Strategies for Selling IT Staffing in a Down Economy, Part 1

Jan 26, 2009

Effectively selling IT staffing in a good economy is never easy.

It’s highly competitive, requirements change on a moment’s notice, candidate availability often fluctuates, and there are pricing pressures and other factors in the sales process that we have little control over. It also requires a high level of sales activity, relentless persistence, discipline, and attention to detail, not to mention exceptional sales abilities.

In a down economy, we face all these same challenges, only on steroids.

All of these challenges are now magnified because opportunities are fewer and farther apart.

Think of a pack of wolves that have not eaten for over a week hunting for their next meal. They can’t afford to waste energy so their senses and awareness for executing that next kill are at an all-time high. They’re sharp. They’re “dialed- in” to the moment.

We need to be “dialed-in” when selling in a tough economy.

This two-part article will explore a few strategies to keep in mind when selling in a recession.

Adjust Your Mindset

When making sales calls, do not lead with your product or service and do not lead with questions related to “Are you hiring?” We know the answer is most likely “no.”

Where are you going to take the conversation from that point? When no “pre-defined, budget-approved” job orders exist, you need to find a problem to solve.

The trick is to seek out problems, not job orders!

Every IT hiring manager has problems. It’s our job to uncover those problems and propose a solution. Just ask your prospect the right questions and listen. They will tell you what they need help with.

Account Selection & Targeting

First, group your accounts into three buckets — Hot, Warm, and Cold:

  • Hot Accounts: Hot accounts are those customers where you have a good relationship and a high volume of business and which there is significant upside for additional opportunities. You need to stay in front of these customers as often as possible via face-to-face meetings, phone, email, mail, etc. Host a group lunch meeting at their office and invite the entire IT department and do a presentation of some sort. Whatever it is you do, just stay in front of them. Make sure you are cross selling into every department within these accounts even if you don’t think it makes sense to call on someone. Call on them. Sell into the functional business line managers (Sales, Manufacturing, Supply Chain, Marketing, etc). Spend time on location with your consultants (your clients will see you in the hallways, cafeteria, etc.) who are billing to get their help in expanding your footprint within these accounts. Think of your consultants as your personal account managers. They will help you find additional opportunities. Create an account development plan with them. Think about contract extensions 45 days in advance and start preparing your case for an extension for all of your consultants. And be prepared to negotiate. Spend a significant amount of your time in this area. Market previous candidates back into the account and to managers who hired the consultant in the past. Depending on the number of accounts you have in this category and their sheer size, you should spend a good portion of your time in this area.
  • Warm Accounts: Your warm customers are those who you have a good relationship with but volume is low. Start thinking about how and where else you can cross sell within these accounts. They have opportunities in areas you have yet to develop. You just have to find them. Start working to create new opportunities within these accounts.
  • Cold Accounts: Don’t just cold call willy-nilly. Instead, operate like a neurosurgeon with a well thought-out plan and calculated activities to support your strategic plan. Have specific industries and specific accounts within those industries targeted as prospects. You need to understand what industries are growing and why and what business issues those organizations face. Most importantly, you need to be able to map out how your service offering can help solve those business issues. Don’t waste your time prospecting into companies scaling back or not growing. Don’t just randomly call into any account, have a specific purpose for calling the account.

Unsolicited Opportunities

If you get invited to participate in an RFI or RFP for a sales opportunity in which you didn’t create through your own selling activities and/or you have no relationship with the account, don’t waste your time. Unless you created these opportunities, they are very difficult to win.

Statistics show you have less than a 10% chance of winning under these circumstances. Another sales rep from another firm has already done all the sales work and helped the client write the RFP or RFI. The only reason the client has included you is to fulfill their strategic sourcing strategy. Learn to quickly recognize these opportunities because they are time killers!

Instead, go out and create your own sales opportunities.


Sales people must have a laser-focused and airtight message in order to stimulate interest on behalf of their customers and prospects.

Specifically, your message regarding your service offering must be tied to the business/technical challenges your customers and prospects are currently experiencing. If your message doesn’t talk directly to their issues, customers will have no interest in talking with you. A little bit of research and a few extra calls will get you the information you need to deliver an air-tight message.

Suggestion: Make sure you understand the problems your consultants solve for your customers — these are your solution offerings.

For example, if your Business Intelligence Business Analyst set up the meta data repository for your client, which solved problem “X,” create a message around that and target other Business Intelligence Managers within your prospect accounts. Tell them how you helped your current customer with their meta-data repository.

Editor’s note: Tomorrow in part 2, Dan shares how to qualify, qualify, qualify some more! During a recession, it’s more important than ever to make sure you and your recruiting staff are working on real, qualified sales opportunities.

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