If What You’re Doing Doesn’t Work, Try the Opposite

Jul 19, 2012

When I opened my firm in 1990, well, I kinda — no I did — SUCK!

In my first year in this business I only cashed in $23,000 personally. Even if you adjust for inflation, maybe if you’re kind, we come up with $50,000 in today’s dollars. I did everything the wrong way — client development, time management, prepping, closing, training, leading, etc.

I remember struggling and watching one of my favorite shows in the 90’s, Seinfeld. In one episode, George was so frustrated with the way his life had unfolded that he figured most of the decisions he made along the way were wrong. He surmised that if most of his decisions were wrong, then the opposite of those decisions was probably correct. The show was hysterical in that it laid out a few scenarios where he did the opposite of what he usually did — and got much better results.

OK, sure, it’s a sitcom, scripted to make us laugh and get great ratings. However, that show inspired me to do some introspection. I was frustrated with where I was professionally at the time. What was the quality of my business decisions? Why wasn’t I getting the results I wanted? What information was I basing my decisions on, and was that helpful or hurtful?

Three years later, after several frustratingly poor and mediocre years doing $200k to $500k as an office, we found ourselves doing $3 million. It would be a great story if I could honestly say the character of George Costanza on Seinfeld solely inspired me to these results. That would be a lie. It was, however, one of the elements I did use in my decision-making, and would joke with my recruiters when things didn’t go our way that “the opposite must be true!”

The customer is always right. Right? Wrong!

For years I genuflected to prospects and worked their processes and believed promises that they were different; that their processes worked, and that they would be responsive. “Work our way/for our low fee and we promise to give you TONS more business!” That one should be added to the all time lies hall of fame.

I changed. This didn’t happen overnight and it took a bunch of trial and error. It’s a process. If you follow it you will get rich in this business.

In the case of the customer is always right, the opposite is often correct. The customer is usually wrong about working with a recruiter. It is surprisingly rare you find a prospect who, without your coaching and advice, will work with you for a fair fee, with a streamlined process, and be considerate of what they need to do to attract great talent. For years I worked hard at uncovering talent and then watched as the client/prospect messed it up.

I kept expecting them to get better! I kept expecting them to change. As Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.”

First, let us look at why clients treat recruiters the way they do. Here’s the big reason and I am going to be v blunt: The big reason we are treated poorly is that we brought it on ourselves.

There are a large number of recruiters and recruiting firm owners who pull resumes off job boards and the Internet and email them over to their client, without even calling to qualify them first. Okay, some recruiters pull these people off job boards and they do qualify them, but go no further or deeper to develop talent; maybe they do some cursory work on LinkedIn, but they don’t go wide and deep for the client, nor do they even try to propose this as an option!

If your marketing proposition is simply that you are going to find “top talent” you sound like everyone else in the recruiting profession! You have commoditized your service, making it very difficult to sell exclusives, engagements, and yourself as the sole source provider of talent in their company or at least on your client’s team.

So how do you fix that? How do you get clients to work your way, pay great fees, and give you exclusives/engagements? I could write a book on that. For the purpose of this article, here are some suggestions:

1. Change your mindset. Their process is broken or at the very least inefficient. You can’t tell them that; you have to get them to tell you it’s broken. How? Stop telling them how wonderful you are and ask great questions! For example:

  • What would you describe as the quality of the resumes and the candidates you traditionally see when you fill this position?
  • Do you feel that working with three recruiters increases the likelihood of you finding the best available person?
  • Are you open to hearing about our process of discovering truly hidden talent in your market?

2. If they answer they are thrilled with the talent they are seeing, ask them why they are talking with you.

It would make no sense that if they were thrilled with the level of service they were getting they would entertain putting you on the search. If they are truly happy, WALK AWAY! Here is one thing I have learned in my life. People want what they perceive they cannot have! One of two things happens when you say

Geez Mr./Ms Hiring Mgr, sounds like you are thrilled with your talent identification process! If that’s the case, you don’t need me. Here’s my contact info if something changes.

I am telling you; seven out of ten will say something to the effect of ,Well, I wouldn’t say thrilled!” If they do and you make a statement, game over. The proper response to that statement would be “Say more” or “How so?” Remember: get them to ADMIT what is NOT working!

3.  Tell them exactly how you will fill the position.

This was a game changer for me. I stopped talking about great candidates and shared my step-by-step process for discovering great candidates. If you simply write down all the things you do, from the research stage, calling the candidates and the quantity of candidates you will call, your unique approach to them when they pick up the phone, your assessment process, evaluation, and closing process, etc., then you will generate confidence. Why? NO ONE does this. Everyone pitches quality candidates, but no one discusses how they engineer (key word there — engineer) a process designed to uncover great talent. This one distinction landed me million in fees. MILLIONS!

When I started in this business I made a bunch of statements, selling propositions to prospects on why they should use me. I then told them why they should work my way. Sure I made some occasional, random placements, but I was just an average performer. The opposite of statements is questions. When I started doing the opposite of what I had been doing at the time, my billings and my firm’s revenue exploded! What are your “opposites” you can consider working on in client development?

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