Getting Business: A Guide to Increasing Your Customer Base in Challenging Environments

Jul 31, 2008

In my travels supporting sales/marketing efforts for HR service companies, I hear a common lament: how can I get more business and find more prospects with a need for my recruiting/staffing services?

Today, this is particularly more top-of-mind because key clients are:

  1. Freezing hiring activities or cutting back.
  2. Reducing their vendor lists.
  3. Pulling more of the recruiting internally.

The net effect — combined with stiff recruiting competition — reduces the need for adding more recruiting or staffing resources.

Drivers of Success

Many larger recruiting firms have developed strong networks, both client- and candidate-based, have marketing/advertising dollars, and strong methodologies. This does not mean they have a lock on clients.

The first driver of success, of course, is delivery. Many companies are willing to give agencies a shot, particularly if they are willing to perform contingency search. A lot of failure to break in is attributed to lack of delivery.

I have seen situations where the TPR was given a chance but blew it, for example, because the candidate presented was scraped from a job board and recognized by the client, did not do due diligence and had the candidate drop out, or didn’t have the recruiting/sourcing competency in the first place to build an adequate pipeline suited for that client.

Many times, recruiters or account executives also fail to forge ongoing interactive relationships; they meet the client once and then never contact them with updates or let them know what is going on. The client will never do business with those firms again.

Even if the delivery is there, meaning the company understands competencies well and has a record for delivering, the second driver of success is the entry capability or business development skill. In an arena with much competition, the key is differentiation and differentiation for value. Differentiation coupled with other elements, like knowledge of the business/industry, experience, history, and compelling reasons to engage will capture, at the very least, a prospect’s attention.

It’s the Messaging

Many firms, when marketing themselves or a candidate, will rely on a very generic “I” centered, message. Many times a firm will send out a brochure with an accompanying email/voicemail that basically says,

This is <insert name of firm>. Our competencies are <recruiting skills>. Our clients are <name a few brand-name companies>.  Our scope is <name countries>.  You should do business with us because: <I have the best methodology, recruiting staff, years of experience>.

We  also won’t discuss the emails I have seen from staffing agencies “demanding requirements for bench consultants” or “achieving comfort for you knowing about business” and other poorly written, grammatically incorrect, and generally unprofessional communications! That is separate article.

All those self-promoting statements are helpful, but it really does not answer the prospect’s or suspect’s question of “WHY”. Why should I do business with YOU and not the 50 other firms that called me this week (saying the same thing) or my incumbent firms? Why should I take your candidate and not someone else?

Many firms do a very poor job of articulating a value-driven reason to answer this question. This is more of the problem than “How many calls do I make?” or “Do I leave a voicemail?”

So how do you, the TPR, go about creating the answer to “Why should I do business with YOU?”

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the prospect’s business/industry AND situation. More than just a generic statement of “we have 10 years in technology” or “we do .Net based projects,” research trade mags, company sites, or industry association publications and try to find something compelling. For example, a little research on an energy firm turned up that a majority of Web applications were proprietary,  they had an emphasis on Web-based projects, a large Microsoft infrastructure, and were building out core trading platforms.  A staffing firm I was working with had a strong Web/e-commerce consulting practice, the recruiters had experience in financial services and with trading platform projects, and the company had a strong Microsoft competency. We were able to map the staffing firm’s competencies to prospective needs, demonstrating an understanding of the specific business and how we could support their initiatives in more detail than most.
  2. Identify a specific and compelling value proposition as it relates to the prospect. What makes your company really different from the five other recruiting agencies located within 15 miles of you? And how is it relevant to the prospect? Saying you have a passive candidate search methodology is great, but that wouldn’t be applicable to a local retailer seeking store associates. Saying you have strong local market presence may not help a multinational firm that has needs overseas. This sounds very obvious, yet it is usually overlooked. It is critical to identify the specific value that is brought to that particular company or segment. A staffing firm I worked with had a really unique global recruiting model which resonated with multinational firms and firms intending to become multinational. We leveraged that to attract new clients and were able to get a bit of a premium as well for those services. We identified their USP – unique selling proposition.
  3. Identify a specific solution or compelling reason to engage with your firm. Here is where the experience, expertise, and other credibility-enhancing statements play a role. Leveraging relevant experience, similar firm clients, successfully executed engagements will help build the overall business case for engaging your firm. If there is identification of a specific need or project, mentioning your firm’s capability as it pertains to similar projects or experience in handling something like that will resonate. But it has to be relevant to the prospect.
  4. Craft a customized message (initially emailed or talked about) for each prospect. Paragraph one, identify areas in which the prospect may have an issue or a need for services.  I understand that Energy Company has undertaken a number of web based projects in 2007 that will continue. Further, there seems to be a great deal of .NET development.  Paragraph two, answer WHY-BECAUSE. From talking with a number of clients, we understand that finding the right .NET developers can be a challenge. If these Web-based projects are continuing as I found in my research, our agency has accomplished a lot in providing both staffing and project execution for Web development in the energy industry.  Paragraph 3:  Leverage expertise and support. Given our work with Energy Company 2 and Energy Company 3 (or similar companies), we felt that we would be an excellent resource to work with your firm. Paragraph 4 or continuation:  USP or unique statement. Our firm is known in the local market for Web development resource fill rate times of less than 30 days resulting from passive candidate search techniques, network, and candidate relationships. We also focus in the following areas:  xyz, zyx, pdq. Close:  I’d like to further discuss our capabilities with you and will call within the week to set up a short discussion. And then CALL. This is a simple example.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how many calls you make, emails you send, or brochures/marcom you develop, if there is no relevancy and differentiation to a prospect. If you can demonstrate your unique value to a particular company, then they will be willing to work with you.  Every company will have different needs, no two companies are alike – this is a major mistake marketers and business development people make today.

Generic messages do not work (caveat: unless it is price-driven). Consider the analogy of the job applicant. When reviewing resumes for a position, do you favor the resume that is specifically tailored to the position or the one that generically outlines skills? Who would you put in front of a hiring manager?

The exact same principle is in force behind engaging for net-new business. Like a job application, your personality, approach, demeanor will also play a role in selection.

The first step in going after new business is understanding your true competencies and relating them to your target acquisition account, the second is crafting the right messaging, the third and probably least important is the execution and follow-up.  Execution does mean picking up the phone, professionally communicating, and following up diligently. Follow this advice and your prospect pipelines should improve….good luck and godspeed!

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