Computer software has undoubtedly had a profound impact on the recruiting industry during the past 30 years. With its help, not to mention the advent of the Internet, recruiters have been able to do their jobs more quickly, efficiently, and effectively. However, when it comes to providing your clients with the type of experience that keeps them fully engaged, your firm needs more than just a great software package.
It needs a great "you."
Recruiting is one of the most "people-centric" professions in our free market economy. There are people at every stage of the recruiting process. As a result, it stands to reason that your ability to deal with people and forge relationships with them will affect the bottom line of your business more than the selection of your software package. Don't get me wrong—your firm needs a package that fits the way you like to work. However, your clients ultimately aren't concerned about your software as much as they are about how you can serve their needs and solve their problems.
So what you really need to do is focus on how you as an individual and your firm overall can better give your clients what they need, when they need it.
In other words, you should release "You—version 2.0"
2.0 and your business model
The second version of any software package contains certain upgrades that the first version did not have. And when it comes to maximizing the productivity and profitability of your business, you should be constantly seeking ways to upgrade the service that you provide to your customers, including how you engage clients and candidates, the experience that you provide to everybody you talk with, and the modification and improvement of your existing business model.
Does your current model accomplish everything you'd like it to accomplish? More importantly, does it accomplish everything that your clients would like it to?
Robert Liken, CPC, CTC of Liken Services, Inc., has been in the recruiting industry for more than 30 years. During that time, he's accumulated a great deal of experience dealing with hiring managers and authorities, and one of the greatest lessons he's learned is that you build a lifetime of business in two ways—1.) through building relationships, and 2.) by understanding your clients' needs and solving their staffing problems, no matter what they might be.
"Our clients have a need," said Liken. "We don't care if that need is contract, perm, or temp-to-perm. Our main responsibility is to develop a relationship with the clients, and then the job orders become a byproduct of that relationship. One problem in our industry is that a lot of recruiters are in it to make money first, and the needs of their clients are secondary. Long-term relationships are going to come from serving the needs of the client. The money will come."
Liken advocates a blended business model of permanent placements and contract staffing. By offering both direct and contract placements, he's not only ready to more effectively address his clients' needs, but he's also generating additional revenue streams that can supplement his permanent placement business.
"The permanent fee is a one-time hit, but the contract fee is residual income, and that's icing on the cake," said Liken. "It's almost like owning real estate. You get that rent every month. If each recruiter could get 10 contractors out there, the residual income adds up, and they don't have to do anything except collect the money. If they have a few contractors out there, they're generating income even when they're having a dry month on the permanent side."
2.0's user-friendly features
"You 2.0" goes beyond your business model. It also involves how you interact with clients on a daily basis. According to Liken, making the other person the focus of your conversations is crucial in fostering an atmosphere that's conducive to building relationships. By doing so, you immediately spark the interest of the other person, and as a result, they subconsciously lower their defenses. And here's a bonus: by focusing on the hiring manager and their needs, you can ask probing questions that will allow you to gather important information about what their needs truly are. Once you've done that, you can take the next step.
"Get to the bottom of the problems they're trying to solve," said Liken. "It's just like if you walk into a party and start talking about yourself, people get bored with you. But if you walk into a party and ask people about themselves, then they think you're a great conversationalist. People love to talk about themselves. The recruiter has to ask clients a lot of questions and then come back with solutions to help them solve their problems. That's a skill that has to be learned."
According to Liken, the traditional cold-call mentality, i.e., cold calling for the sole purpose of trying to secure a job order, is outdated and counterproductive, a version 1.0 approach. With version 2.0 cold-calling, calls are made to gather information and build relationships, which provides a much more user-friendly experience for the person on the other end of the telephone.
