SI Review: December 2011


Power Seller

How four little words unlock endless possibilities for sales

By Sue Holub

In today’s challenging business environment, the human capital services industry has become a highly competitive and commoditized marketplace. While there are companies of all shapes and sizes — global powerhouses, in-country focused, vertical niche and mom and pop shops — most use the same value statements to sell their services. Standing out from the competition is no easy feat as all companies’ marketing asserts that they have the best people, processes and technology. So how do you successfully define value in the eyes of a client? The answer is you don’t — the client does.

Earlier this year, I attended the Staffing Industry Analysts Executive Forum in Miami, where I had the opportunity to connect with several clients and prospects. After the event ended, I found myself at the airport waiting to board my flight with three employees from a company that I met during the conference. We had passed the time chatting, when one of them asked “How are you different from other staffing companies?”

I had just been asked the Holy Grail question for all sales executives — no matter your industry. Here I was, given a chance to deliver an elevator pitch so unique and compelling that it would capture their attention and encourage further dialogue.

So, I turned to the power of four little prepositions — for, by, with and to.

1. Value for the client. The secret is simple: make it about the prospect instead of you. While many companies like to say they have best-in-class solutions, it is essential to customize your offering to match the prospect’s unique requirements and environment, and not squander an opportunity with a robotic, canned response. Your goal should be to ensure the prospect believes you have a genuine understanding of their business and a sincere interest in their individual success. Ultimately, you want the prospect to see you as a truly vested partner who will take the success or failure of their efforts as seriously as they do.

2. As defined by the client. While many staffing companies conduct research to determine what is of value to clients, in fact, defining real client value is done most effectively on an individual basis. Client agreements usually contain various terms, conditions and SLAs, and providers typically validate their value in these areas via periodic reports and business reviews.

But your business relationship should go beyond standard metrics and move toward true value drivers for the client. How is the client measured? What are their individual, departmental or organizational goals? In addition, your client will typically have several key stakeholders — HR, procurement and functional leaders — each with a different definition of value. It is our job to open a dialogue that uncovers each stakeholder’s specific pains, needs and opportunities, so we are crystal clear on the definition of value in their minds, not ours.

3. Fit with the client. Fairly straightforward, this preposition ties back to the old adage “people buy from those they like and trust.” While it seems simple, it can take more time and effort than you might expect. Think about the individuals you hire into your own organization. When evaluating candidates on paper, they can appear to have similar experience, skills and credentials. It is only during the interview process that you are able to assess each candidate’s unique abilities and personality. The relationship between a client and human capital services provider is similar, and it is vital that you take the time to understand each client’s unique culture and operating environment. Is the organization’s culture more formal or casual? Is it processoriented or relationship-focused? Each client relationship is distinctive, and you must continually nurture it and never take it for granted.

4. Accountability to the client. Here, accountability goes beyond the client holding your company responsible to perform according to established metrics. It’s about you holding yourself personally accountable on an ongoing basis for the status and outcomes of the business relationship. Every client relationship hits a rough patch from time to time — just like every personal relationship does. But once we know what is truly valuable for the client, each of us needs to hold ourselves more individually accountable to those measures and be able to minimize the frequency and severity of any rough patches.

It’s probably been a long time since any of us have thought about the power of the preposition. But to truly succeed, those of us in sales may benefit by getting back to the basics and adjusting our thinking from sales to client relationship management. Using this school of thought, the Four Prepositions are words to live and prosper by — you never know when or where a golden opportunity will present itself to win over a new client.

Sue Holub is senior vice president of sales, marketing and client services at Impellam Group plc North America. She can be reached at


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