SI Review: June 2013

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Mix & Match

Sales methods vary among firms, evolve over time

By Craig Johnson

Like everything else, selling in staffing has changed from what it once was. There are many reasons for this. Technology enables salespeople to find information on prospects quickly, compressing what was once a far more laborious process. Social media and other electronic communication tools can also make first contacts happen more quickly. Along with the growing sophistication of technology comes the rising awareness of today’s buyer of staffing services. And despite all the social media tools available, getting to know someone face-to-face remains just as important. So what are staffing firms to do?

In response, some staffing firms are working more closely with buyers, taking a consultative selling approach. They sit down with the buyers to try to figure out the company’s needs and how best to meet it. Salespeople need knowledge of the industries they serve and ability to add value using such an approach.

Of course, there are many different tactics that firms can adopt. However, to find out the latest in the marketplace, and what works, we interviewed executives from three different staffing firms as well as an industry trainer for their takes on sales. Here is what they said.

Adding Value, Consultatively

Gary Zander, president and CEO of Project One Inc.

Project One is a boutique IT staffing firm serving the digital media and entertainment niche; and high touch is what drives the sales.

The New York-headquartered firm’s clients — television broadcasters, cable companies, publishers and digital advertising agencies — shop for quality and skills. And they tend to focus on value over price.

As a result, Project One uses a consultative sales approach to work with clients and understand their needs.

“The more we understand about our clients’ business drivers, technical environment and project goals, the better job we can do in providing the resources they need to succeed,” says President and CEO Gary Zander.

Project One salespeople must know not only technology, but the customers’ business as well. They must be creative problem solvers. Each salesperson at Project One has total account responsibility for managing client and consultant expectations and making sure everything is proceeding according to plan, Zander says. They also do project and resource planning with clients, understanding and forecasting their needs.

Salespeople must establish credibility and build business relationships by bringing value in the form of knowledge and expertise, Zander says. It’s not enough just to be likeable — there are a lot of likeable people. Clients are under the gun to deliver projects successfully; they don’t have time to waste on the wrong salespeople.

Project One also hosts executive roundtables throughout the year, bringing clients together to share information on topics of interest, which also helps the company build and strengthen client relationships.

Face-to-Face Trumps Tech

Michael Reichwald, president of Yorkson Legal

There’s more electronic marketing and online work than ever before, says Michael Reichwald, president of Yorkson Legal, a legal staffing firm headquartered in New York City that landed on Staffing Industry Analysts’ 2012 list of fastest-growing staffing firms.

First contacts with clients are more likely to be by email or social media than telemarketing. When a salesperson reads about a potential client in the newspaper, for example, the first thing he or she may do is look the potential client up on LinkedIn to see if they have any contacts in common.

First connections may also happen sooner online, and they can take place at any time because of the nature of online communication. And Yorkson is using other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter in addition to LinkedIn.

However, the electronic approach is just a tool, Reichwald says. Nothing trumps a face-to-face relationship with a client.

“You still can’t replace getting in the field,” he says. “Nothing replaces having an in-person relationship with somebody.”

“It’s a critical mistake a younger salesperson may make, thinking they can do everything electronically,” Reichwald adds. Email is one dimensional. You must remind yourself to pick up the phone and speak with clients as well as send cards or gifts when the occasion calls for them, he says.

Social media and other uses of technology are tools to facilitate meeting more clients, he says. At their end, clients can use the Web to check out a staffing firm’s credentials and determine whether they would like to make an appointment.

Insight Selling

Chris Beckage, vice president, north region, Superior Talent Resources Inc.

Buyers are more sophisticated today, and the sales approach has evolved, says Chris Beckage, vice president, north region, Superior Talent Resources Inc. Beckage’s operation is part of the Superior Group, which ranks among the 30 largest staffing providers in the U.S.

“From our selling experience, our customers are more educated today in the procurement of our services,” Beckage says.

And the sales approach has evolved from the “product selling” of 20 years ago to “solutions selling” and now to “insight selling,” he says.

Product selling involved salespeople leading with features and benefits and going to a decision-maker. Solutions selling included leading with questions, understanding the buyer’s needs and then coaching the customer. This is undertaken by the staffing salesperson.

Insight selling involves evaluating companies that have not clearly identified the potential problem and coaching them through the buying process by challenging their conventional thinking and revealing the true need and solution, Beckage says. There is a large focus on the impact of the potential problem to the business and involving stakeholders who are change agents.

In addition to the insight selling approach, he also favors meeting people face-to-face rather than just being an email address.

“I still believe that getting in front of people [is critical], putting a voice to a face,” Beckage says. “I want our customers to know who we are.” If you run into a client on a weekend, you want him or her to recognize you.

However, even face-to-face meetings can be facilitated by technology. Skype enables a salesperson and client to meet face to face without either party having to travel, reducing the time and expense of the road. And it’s being especially embraced by the Millennials and Generation Y.

“That’s a great thing,” Beckage says of Skype. “You still are able to get to know a person.”

Recommending Customized Solutions

Donna Mallard, partner, Staffing eTrainer

The more transactional sales approach of yesterday may still exist in some corners, but today’s staffing sales process is much more of a high-level partnership says, Donna Mallard, principal at Mallard & Associates and a partner at Staffing eTrainer.

Mallard, whose firms provide training programs for staffing companies, has been in the industry since the 1980s.

“In the early days, selling was more something that you did ‘to’ someone about features, advantages, benefits,” Mallard says. “It was about demonstrating what we could do for them.” Today it’s more of an exchange. It’s the process of helping decision-makers identify the challenges that compete with their goals and objectives and then recommending customized solutions.

Staffing salespeople must be able to identify the decision-maker, clarify what drives the decision-maker’s choice and determine how that person/organization is going to measure success.

“Not only has the style of selling changed, but the process is completely different,” Mallard says. In the past, it was easier to reach the decision-maker. Salespeople could drop by and decision-makers would see them. However, the number of people in the staffing industry has grown. And as the industry has matured and become more sophisticated, so have the decision-makers. Depending on the size of the company and spend, it can take months or sometimes years to connect with a decision-maker to have a discussion around whether a partnership is a feasible exchange of value.

Buyers are more sophisticated and demanding than ever, and contingent workers can represent a large amount of spend for them, Mallard says. “In the mid-’80s we were enhancing their businesses, and today we are a critical part of their businesses.”

The sales process remains challenging. And relationship selling does not guarantee a sale — there are some who will buy only on price.

Although it’s more challenging to sell in the staffing industry today, it doesn’t take away the thrill of working in an industry that provides a valuable solution with a tremendous impact on our clients’ and candidates’ success, Mallard says.

Craig Johnson is managing editor at Staffing Industry Analysts. He can be reached at cjohnson@staffingindustry.com

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