How Asking Better Questions Can Win You Great Clients

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Dec 22, 2015
This article is part of a series called How-Tos.

Why do recruiters struggle so much to get good fees and conditions when working with new clients?

First, we need to change the perception of how you are viewed on a phone call. It is using great language, but it is also shifting away from being a P – I – T – C – H – M – A – N or woman. I don’t like the word “pitch” because that means I’m pitching something at you. Pitching is not consultative. Pitching is what salespeople do. By no means am I at all ashamed of being a salesperson or being a recruiter. However, this is what 80% of the industry does. It “pitches,” “pushes,” and very strongly sells its service to hiring managers even before a need is identified.

Now, my personal experience, and my experience in coaching and teaching recruiters is that most recruiters jump into a phone call from their own frame of mind: “I want.” Not necessarily using these words, but my gut feeling is these are what your thought patterns are:

I want an opening, I need a job order, I want to make a placement, I want an exclusive, I want a retainer, I want good terms, I want to work with a hiring manager, I want, I want, I want, I want, I want, I want!!!

Even if you don’t use those words, trust me, the person on the other end of the phone hears that. They hear it all the time from recruiters. And, actually with some recruiters – none of you, of course – they hear it verbally.

A Lack of Sophistication

This is why many recruiters are treated poorly and why most all of us are treated the same. It is because there’s a significant lack of sophistication in that initial approach and bluntly, in most approaches by recruiters. They are very transparent in their need and desire to want to close and make placements. Some of the more polished recruiters out there are intuitive enough to know to make it consultative.

I am putting this long editorial up front because having owned my own firm for almost 25 years, and for having now taught recruiting to solo operators, recruiting firm owners, etc., for several years, these are common themes. You need to be sensitized to the fact your clients are picking up on this “neediness,” which is why they are quoting you 18%, 20%, or telling you: “Go to HR,” “Don’t work with me,” “Send resumes,” “Use BountyJobs,” etc. You hear that because they perceive you as offering no more value than anyone else in the profession.

The Hiring Manager’s Perception

Think about it. You get somebody on the call and you are engaging them – assume this is a cold call conversation and let us assume for a moment they have an opening. And they say, “Well, do you have one of these individuals based wherever?” Then you start asking questions.

Before that conversation begins, what do you think their perception of you is? Again, the assumption we are making is this is your first encounter with them. Write it down. What do you think their perception of you is? If you’ve written anything other than, “They think I am like everybody else” you’re wrong. What that hiring manager is more than likely thinking is that you are a necessary evil.

“I (hiring manager) can’t fill the position on my own and must succumb to using a recruiter,” is how their thinking goes. “HR isn’t necessarily doing a great job finding and uncovering good talent for me. Let me talk to this recruiter to see what they have.” Their perception is, “Here’s another recruiter who will dig into her database and surface some candidates and for whatever magic they work, hopefully, they’ve got the guy or gal sitting in that database that I can hire and I’ll grudgingly pay a fee.”

A Hiring Tax

This is the key term – they never say it – they FEEL what they are paying is a “hiring tax.” The hiring tax is your fee. Meaning, what perceived value do you get from paying taxes? While paying taxes is our civic duty, generally, we don’t talk about taxation as an exchange of value. The reason they are going to pay you $20,000, $25,000 or more is because they just want the problem to go away.

Furthermore, what has been their past experience with recruiters? Their experience is Mary or Joe Recruiter calls them up as a recruiter and says, “Hey, do you have any openings?” They respond, “Oh, yeah, I need a controller.” And, then you start asking, “Well, why don’t you tell me a little bit about what you are looking for?” and then, “What’s the compensation?” and “What are the duties and responsibilities? How long has the position been open? What are the selling points of the opportunity?”

How Are You Different

Does this sound familiar? None of these questions in and of themselves are poor questions; it is just that there are 87,000 recruiters asking the same questions in the same order. So what happens when you start asking questions like that? You tend to hear, You are going to have to submit resumes through HR,” which is what the other 86,999 recruiters were told and you respond, “Well, I don’t want to work that way.” They’ve probably heard that, too, except you have done nothing to earn – keyword: earn the right to get better terms.

If you sound the same, you generally deserve, with all due respect, to be treated the same.

I challenge you to resolve now, when you finish this article, to practice and commit to change once and for all.

Get Rid of the Commodity Words

Other commodity terms that will place you, from a perception standpoint, in the ranks of an average recruiter: “job orders,” “open req’s,” “duties and responsibilities.” These terms put the hiring manager into robot mode. You know what they’ll say: Well, I’m looking for somebody with strong, written and verbal communication skills.” Have any of you ever taken a search where they wanted somebody who couldn’t write or read? Have you ever heard, ”I’m looking for somebody really mediocre in their written and verbal communication skills.” That answer means nothing, okay? And, you actually probably write it down.

How do we avoid all this? The good news is, bluntly, 80% of your competition is poor or weak at best. How do I know that? Over the years now I have talked with thousands of recruiters, and they are wonderful people, but most don’t want to invest the time and resources to become better than average, never mind great or outstanding. There are those top 10, 15, 20% of recruiters that when I bump into them and when I hear them talk at conferences, I think they are brilliant. On the other hand, there’s a bunch of people who sound like a 1975 recruiter behind an aluminum desk with a Formica top and a 3 x 5 card file with questions like, What do I need to do to get you to hire this candidate today?”

That means that when you want to break into a new prospect, unless they are already working with one of those few top recruiters, you have an opportunity to get an exclusive, maybe even a retainer, with a more sophisticated approach.

Become THE Recruiting Firm

Let me pause for a moment, while we look at another perspective.

Think about all the other professional service firms out there. If you think about accountants and lawyers, for example, when companies need legal work done do they call six lawyers and say, “Hey, we’ll give this case to four of you and the one that can solve it the best, we’ll pay?” When accounting firms approach prospects, do they hear, “Hey, you know what, four of you do an audit, we’ll pay the best one?” No, those are professional service firms. Now, sure, the law firm and the accounting firm compete for the business, but once they get the business, they are paid to do the work.

We do not compete by doing contingency work against the other recruiters. That is doing the work and potentially not getting paid. The accounting or law firm, yes, they might put some hours into a presentation and a proposal with references, but the one selected is the “lawyer” or the “accountant” or the “accounting firm” for years. Why not with recruiting firms too?

Now that I have painted the picture, you need to begin to differentiate yourself by asking significantly better questions. Go through your process of identifying needs/pain in your clients’ current situation. Invest some time in rewriting your needs analysis questions, your search assignment questions, etc. This is the key to starting the relationship off on better terms. My clients, after doing this exercise and with my templates, have noticed a “night and day” difference in the responses by their prospects within days of implementing this strategy.

This article is part of a series called How-Tos.
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