SI Review: May 2011

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Listen & Profit

The BOSS Group takes a consultative approach to sales

Picture this.
 
A staffing firm is pitching a potential client. Presentations are made and then the client asks the questions. There’s nothing remarkable in this scenario. Add The BOSS Group to the picture, though, and the situation is quite different. At The BOSS Group presentations, the sales group asks the questions of prospective clients. And they listen very intently to the responses.

And it’s serious business. Through this process, The BOSS Group learns about what the clients are looking for. Some questions the firm seeks to answer include: What is the client firm’s structure? Who are the client’s customers? Where can The BOSS Group add value? Choosing from and acting on the answers means landing a new client.

It doesn’t stop there. Even after winning the client, The BOSS Group works to keep up with its needs over time, aiming to offer solutions before that client is in “scramble” mode.

Never underestimate the power of listening. This consultative sales approach has paid off for The BOSS Group, a Bethesda, Md.-based marketing/creative staffing firm. Founded in 1988, it had revenue of $21 million in 2010. The company made the Inavero Institute’s 2011 Best of Staffing Client List and the 2010 Best of Staffing Candidate List. It also made Staffing Industry Analysts’ list of fastest-growing staffing firms in 2007.

Beyond Sales

What are the reasons for this company’s success? “Traditionally, in a lot of staffing relationships, it’s someone asking for the order then filling it,” says Jim Lanzalotto, who runs Scanlon.Louis, a strategy and marketing outsourcing firm. “But successful companies are providing more value beyond the transaction ... They’re bringing in market knowledge, they’re bringing in thought leadership, they’re bringing in value beyond the sale.”

It starts off with The BOSS Group doing its homework. Even before approaching a prospective client, the staffing firm seeks to understand the customer’s positioning in the marketplace. “It’s a question-based selling process,” says The BOSS Group President Conor Smith. “We do our research and ask the questions.” And it’s beyond just asking prospective clients “do you have any staffing needs?”

The first order of the day is to understand the structure of the clients’ company, who are the key players, what are the key drivers, who are the customers they are trying to market to? Through this process, the company works to understand its clients. Ultimately, the idea is to learn how a client engages and makes use of people.

“I think a lot of staffing companies begin there, transactional, ‘hey this is XYZ staffing company, do you have any needs. No? OK can I call you a few months from now?’“ says Smith.

When the BOSS Group gets that objection early in the process, they let the customer know that’s not why they are calling. They touch on the value they can bring to the potential customer. “We’re calling to learn about your organization to see what your pain points are and then perhaps to see if there’s anywhere along the line where we can add value” is a common refrain.

This approach works for the customer as it reveals where they want to be heading. Further, when a company engages many creatives, the consultative sales method has huge benefits. Job requisitions involving creative talent can be more complicated than other requisitions — there are a lot of intangibles, and someone who may be a good creative candidate for one company might not be for another.

That’s where The BOSS Group wins. They always do their homework.

What Homework Involves

The homework for the consultative selling process can cover any number of topics, says Katie Brim, regional manager at The BOSS Group. Networking, speaking with people at a prospective client to understand what their challenges are, to see how their workflow runs through the system are all important elements.

“The way that I look at approaching a client, I want to be able to paint a picture of what that department looks like from the outside,” says Brim. That includes who sits in that department, what type of department it is and what its goals are. Customers look for different things. A client who wants to receive the best possible client services rating from his or her internal customer base is quite different from someone who is more focused on saving money, she says.

The BOSS Group also looks at why companies would need to use a staffing service — do they turn to a staffing service when they are overloaded? Do they use a staffing firm for other situations such as when a worker goes on maternity leave? Do they hire on a temporary basis? Or do they prefer direct hire?

This line of enquiry helps The BOSS Group determine what type of worker will fit their customer. “We don’t want to throw resumes or samples at the wall and hope they stick,” Brim says. “I want to come prepared to my client.” A conversation with a hiring manager can take place once the homework is completed, says Brim.

Doing its homework enables the firm to completely understand the needs of its clients. Armed with this knowledge, salespeople can then offer solutions to a client before the client is in “scramble mode,” Brim says.

“I think they do a really good job at understanding what you need and really following up on that need,” says Padraic C. Hughes, section chief of multimedia services at the International Monetary Fund, a client of The BOSS Group.

