A Sourcer’s Journal

Oct 28, 2008

Recently I posted a piece about namby-pamby sourcing, part of which was about being afraid of your own shadow in these troubled times. In it I stated that one way to improve upon scaredy-cat sourcing processes was to keep a journal about your daily sourcing routine. That way you could “see” and “hear” the mistakes you made along your sourcing way. I confessed I had been doing just that for several years when one day I realized I had a body of work with which I started a fledgling phone-sourcing training business. I didn’t have this intent when I started sourcing — the training business just flowed out of my actions. You never know where you’re going in this life ‘til you get there. And then you never know where you’re going next!

Someone suggested that it might be interesting to read a scenario out of my journal and the specifics of keeping such a journal, and what goes in it. At first surprised, I soon grasped the interest potential in reading a behind-the-scenes synopsis of a phone sourcer’s day. So, to wit:

Writing about your sourcing experiences in a journal gives you the opportunity to read back over your process releasing new ideas along the way. This is how I started communicating my processes — for years and years, when I had a particularly good day (or a particularly bad one!) I’d sit down and write out what happened. I’d do it in a script format. This is where many of the scripts I use as examples in my training came from.

One such day’s entry turned into a script that I used to demonstrate the effectiveness of acquiescence when sourcing. I advise that it’s usually best, when you’re in the early stages of contact with a Gatekeeper, to follow her suggestions until the two of you have established some minor rapport that allows you to “take over” at some point in the exchange and begin to direct her actions to achieve what you want. The following entry is from 2005.

August 6, 2005
Received job for Market Research Director in a.m. Good customer. Wants persons involved in market research at a target list of pharma/biotech companies. Looks like the old eye-dropper with an initial lavish budget of 35 names — told him for this position he’s going to need a lot more. He knows that but said his client is new to the names-sourcing concept and wants to see what it gets him and may come back to us for a second phase of work if he likes what he sees initially. <sigh> Time is of the essence (as it always is). He’s sent a couple dozen companies with the remark:

“It might make some sense to start with some of the smallest companies on the target list, and leave the real biggies for a later phase. They have a LOT of market research people, whereas some of the less-huge companies might have a group small enough to be manageable for us … “

He wants me to start first on the U.S. headquarters as that is where market research people are most likely to be concentrated and then next go out to the divisions. I don’t think time will permit much if any of that, certainly not in this first phase of work. He further instructs:

“He’s trying to fill a position as a Senior Director of Market Research, so his best prospects, and our highest priorities, will be SR. DIRECTORS, DIRECTORS, and ASSOCIATE DIRECTORS … as opportunity permits, he would also like us to flesh out levels below that (MANAGERS, and ANALYSTS).”

If I got all that we’re talking a couple hundred names — easy — out of the majority of these companies. In particular he wants people from any therapeutic area/business group, but has particular interest in people working exclusively, or partially, in the following three therapeutic areas: Oncology, CNS (Central Nervous System? — I hate it when they use abbreviations) and Addiction-Dependent Drugs.

Addiction-Dependent Drugs? That’s new. Ask for better definition …

Client would like e-mail addresses — not gonna happen. He has sent along a packet of names that includes market research people from the target companies with the remark that many are old — this means many will be gone or have moved to other functions higher up on the title level or maybe even now working in other areas. In addition there appears to be some marketing/product management people that either now work or have worked in Oncology or CNS. These people, or their administrative assistants, would know who the market research people are assigned to those therapeutic areas of interest.

Customer has tagged some of the target companies with an asterisk (*) to denote priority companies — many of them are large companies — start with the “smaller” of the “large” companies.

Those were my notes before starting the job and the following is the lesson formed from these notes.

A recent search for “Market Research Directors” in pharmaceutical companies demonstrates the power of acquiescence. Pharmaceutical companies have become increasingly difficult to navigate — but there are ways.

In I go, starting with my older research, LinkedIn, Spoke and other Internet results. I found as much (if not more!) elsewhere on the Internet as I did on LinkedIn, and much of my old research (and the customer’s) was outdated. But the Internet and LinkedIn stuff was especially valuable on this search. (By the way, I no longer use Spoke — I find Spoke these days to be nothing more than a repetition of LinkedIn residents.)

I Googled in different variations on the company name, along with the words director, manager, VP, “market research,” oncology, CNS, central nervous system, and addiction, and I looked up the drugs the companies produced in these verticals and Googled their names as well. In addition I added “area code/prefix” of locations I knew to be appropriate for the different locations within each company. I gathered above and below the title strike because some managers will have moved into director positions — after all, Internet research can be notoriously dated.

