“The Phone Rang…” Objection Responses

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Oct 14, 2011

My phone is ringing off the hook. More calls than I can remember receiving in a long time. Good news. The recruitment marketplace is heating up again. The callers are expressing a desire to re-attack their niches. This means they are getting ready to market again  — an activity many of my students haven’t really concentrated on in months. And with marketing will inevitably come those pesky Hiring Manager (HM) objections, so now it’s time to remind everyone how to respond to them.

Why we make Marketing Calls

But first things first: why do we make marketing calls? We make marketing calls to find companies that fall into three general categories:

  1. First and foremost, those companies that have a tremendous urgency to fill a position. We recruiters are most often paid to circumvent the time factor.
  2. Those companies that have a difficult position to fill. They have run ads, offered referral bonuses to employees, checked with competitors, consulted with colleagues, and extensively interviewed with no success. In this scenario, the recruiter offers these companies a window of opportunity – a “court of last resort,” if you will.
  3. Those companies that wish to be kept apprised of top-notch talent as those talented people surface, regardless of whether there is an opening.

It is generally accepted by top producing recruiters that these three types of companies, which we will ultimately place with, make up 4% of our marketplace. So, if our marketplace contains 1500 contacts (which I recommend), then 4% of that marketplace equals 60 companies with which we will place. Multiply those 60 placements times an average fee of $10,000 and we have a $600,000 per year desk. Multiply those 60 placements by an average fee of $20,000 and we have our basic $1,200,000 annual operation. That, my friends, is how recruiters, by themselves, bill over $1,000,000 per year. They understand the math.

So now we have been reminded of why we need to make marketing calls. However, when we make them, we are invariably going to hear HM objections and there will be a tendency to give up way too early.


Objections are normal consequences of what we do for a living. Unfortunately, many recruiters interpret an objection as a rejection — the HM has decided not to buy, and those recruiters stop selling. Top billers realize that an objection doesn’t mean “No,” but instead means, “You haven’t convinced me yet. You need to give me a more compelling reason to buy” — so top billers don’t see the objection as the end to the call, but as the beginning and as an opportunity to win.

The objections we receive can also be ‘defense mechanisms’ that have been built up over the years because of ‘recruiter presentation pollution’ that has preceded our marketing call. Think of these poor HMs who have had to listen to defective and shoddy presentations every day of their professional lives. Because of that, they have put up barriers. Then we call, make our scintillating presentation and get a rude reception seemingly through no fault of our own. We are being asked to pay for the sins of those who have preceded us. It’s a shame, but this pollution reaction does exist. Don’t let it affect you.

Over time, most HMs have built up an inventory of NO’s and YES’s — many more NO’s than YES’s, as a matter of fact. And so, when they listen to our initial presentation, we are more likely to get a NO just because the HM has more of those to give out. But they do have YES’s as well. What the HM is saying with his NO is, “You haven’t convinced me yet. Your presentation was not compelling. If you give up now, I will know that I was correct in giving you that NO. So go right ahead. I’m still on the phone. Convince me!” Now is the time for us to remember that most sales are closed after the initial objections have been expressed.

Stating an objection also allows the HM to avoid making a decision — after all, making a decision is risky business. That’s why most people aren’t good at it. A NO can be just as bad as a YES, so most of us tend to avoid either. Just think of yourself the last time you were shopping at the mall and a salesperson asked, “Can I help you with something today?” How did you respond? You probably said something like, “No thanks. I’m just looking.” It’s a very common response and postpones making a decision.

My final point is this: Since most of what we do is over the telephone, it’s easier for the HM to stop us. When we aren’t face-to-face with the HMs, we can’t read their non-verbal cues — a blush when they make an incorrect statement, fidgeting, tapping their fingers on their desk, etc. Over the phone, they don’t have a problem being abrupt with us. But always remember that the beauty of working via the telephone is that we can make many more calls and make many more presentations as we vector in on our 4%. That’s a huge advantage if we make use of it.

