SI Review: June 2011

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Yeah! We Made the List!

How to win preferred supplier status with clients

In the competitive staffing market, being a preferred supplier can boost your company’s bottom line and foster opportunities for growth. And as staffing buyers centralize and streamline their talent demand channels, becoming a preferred supplier is more important — and more challenging — to achieve.

Is there a reliable way to improve a staffing firm’s chances of winning a preferred status with clients?

Keys to Winning

There is no silver bullet, and every situation is different. Still, there are key elements every client seeks — and they likely already exist in your firm. All you need to do is showcase them through a great story.

Here are some elements:

Performance. This is where the rubber meets the road. Be prepared to identify your ability to meet the typical service level agreements in a staffing contract. Spell out what you have done for others that you can do for this staffing buyer.

Bring a recommended list of performance metrics and information on how your firm can excel at meeting or exceeding objectives. Demonstrate how your company can be a top performer by being able to drill down several layers. If you tell a client that you can find the best talent in the shortest time, be prepared to tell them how you can do that.

Quality. While quality has both subjective and objective measurements, clients will ask how you measure it. Show statistics and/or analytics that demonstrate how you measure quality as well as how other clients have benefitted.

Highlight special or unique things your firm does that maybe others don’t. This is a good place to reveal your internal/operational quality measurements.

Leadership. Many firms think the salesperson or account manager should do most of the heavy lifting during an evaluation process, but the leadership of your company is also important to clients.

If you want to significantly improve your chances of a positive outcome, involve your senior leadership team in the evaluation process. This includes not only the CEO or CFO, but also your chief human resources officer, chief legal person and even the chief technology person. Each will have a part in making an impact on the client and showing your firm is willing to make a commitment at the highest level to ensure a successful, long-term working relationship.

Value. Many staffing firms focus on individual elements when wooing clients, but ultimately fail to tie them together with a final value proposition. Your company should have a value proposition that really sends a clear message of why your firm is best-suited to be a preferred supplier.

A total value proposition also helps take the focus off of any specific element that may not be in line with the client’s expectation, and it paints a clear picture of a much better overall value for the client.

Business Ethics and Integrity. If your firm has a policy on business ethics, talk about that policy and how it is an important aspect of your business model. If you provide any related training to employees (internal as well as billable employees), be prepared to discuss it. This is another area where you can build credibility.

Speed. Some clients might prefer fast and good over slow and excellent. Depending on the nature of the client’s needs, be sure you can demonstrate how you can respond in a timely fashion. Be equipped to show any statistics or measurements (for a variety of work environments) to assure a staffing buyer that you have the ability to find good talent in a timely fashion.

Cost. Let’s face it, cost is always a big discussion item. Prove you have a delivery model that can be cost effective for the client. Share how your firm can operate on a flexible basis to keep costs to a minimum but without an adverse impact on quality.

Clients may ask you to bid out pricing in a variety of scenarios. Come primed in advance to answer questions on why your firm operates on the cost model that’s in place and how flexible you are willing to be going forward.

Synergies & Cultural Fit. This is a subjective but very powerful element that can work in your favor. Research your client and its culture; highlight any synergies you identify. Share any relationships your firm may have with companies that are similar to the client.

Market Insight. Staffing buyers will want to know if you have market knowledge and, in particular, relevant market knowledge. If your firm is in tune with trends in the market, this will likely impact the client for the better. Some firms even have dedicated research departments, lobbyists and knowledge databases. Revealing these capabilities and pitching how your firm can bring additional value to the client through market insight is important. Remember, relevance is key.

If you don’t have the internal resources to devote to market research, there are external sources of such information.

Relationship Management. Go beyond assigning a single point of contact, take advantage of displaying your relationship management program. This might include an advisory board, steering committee or some other group that engages on a regular basis for the benefit of both parties.

Processes. Many firms have detailed internal processes that indirectly impact a client. If you use a specific methodology, showcase that and focus on the value it provides. Chances are that your client also uses some standardized processes, so this knowledge will help build additional comfort and credibility.

Business Terms. Ultimately you will have to come to a mutual agreement on key business terms. This is generally finalized in the master services agreement. If possible, ask for a copy of the master services agreement (at least a template version) early in the evaluation stages. Having the agreement in advance will help you formulate your business development strategy and enable you
to prepare in advance for negotiations.

Prior Experience. If you already have a relationship with this client, make sure you have all of your success stories and any champions lined up for a testimonial. Don’t assume that because you have done business in the past that you are automatically approved to be in the preferred slot in the future. It is not uncommon for clients to rebid their entire supplier network or to consider shuffling the preferred suppliers. Staffing firms have lost clients by not taking the rebidding process seriously.

Flexibility. If there is one constant in business, it is change. Your client’s business climate is subject to change without notice, so your client will also be keen to see how flexible its staffing suppliers can be. Be prepared to show how your firm can be flexible in an ever-changing business climate.

Significant Impact

Certainly there are other elements to take into consideration when seeking to become a preferred supplier. However, I believe these are elements that have a significant impact on the client’s decision-making process. And make no mistake: How you communicate during the evaluation process is also very important! Your timeliness, dress, professionalism, communication style, attention to detail and even whom you send to the on-site meetings with the client will send a message about your potential interest and fit for a preferred status.

Ultimately, winning an approved status with your client can sometimes be more art than science, and there are always subjective influences and relationships. But in my experience as a client/user of staffing services, showcasing your capabilities through these elements will improve your chances in achieving a
successful outcome.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Steven Scott is a consultant and advisor with more than 16 years in the contingent workforce and talent management industry. Scott is a principal with Cornerstone Business Solutions and can be reached at steven@go-cbs.com or (214) 403-5754.

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