Hughes’ operations at the International Monetary Fund include a creative services group that handles paper and electronic collateral; a broadcast and AV services group that produces feature videos and operates a broadcast studio that IMF officials use during interviews by major networks, and a group that provides business management for the other two groups.

“They (The BOSS Group) are always responsive and they’re easy to work with, which in my case are two major factors,” Hughes says. Situations throughout the world change on a daily basis, and Hughes needs to work quickly to react to his internal clients. He relies on The BOSS Group’s flexibility and the fact that they can get several resumes to him within 48 hours.

But it’s not just about sending resumes. Hughes talks with The BOSS Group on a quarterly basis about where his business is headed and working to provide solutions as things change. Hughes is one of many large customers that The BOSS Group stays in touch with regularly: It meets with its large clients quarterly in order to monitor what is going on with its clients and be proactive.

Different Views

Being hands-on brings many benefits. The consultative sales method, however, is complex and requires quite a different mentality from the transactional selling process. The transactional route has been the standard historical approach in the staffing industry.

“In those selling situations, a buyer has a need for a contractor or full-time hire, and the staffing company delivers per the standard expectation of recruiting, screening, selecting and placing a qualified individual,” says Amy Bingham, managing partner of Bingham Consulting Professionals, which helps staffing firms with strategic planning. The next time a need arises, the process repeats itself.

“The [transactional] sales cycle is much shorter than in a consultative selling situation, which is defined by more complex and customized staffing solutions aligned with the organization’s holistic staffing strategy. The sales cycle begins with thorough analysis of needs and the staffing service’s objective is to become integral to the organization’s human capital supply chain,” Bingham adds.

The consultative approach has become the norm in selling to large accounts where buyers have become more sophisticated, she says.

‘Staying Connected’

But the way the firm sees it, it doesn’t matter how sophisticated or not its buyers are. The staffing firm’s philosophy is to add value to its clients. Toward that end, it holds “CreativeExecs” events, which bring together creative executives — particularly those from in-house creative departments — for peer-to-peer discussions. CreativeExecs events take place quarterly and are by invitation only.

Creative professionals brainstorm ideas, talk about what their profession needs, their experiences and learn from one another. The goal is for the conversations to reveal suggestions and provide inspiration without focusing on staffing. Eventually, this knowledge will enable the firm to send in better-quality workers.

Another piece to this approach is an event called “CreativeConnects.” These social events are aimed at bringing together those in the creative community — including temporary workers — to allow people to network and catch up with the latest trends in the industry. CreativeConnects events take place in all the markets served by The BOSS Group, with 60 to 70 people attending in each market. The events are open to anyone in the creative community.

In addition, The BOSS Group offers clients information from white papers or studies it conducts. Ultimately, The BOSS Group becomes the go-to place for clients as well as temps who want to learn about the latest trends in the industry. Starting with asking the right questions to hosting events to writing papers, The Boss Group’s consultative approach to selling strikes a chord.

Little wonder then they have received so many accolades from clients as well as candidates. “Really, our goal is to become that shortcut, that trusted advisor, for all our partners,” says Brim.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

[Sidebar]

Consultative Sales

1. Consultative selling and transactional selling require two different skill sets. It can be challenging to teach a transactional sales rep consultative selling, and an investment in training and coaching are most often required to enable a successful transition.

2. Staffing firms transitioning to consultative selling should do so in alignment with their target account strategy. They should also be prepared for longer sales cycles.

3. Incentive plans should be evaluated to reward consultative sales approaches and outcomes.

4. A salesforce automation/CRM system is required to effectively manage the longer sales cycles common to consultative selling. Sales managers must have transparency and visibility to the pipeline to support sales reps in moving deals through the sales funnel to closure.

— Amy Bingham, managing partner, Bingham Consulting Professionals

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

[Sidebar]

Who’s the BOSS?

The BOSS Group was founded in 1988 by Linda Wein-Bonugli and Rossi Bonugli. The BOSS Group is a member of the BLR Holdings family of companies, which includes Cella Consulting and Proposal Development Consultants.

Cella focuses on consulting and not staffing. Proposal Development Consultants provides staffing to government contractors. Its niche is providing personnel with skills in producing government contract proposals.

Originally, the company started as a print production shop before transitioning to a marketing/creative staffing firm. The firm is no longer in the print business. BOSS stands for Back Office Support Services.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Craig Johnson is managing editor of SI Review. He can be reached at cjohnson@staffingindustry.com.

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