"Our cold calls are nothing more than qualifying suspects to see if they really are prospects," said Liken. "Other people waste a lot of time making random cold calls just to meet numbers versus focusing those calls on a suspect that meets certain criteria based on an Ideal Client Model. Targeted calls take more time, but you're going to focus your efforts into a more solid contact. I'm not looking for a job order from a cold call. I just want to know if they fit my Ideal Client Model. If they do, I'm going to find reasons to get back in front of them so I can get future job orders."
To look at it another way, it's a matter of numbers. Is a hiring manager more likely to give you a job order the first time you call them . . . or the third . . . or the fifth? The later in the process you're willing to travel, the better your chances become. The more you invest in terms of time and energy, the bigger the return you stand to gain on that investment.
"The real key here is the concept and the culture of developing the client relationship," said Liken. "Too many agencies are still out there making cold calls to get job orders. The clients hate that, and they don't want any part of it. Those days are gone. Clients want a vendor, a partner. They want somebody who's going to work with them, who's going to help them solve problems, and who's going to keep their cost of operation down."
2.0 in a recession
And what about all of the reports in the media recently regarding the possibility that the country is sliding into a recession, if it's not in one already? How can "You 2.0" help with that? It's a rather simple equation. First, make your clients the focus. Second, ask probing questions that will allow you to gather information to ascertain their needs. Third, take the steps necessary to meet their needs and solve their problems. Once you do that, you'll build and cultivate loyalty with those clients. Then, if the hammer falls during the recession, which recruiter do you think they'll work with? One they trust and are loyal to, or one they barely know and who hasn't taken the time to build a relationship with them?
"[Clients] want to develop a relationship and work with fewer people," said Liken. "They're the ones with the need and the ones paying the bill. Clients are starting to understand that. They're starting to weed out the one-time callers, and they're boiling it down to those who are willing to build a relationship with them and work with them over time."
Make no mistake about it. There are some recruiters who go out of business during a recession. By most estimates, at least 40% of all recruiters in the industry closed their doors, so to speak, during the last recession, which occurred at the beginning of the decade. Recruiters who haven't upgraded themselves or their firms (in other words, those who are still trying to run 1.0 in a 2.0 world), are going to experience difficulty if the recession materializes fully and lasts for an extended period of time.
"There are probably still enough one-time job orders out there that some recruiters can keep their head above water in good times," said Liken. "Those are also the folks who fall by the wayside when times get a little tough. The guys who haven't built relationships and are out there every day making cold calls looking for a new job order aren't going to be around during the next recession. They'll make it through the good times, but the bad times will weed them out."
When you think about it, recruiters who aren't willing to upgrade themselves make it easier for everyone else in the industry. Recruiters are always looking for a "differentiation of services," offering something they hope will set them apart from their competitors. What better way to do that then through efforts designed to personalize the experience you provide and enhance your relationship-building efforts? After all, if your competitors aren't willing to build relationships with their clients that will create long-term loyalty, you'll be glad to do so in their stead.
"We all recruit candidates, we all get job orders, and we all do what we do," said Liken. "What separates us from the others is us. Our unique selling point at Liken Services is building that relationship and maintaining it. Everybody has to make a certain number of phone calls to clients where we don't have job orders. This is so we stay in touch with clients that don't have anything open right now, just to maintain that relationship."
Obsolete = delete
The first quarter of this year is over, but there's still time to release "You 2.0" to your base of client companies and make 2008 one of your best years ever. Assess your current business model. How would adding contracting increase its potential for profits, while at the same time helping to service your clients in a more thorough and expedient fashion? If somebody asked your clients, "Should this recruiting firm (yours) add contracting services?" to its offerings, what do you think their response would be?
The "same-old, same-old" approach isn't enough in today's competitive market. What worked yesterday—and even today—rarely works tomorrow. As your software, not to mention your hardware, is constantly upgraded, the rest of your firm should be, as well. Build relationships, create loyalty, and solve problems. Do what it takes to build positive experiences with your clients and brand yourself as somebody who gets the job done, no matter what that job might be.
Because after all, nobody wants to be considered obsolete.