Dartboard Sourcing

Mar 24, 2009

Many sourcing expeditions are doomed to failure because the sourcer “assumes” they have found what the customer wants. The fact is, in these instances, the sourcer hasn’t asked enough questions of the customer on the front end of the process to know what the customer wants. This is because they do not possess the depth of experience in sourcing to know what questions to ask.

You all have seen me write a few times about relying on instinct and your sixth sense when sourcing. But if you don’t have a layered knowledge and experience in the sourcing process, your sixth sense and intuition are going to bring you nothing but a lot of trouble! Using your spidey feelings should only be a part of your expertise.

An unorganized, hit-or miss approach lies at the heart of many sourcing failures. This contributes to an extremely high cost of sourcing in many organizations that is nothing more than inefficiency, laziness, and unnecessary waste. If your sourcing projects begin with a finding of facts rather than a set of guesses your training and instincts while sourcing will serve you best.

Sourcing isn’t a dart game, though the “target” image is used by some in representing it. To hit that bulls-eye you must aim with a deadly accuracy, and that exactitude can only be achieved with a mastery of a certain set of activities. When you’re using the telephone for your sourcing labors, many calls “miss their mark” because they’re not pointed at the right targets. Dartboard sourcing is a good way to fail.

Usually a sourcer isn’t pointed at the right target because the sourcer has failed to ask of the customer what those right target accoutrements might be. “Ask the customer?” you might be thinking with horror. “They’re paying me to know! Why would I do that?” is the knee-jerk reaction of some. These sourcers couldn’t be more wrong. Your customer is paying you to ask the right questions, and most customers understand, and appreciate your curiosity, implicitly. I find that most of my paying suitors are more than willing to spend whatever time is needed to apprise me of the particulars of the sourcing task they’re setting me to.

I wrote a piece on sourcing here on ERE a couple years ago called “Help Me Help You.”

One of the questions I ask my customers in the “Help Me Help You” document that I revealed in that piece is who the person we’re seeking might report to and who that person might report to. This information allows me to skirt around the object of my pursuit on my reconnaissance missions gathering information about the sourcing target(s) I am seeking. Another important question (that is not contained in that 2006 piece) is who reports to the person we seek? Those persons are all conduits of information!

By calling the persons above and below the title strike* I am focused on I become privy to information that I am sure those persons possess. Who doesn’t know who they report to and who doesn’t know who reports to them? Many times it’s not even really those particular persons I talk to — after all, it’s awkward, isn’t it, to call and ask someone, “Who do you report to?” or “Who reports to you?” Those are not questions usually generated in the normal habitat. I talk to administrative assistants many times who support the particular group I’m after. Or I talk to the executive assistant of the C-level person over the group. Or I talk to the receptionist who can look above and below in an org chart for the persons I’m asking after. It’s not hard to ascertain if she can do this. You simply ask her. It’s all good, and I use whatever technique that works.

Another question in my “Help Me Help You” document addresses the actual plea to tell me what I probably do not know — the inside scoop, the dirt, if you will. I couch it in the following term: “Anything else you view as important and that you think I have a need to know.” You’d be surprised how many times this is one of the most filled-out portions of the questionnaire. And you’d be double surprised to know how often the information is of great value, even to an experienced sourcer. There’s a saying about the only dumb question being the unasked question. It couldn’t be more true than in sourcing!

Most of the success you will meet (or not meet) with as a telephone sourcer will be found in the pre-flight workup of each job. I tell my students that phone sourcing is like a plane coming down on the tarmac for a landing — the first thing you do is observe from on-high, and then you descend, straightening your wings as you do, and then you touch down. The success of that first “touch” is mostly contingent on the planning you’ve put into your job. If the landing strip isn’t correctly aligned, if the timing and approach of your touch-down isn’t strictly observed, if your wings aren’t level, you’re going to crash and burn!

Now is the time to hone your phone sourcing knowledge and skills like never before. When recruiting comes roaring back — and it will come roaring back — if you’ve been making assumptions and guesstimating when you make your unprepared sourcing calls and haven’t been doing exactitude plane maintenance and schooling, you’re going to pay a heavy price.

*Title-Strike: 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.

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