Questioning Technique

We ask questions to find out where we are in our selling sequence. Those questions need to be open-ended. I always think of the Rudyard Kipling poem when I think of open-ended questions:

I have six honest serving men

They taught me all I knew

I call them What and Where and When

And How and Why and Who

The only reason to make a statement is to prepare the way for asking a question. Never make a statement without following it with a question. The questioner controls the direction of the conversation.

Here are twelve pointers on questioning technique:

  1. We ask questions to gain and maintain control.
  2. We ask questions to indicate the broad areas the HMs are interested in where we might be of service, and then we ask more questions to isolate the narrow area that is our best opportunity to serve them, and then we ask more questions to pinpoint the exact service we can render.
  3. We ask questions to get the minor YES’s that will start the stream of minor agreements that will swell into the major river of acceptance of our proposition.
  4. We ask questions to arouse and direct emotions towards working with us.
  5. We ask questions to isolate objections.
  6. We ask questions to answer objections.
  7. We ask questions to determine the benefits that the prospect will buy (our services, expertise, and candidates).
  8. We ask questions to acknowledge a fact. If we say it, they can doubt it. If they say it, it is true.
  9. We ask questions that will confirm that (a) they are going ahead, and (b) we should now go on to the next step in our selling sequence.
  10. We ask questions to help our clients and candidates rationalize decisions that they want to make, but need a nudge in that direction.
  11. We ask questions that close the transaction, whether it’s the small closes along the way (such as when to set up the interview) or the final one of start date and salary.
  12. We ask questions to solicit their help. People love to be cast in the advisory role. We use this desire to “help” to our advantage.

When encountering objections, don’t use questions that will set up an adversarial relationship between you and the HM. Rather use questions that will enable you to qualify the objection as real or imagined. Make sure that the real objection has been uncovered. If we are attacking the wrong objection, no matter how compelling our arguments and selling points may be, we will lose.


When we hear generalizations, we can’t let them pass unchallenged. We need to drill down and investigate them. We can question them by reflecting those statements back with a question mark on the end. Think of this Precision Model when dealing with generalizations:

They say, “Too much, too many, too expensive…”

We say, “Compared to what?”


They say, “People are greedy,” (nouns)

We say, “Who or what or which specifically?”


They say, “Offensive football players should attack the defense.” (verbs)

We say, “How specifically?”


They say, “Should, Shouldn’t, Must, Can’t…”

We say, “What would happen if…? What causes or prevents…?”


They say, “All Recruiters are self-serving.” (universals)

We say, “All recruiters are self serving?”


Deal with Objections, and then move on…

Remember again the 4% rule that governs our success. 96% of the companies out there simply don’t need us. They can be nice to us. They can be responsive to us. They can even give us Job Orders and clear our fees, but they lack what we must have. They lack real URGENCY. And so, we need to thank these employers (i.e., ‘time wasters’), wish them the best, and move on.

In the immortal words of Thomas Edison, when asked about his seemingly futile quest to invent the light bulb,

“…I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

Similarly, when we are making all of these marketing calls, we are doing what Edison was doing. We are finding the companies who don’t need our services. In so doing, we are finding the other companies who desperately need us, and those are the ones that will make us rich.

One final piece of advice — this one from my favorite CFO, Ron Allen, who said that we always want to make sure that we are speaking with someone who can say YES and NO; too often we try to sell to those who can only say NO and because of that, we get a NO.

Objections come in many shapes and sizes. In my Quick Resource Guide, I enumerate seventeen different company objections and responses and four candidate objections and responses.

Here are some of the favorite responses to a couple of common HM objections:

The “No Openings” Objection

“No Openings” is the big one—the easiest way to get us off of the phone. It’s the one we hear with the most regularity.

“Oh, I guess I didn’t make myself clear. I’m a recruiter. I would venture a guess that 90% of the companies I place with don’t have openings when I call, but do want to be kept apprised of top-notch talent as that talent surfaces. One of the reasons for my call was to see if you wanted to avail yourself and your company of this unusual service.”

