If All You Want Is To Sell Me, Don’t Bother

Vendor: A person who sells something

Partner: An ally or companion

What’s the difference between a staffing agency being a vendor or a partner?

The key is how both hiring managers and agency recruiters respect the relationship. Hiring managers can’t get upset at the quality of candidates they receive when they treat recruiters like dirt. And staffing agencies cannot be upset when they treat the recruiting process like a sales transaction.

Most staffing professionals want to be viewed as trusted partners to their hiring managers and HR clients, but rarely achieve this level of respect. They don’t know how to be partners. They don’t know what this type of professional relationship looks like. As a result, most agencies are relegated to being a vendor, called upon only when all other hiring measures have failed. Conversely hiring managers must be clear in what they expect out of the relationship. They can’t send out a blanket need for an opening without context.

Most hiring managers say they want a partner they can trust, but in practice they treat staffing agencies like interchangeable parts. If one vendor doesn’t give them the exact candidate they want they’ll call the next agency on the list. This treatment may be partly the fault of the vendors themselves. There are simply so many staffing agencies they’ve created a competitive landscape that is primarily dictated by price. That’s the easiest front to frame up your client relationship. Bu these relationships should be based on value, not price.

Most agency recruiters are guilty of one thing – overselling weak candidates. Basically, they find a candidate they think is a fit and then sell, sell, sell. They push through an interview, hope the person lands the job, and they are on to their next client or job order. This is NOT relationship building. This is making a sale.

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Vendors are in it for the quick sell. Partners are trusted resources, building their reputation one candidate placement at a time.

Ultimately, some clients are simply going to be price driven. As a staffing agency, though, you don’t have to play in that sand box. In my experience, partnership driven agencies don’t frame up their value based on price. Certainly price plays a role, but should is not the primary driver. Instead, they continue to forge relationships internally getting to know many layers within the organization, educating their clients on potential talent shortfalls before the client is even aware of them. Said another way, recruiters who are all about the sale don’t build relationships and will forever compete on price as their only value. As a hiring manger, it’s not difficult to figure out which type of recruiter you’re dealing with.

I prefer partners who don’t limit their only contact to presenting candidates or getting the next job order. I want partners who dig deeper and are connected to my company’s core mission. If my company is sponsoring a 5k team, I want to see someone from all my key partners in attendance. If they hear someone from my company is interviewing elsewhere, I want you to tell me (of course, keeping it confidential). This is the type of stuff relationship builders do. They leave no doubt that my best interest is also their best interest. Lastly, I absolutely will not work with agencies that try to recruit my away people. It’s just bad business and certainly not the type of relationship worth fostering.

Lastly, agency recruiters need to be comfortable walking away from clients who want transactional  vendor relationships. For you, this is bad business. And I will be the first to admit, I’ve had agencies fire me. Early in my career I was quick to blame my staffing agencies for their performance. I’ve come to learn part of their failure to deliver top talent was my inability to forge a meaningful relationship with them. I’ve come to learn that professional staffing agency partners work hardest for their most loyal clients. They truly understand my organization and I’ve come to trust their judgment.

Matt Lowney is the CEO of Practice Recruiters and The Recruiting Call Center. He was previously the EVP of talent & operations at The Buntin Group, Tennessee’s largest advertising agency. Prior, he was director of recruiting for HealthSpring and recruiting manager at DaVita. Connect with him at http://www.linkedin.com/in/mattlowney

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