(Title strike refers to the level you want to “strike in” upon for your open position; in other words if you have a director position open, you’ll probably want to source managers for an upward move. Titles vary depending on the size of the company, but in general, the bigger the company, the lower your title-strike should be, and the smaller the company, the higher the title-strike can be. In other words, a manager-level in a $10-billion-sale company could be at the same experience level as a director in a $900-million-sale company or a VP in a $100-million-sale company.)

VPs will many times have administrative assistants or, better yet, executive assistants supporting them who may be willing to tell you who reports to their boss just to get you out of their hair and into someone else’s!

I generated a broad field of names (probably 300 or so) across 20 companies. Then I began the “drill in” process. One of the big hurdles was wading through all the answering machine nonsense nowadays when you call these companies. Usually I hit zero immediately when I hear that hated, “Stop and listen to this message. .. ” I don’t have time to “stop” for anything. “Zero” usually takes you to a live operator.

The following are a couple exchanges I had within the companies with the receptionists. One demonstrates the technique of acquiesce I have referred to above.

At this first company, I had no relevant names to “get me in.” I called — these pharma companies take a long time to answer nowadays!

“ABC Pharmaceutical Company, Missy speaking.”

“Hi Missy, this is Maureen Sharib, can you please transfer me to your market research department?”

“Which one, we have many?!” she gleefully announces.

“What different ones do you have, Missy?”

“Oh there are so many! I don’t have time to tell you — I’m on the switchboard — what is it you’re trying to accomplish, maybe I can help you that way?”

“I’m trying to reach someone in market research regarding oncology … ” I trail off, hoping she’ll pick up on my need. Notice I just give her one area of interest. To give her any/all of the vertical requests would probably ring her suspicion bell. At this point she does interrupt me:

“Just a moment, please” and before I can object she ejects me into their telephone transfer system, at the end of which I hit someone’s voice mail. Not knowing who it was or what it was, I write down the name of the person (Jeanette Owens) from the message; I also put the questioning remark “Market Research/Oncology?” after the name because you just never know. The line disconnected, not allowing me to “zero out” to the receptionist. Wasting no time, I call back in immediately. Missy answers again.

“Yes Missy, this is Maureen again. Well, that didn’t help, I hit someone’s voice mail — was that oncology market research?”

“Yes, it was — did you leave a message?”

“No, I didn’t leave a message with Jeanette, I didn’t know who she was — is she the Administrative Assistant for the department?” I casually ask. Notice I am repeating names (first) back to her. This is usually one of the first steps in establishing the “rapport” I mentioned earlier.

“Yes she is,” Missy affirms.

I silently replace the “?” with “AA/oncology market research” in my notes while simultaneously taking this bull by the horns.

“Missy, is there anyone else in the department we could try; is there maybe a manager, or even a director, you know, someone who heads the department, you could transfer me to?”

Missy hesitates. I wait, not too expectantly, because many times at this point (in pharma especially) I’m turned away with something to the effect, “If you leave a message with the AA she’ll return your call; that’s all I have,” at which point I usually acquiesce, agreeing to be transferred to the AA again, knowing that my response to her voice mail will be to “zero out” and hopefully get transferred to someone else in the same department or to a different receptionist who might be more helpful. In sourcing, hope springs eternal.

Sometimes it works that way, but again, sometimes it doesn’t. After which, I move onto the next company, vowing to come back to this one using my newfound knowledge about its oncology market research department to my advantage, which usually helps me get in — the different day/different dollar theory. Missy did just as I thought she might when I ended up back at her desk. “You’ll have to leave a message with her,” she informed me in a clipped tone. “All-righty-then,” I think to myself as I move onto the next target.

This job’s first phase concluded with 35 names out of a dozen of the original target companies, many of which were on the “priority” list. I put a note in the job that we had only “scratched the surface.” The end client was well pleased and ordered a second phase of work. I ended up delivering about 100 names out of 17 of the original target companies.
This actually happened as I have recounted it above. By the way, anything you see me write about sourcing is taken from my actual experiences, and much of this is material recorded in my journals. As you can see, this particular exercise was time-consuming on the front end but very effective. As you get further into the job, and work with and off your gathered information, it gets smoother and faster. The names become more prolific as the job advances; this rarely happens at the beginning of a job. You need to be organized and tenacious. You have to be gutsy and pick up that telephone and ask for information! There’s no other way — at least I haven’t found it yet. If you have, let me know!

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