“What kind of person would you like to hear about, should I uncover that person in a subsequent search? Remember, I am a ‘contingency’ recruiter, so that means that it costs you nothing to speak with my candidates. Only if you make them an offer and they accept and they start to work does my service charge come into play.”

“Excellent. I assume no news is good news in that area. To what do you attribute your low turnover? (Answer) That sounds great. Of course, we are not solely in the business of filling openings. The majority of the placements we make and the relationships we have built are based upon a strong ability to locate, qualify, and refer high-performance rarities in our/your niche. We attract and recruit professionals who cost-justify themselves.”

“You are fortunate not to be concerned with an opening right now. On a scale of one to ten, one being the weakest link in your company, where do most of the employees fall? (The HM says a six). With our recruitment and evaluation process, if I could locate a seven or an eight and keep your payroll cost equal to or lower than your six, would you like to meet that person?”

The “Too Expensive” Objection

When the cost of our services comes up, try setting the value of the opening versus our service.

Explain to the HM the following basic sales principle. There are three different methods to estimate the worth of an employee to their company: The Multiple of Compensation Method; The Contribution to Profits Method; and The Cost of Replacement Method (and yes, for more information you can Google all three). This following presentation is based on the first method. The verbiage goes something like this:

“Based on studies conducted by the top business graduate schools in the US, an employee’s value to their company is usually set at five times their salary. So, for instance, if your opening calls for a salary of $50K, then the value that person should bring to your company is $250K per year. My service charge, on the other hand, is just 30% of their realistic first year’s earnings, which, in this case, is $15K. Or, to look at it another way, my fee is merely 6% of this position’s value to your company and that’s only for the 1st year! You benefit from the $250K value year after year after year. My fee is paid only once. When you look at our fee structure in this way, we can definitely bring an advantage to your company. Conversely, taking the value of this position at $250K per year, and realizing that there are 2,080 work hours in a year, you are hemorrhaging $120 per hour for each hour that this position remains vacant. Think about it! That’s about $1,000 per workday, $5,000 per workweek, etc. Three weeks with this position open will basically equal my fee, and you’ll still have that vacancy.”

At this point we can go into selling urgency again — that we are paid to circumvent the time factor, etc.

Universal Response to most objections

Here is a universal response that we can use on pretty much every objection that we hear:

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you had a sense of urgency and, as you know, we recruiters are paid to circumvent the time factor. When you say (state the objection) really what you are saying is that you don’t have any urgency and so don’t need my services right now. I completely understand. Should that urgency to fill your vacancy increase over time, please be sure to give me a call. I wish you the best. Goodbye.”

Formula for Objections

  1. The first time we hear an objection, we want to by-pass it — never answer it. “Yes, I can see why you might feel that way. By the way (go on with our presentation)…”
  2. If the HM brings it up again, that’s when we shut up and listen!!! This may be a condition of working with this client. This may be real.
  3. Once we hear them out, we now question the objection. “Just to clarify my thinking, (name), what brought that to your mind at this time?” or, “Just to clarify my thinking, (name), what makes that so critical at this moment?”
  4. Answer it fully.
  5. Confirm the answer. “That clarifies it completely now, doesn’t it!”
  6. Be diplomatic.
  7. Don’t ever argue.
  8. Don’t try to win; try to help.

If we give up when we face initial resistance without giving the HM the information they need to make an informed hiring decision, then both of us lose out. Always remember that the objective is not to overcome all the objections; the objective is to make the placement.

In the next article of “The Phone Rang…” series, I will cover “My tribute to John Wooden and his Pyramid of Success.” Until then, deal with those objections…

“The Phone Rang…” by Bob Marshall is a series that defines what we, as recruiters, do for a living. This article series ran in The Fordyce Letter over the past year and we are proud to bring you the series online. To subscribe to the print edition of The Fordyce Letter, click here.

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