SI Review: August 2012


Expert’s Corner

An Unstaffing Firm

How to change the way you do business

By David Searns

As an industry, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot. Yes, we provide an incredibly valuable service. We put people to work. We help employers save time and money and enable them to access critical resources, capitalize on opportunities and better manage risk. And, we provide organizations with their single most important asset, people. But we’ve done things that make people liken us to used car salesmen. We’re too aggressive and too optimistic about our abilities.

It’s not that we’re dishonest. Most staffing firms sincerely want to deliver exceptional value. But when numerous companies compete for the same business, say the same things and deliver service that’s exceptionally similar, it causes serious consequences.

The Problem. Employers despise our sales methods, with cold calling topping their list. In a survey of more than 900 staffing buyers, the biggest complaint they have with our industry is our aggressive sales methods.

They HATE the unsolicited calls, drop-bys and emails. They’re sick of hearing the same “Our service is better,” “We take the time to get to know your needs” and “We focus on long-term relationships” messages. Even worse, they perceive that our industry doesn’t back up its promises with a sufficient level of follow-through.

The Cost. As an industry, we’ve commoditized our value. We’ve literally trained employers to buy on markup. We’ve created a situation where the mere mention of the word staffing increases sales resistance.

Most staffing firms respond by being even more aggressive. While this may work, it’s a game of ever-diminishing returns — one that takes a toll on salespeople and leads to excessive turnover.

The Solution. So instead of outracing the competition, why not become an unstaffing company?

This is the strategy 7-Up used when it positioned its product as the un-cola. It carved out a unique market segment by becoming everything its competitors weren’t.

Look at everything your clients dislike about staffing. They don’t like cold calls. They don’t like when candidate skills are misrepresented. They don’t like having to call multiple vendors. And they really don’t like when temps fail to show up, give less than 100 percent effort and quit before the end of an assignment.

Meanwhile, candidates hate the lack of communication. They want to know what’s going on with their job search, and, at a minimum, honest feedback about their opportunities.

Once you’ve defined the issues, look for solutions.

Cold calling. Consider professional services firms. They rarely make cold calls. Instead, they have high-level “rainmakers” who consult with clients to create business opportunities. They may also employ sales engineers or industry specialists who work with prospects to diagnose problems and develop solutions. And they use marketing strategies like thought leadership, education and community involvement to generate business opportunities.

Professional services firms add value for clients with every discussion. Yes, they sell. But they don’t antagonize clients in the process. Their sales approach positions these firms as experts who can offer valuable advice. Isn’t that how you’d rather be seen?

Become a true service leader. This strategy isn’t about providing better service; it’s about radically re-engineering the service process to make the experience exceptional. Disney World does this. So does and Zappos. They make client interactions more fun and engaging. They make it easier to shop and purchase. They provide proactive recommendations. They turn being a customer into something extraordinary.

How about your firm? Is the experience you deliver truly different? Do you make it easier for employers to find talent? Do you make the application process more fun and engaging? Is your approach memorable?

If you’re ready to really stand out from the competition, become an unstaffing company. Analyze the things your clients and candidates don’t like about staffing, brainstorm new ways to sell and service, and brand yourself as the only unstaffing firm in town.

David Searns is president and CEO of Haley Marketing, a company focused on marketing for staffing and recruiting firms. He can be reached at


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