good. But most of our customers don't have a million or a million and a half dollars that they want to spend to create the perfect chatbot that's going to answer every question on the planet.

Thom: The question to them becomes, what are the biggest pain points that you have? We're the mundane tasks that you do every day and what are those tactical touchpoints that really make a difference for the talent. And if you hone in on what that messaging is and each company is different, but you hone in on what that messaging is and it can actually be impactful. One of the other things that I think is important about the way that we've implemented Emerson is it's not just a plug and play kind of chatbot. It's one that has the ability to interface with a human on the back end without ever knowing that there's a human there interfacing with that person on the front line. And an interesting stat that we have is a vast majority of people that interface with Emerson say thank you or some other version of thanks at the end of the conversation.

Chad: People are polite.

Thom: That shows an empathetic connections. They're very polite to the chatbot. Because I can tell you which ... Right. With chatbots that don't work, I can probably show you some of the ending comments of those.

Chad: Yeah, yeah. Fuck you, you saw.

Thom: Exactly.

Joel: Hey Thom, we've talked about chatbots here in the early minutes of the show, which is fun. But you guys offer quite an array of services and solution