SI Review: April 2011

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Power Seller

Power Seller

Mission Possible

Knowing your market helps make that sale

I love the staffing business. Its image may seem unglamorous to some, but there are many things that are exciting and rewarding to me as a participant in this industry. What we do matters. I firmly believe that one of the greatest things you can create for someone is opportunity — with regard to the staffing industry, that opportunity is a job.

Staffing providers help people find work. For many reasons, I am passionate about this fundamental purpose of the business. As Peter Drucker once said, “The purpose of a shoe company is not to make money. The purpose of a shoe company is to make shoes.” Of course, staffing firms don’t make shoes — you provide a service — but the fundamental message is the same. Staffing is about putting people to work, and never has that mission been more important than now.

With the unemployment rate hovering at around the 9 percent mark and the economy continuing to struggle, times have been tough for staffing. Yet there are times when a staffing firm has a strong opportunity for success and fails to deliver. Here I offer my own insights into how you can sell that much better, even in these tough times.

Know Your Market

This may sound contrived, but contingent workforce managers and those in procurement sit through many presentations by many providers proclaiming how they are different from their competitors. How they provide this additional service or how they have an additional technical feature that their competitors don’t. Often, however, those so-called differentiators are consistent across every single provider.

I cannot begin to tell you how many times a provider — either as a prospective vendor when I was in sourcing or as part of an analyst briefing here at Staffing Industry Analysts — announced: “We’re going to target the “neglected” middle-market company.” (The term “middle-market” refers to $10 million to $50 million contracts.) This is something we most often hear from MSPs or VMS companies and/or the occasional smaller staffing firm. The rub is that nearly all of the participants in our recent VMS/MSP study reported that greater than 50 percent of their total client accounts are in that spend range. What this tells me is that the “neglected” middle-market is not so neglected after all. I’m not saying that there isn’t a market strategy to build a scalable offering specifically for this segment. However, don’t assume that just because you think a given market is underserved that it actually is. Know your market and your competition.

Know What’s Important

Another area where many companies fail to set themselves apart is “value.” Defined as: “A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable,” it clearly is a subjective term. What I as a researcher and writer find valuable or what I think is valuable in the marketplace can differ greatly depending on the circumstances.

The easiest comparison is when it comes to how different companies manage their costs. For example, many of my pharmaceutical clients are more concerned with access to the best talent than they are about cost. While they are concerned with cost and making sure they pay the right price for the right resource, cost is not their primary concern. My conversations with them are more about accessing the best talent and how they can be more efficient instead of focusing on cost, like some other buyers.

Another point to consider is how a vendor may be eliminated from consideration for a reason they never expected. One of our CWS Council members was going through an RFP process for MSP services, and as part of that review, knocked a provider off the short list without explanation. After discussing the scenario with the client in question, I learned that the provider was eliminated because it didn’t appropriately address the issue of safety in its RFP response.

While safety was not included in the scoping documents, this particular client was a multinational industrial firm. Anyone who is trying to sell into that environment should know that safety and safety policies and procedures are of critical importance to the educated buyer in that space. This provider would have had a real shot at winning the bid and in fact had a robust safety program, but they failed to understand the basic values of the client. Procurement folks know that closing an enterprise sale is not an easy task. But the task can be that much easier or that much harder depending on how well you know your market and how you choose to approach it. Knowledge is power, so arm yourself.

Bryan T. Peña is VP of contingent workforce strategies and research at Staffing Industry Analysts. He can be reached at bpena@staffingindustry.com.

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