SI Review: January/February 2014

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Power Seller: More Than Just Friends

How to take the staffing relationship to the next level

By Jason Leverant

Sales has always been one of my favorite aspects of the staffing industry because of the complex nature of what we offer to our end customers. In doing what we do, we are able to affect our clients deeply when it comes to employee morale, tenure, productivity and more! Because of this depth, we develop close relationships with our prospective customers through the sales process, and just like in “personal” relationships, at times you reach some dead-ends.

For example, I toured a client’s facility, met supervisors, even shadowed on a shift and everything seemed to go smoothly, but then, when it was time to close the deal, I found myself in the “client friend zone”: “We just don’t have any needs right now.”

Many of you have experienced this — the job order never materializes, the call you expect to happen never comes. It’s the equivalent of “let’s just be friends.” So what do you do? How do you get out of the “friend zone” and bring the staffing relationship to the next level? Here are a couple of tips:

Become a subject-matter expert. Follow-up is critical to the sales process, but you need to have a valid reason for contacting that prospect. If you call to just “check in” you’re not bringing anything to the table to move the relationship to the next level.

Instead, think about what is important to that prospective client. This may vary based upon their role within the organization, the industry they are involved in, their own professional development, goals, hobbies, etc. Take this information and create calculated follow-up messages. Possible effective follow-ups may include passing along a pertinent article that relates to their specific industry, congratulating them on a recent recognition or award, emailing a tidbit of information surrounding their competitors or sharing interesting and pertinent local/regional news items with them.

Positioning yourself as a subject matter expert in the area of employment, recruiting and hiring not only keeps you top of mind (thus meeting the objective of repetitive touches), but secures your position as the primary vendor of choice when a position or need opens up.

Find the bird in hand. The expression “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush” dates back to medieval falconry, where a bird (the falcon) was a valuable asset on your hand and was worth much more than two potential prey found in the bush. Apply this to your staffing business.

Think about all of the efforts that you have expended in building the relationship so far. If you’ve done it right, you should understand exactly what that client needs. You know what would make a great candidate fit, so put those skills to use!

Try “skill marketing” or “reverse marketing,” essentially sourcing candidates that fit your prospect’s needs, and “marketing” these candidates to them. If you’ve made the right selections, the value found in these candidates (the “falcon”) far exceeds waiting to make a hire (two in the bush), so your prospect will be motivated to extend an offer and place this person on assignment.

With the positive momentum that the staffing industry has seen lately, coupled with the lack of strong/qualified candidates, your skill marketing efforts makes it worthwhile for a client to jump at your candidates more quickly than ever before!

Accept reality. As salespeople we want to think that we can convert every prospect into a customer, but there really are times when the prospect has no needs. If you’ve made every effort (effectively) and the potential to get to the next level just isn’t there, it may be time to move on. This decision needs to be made carefully, to ensure no opportunity is lost.

This doesn’t mean your time invested is lost, though; you now have a decision-maker who is your friend, and it may be time to ask that friend for referrals. Referral-based business connections are an excellent way to take the challenge (and time requirement) out of establishing credibility with prospective customers. So when reality sets in and you see there’s no potential, make the most out of it.

Jason Leverant is chief operating officer of @work Group. He can be reached at jleverant@atwork.com

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