SI Review: August 2012

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Evolutionary Selling

Adapt and embrace new methods or go the way of the dinosaurs

By Scott Wintrip

With gnashing teeth and powerful jaws, the tyrannosaurus rex was a fearsome beast competing for dominance millions of years ago. So too was the ancient crocodile as it engaged in a daily survival of the fittest battle for food, security, and sustainability. While both of these vicious creatures walked our planet eons ago, only the crocodile had the wherewithal to subsist through millions of years of evolution.

Companies in the staffing and recruiting from selling individual product lines industry have much in common with these creatures. There are powerful firms, both large and small, that are consistently winning business in head-to-head match ups with their competitors. Everywhere you look, these T. rex-like companies are chewing up their competition as they grab market share and gobble up contract after contract. Yet, some of these organizations will not survive more than a few decades as evolutionary forces in the market create opportunities for smaller, more adaptable companies. These savvy organizations evolve as the market evolves, staying true to core methods that stand the test of time while adapting their best practices in response to the ever-changing needs of clients.

Real Value

Anyone can compete on price, and it’s even possible to build what appears to be a strong company on high volume, low margin accounts.

Now, large and small staffing firms alike have been shifting away from the price-oriented model in the new economy and more toward value-based strategies. “This ‘value migration’ has radically changed the playing field and is driving the sweeping change in our industry today,” says Steve McMahan, executive vice president of corporate services for Randstad, the world’s second-largest staffing company. “Customers, most notably the larger ones, are no longer focused on filling jobs but instead look to craft a limited number of strategic relationships with vendors who can bring solutions and solve problems.”

Adaptation of both strategy and tactics is key to fulfilling the hunger for talent of prospects and existing clients that continue to look to minimize overhead. Take Randstad, which transformed itself by bringing all of its operating companies under the Randstad brand and changed the focus to serving its customers through integrated staffing solutions, including staffing, permanent placement as well as managed service provider and recruitment process outsourcing service offerings. The result, thus far, includes dramatically outperforming Adecco and ManpowerGroup in the U.S. professional staffing market.

Quick and Nimble

While value is fueling the development and providing the sustenance of great customer relationships, an agile sales process is even more vital than ever for ensuring a competitive edge. Rosalie Villa, vice president and general manager of Helpmates Companies, based in Orange County, Calif., employs an approach that allows her team to be highly responsive. “Our customers are moving very quickly and expect prompt responses. Because clients are doing more with less, being fully prepared when we capture their attention is critical to narrowing down the closing cycle in our sales process.”

Helpmates has embraced changes in technology to help drive this innovation and support its responsiveness. Its sales methodology now involves smart phones, tablets, wireless network access, improved Web presence and an upcoming CRM change, all of which enable them to be on the go and accessible at any time with the information they need. Rather than detracting from relationship development, which technology, when used ineffectively, tends to do, these innovations are promoting lasting connections that provide mutual benefits for both parties. “This is still a people business,” Villa says, “and building relationships through various service and sales strategies all make up the customer experience.”

The ongoing accolades speak to the success of these efforts as Helpmates has won the Best of Staffing Client award four years running. “Our industry-leading Net Promoter Score every year tells us that we are exceeding our clients’ expectations through our continued commitment to high-touch service programs and more newly enhanced technological tools.”

Hunters & Gatherers

Even though staffing and recruiting firms are in the business of matching people with contract or full-time opportunities, doing the same for themselves has remained a decades-long challenge. The fact is that you must have a process that is many times better than that used for clients to compensate for proximity blindness when hiring for your own organization.

Kate Post, president of A Team Consulting, a boutique firm in New York City, engages such an approach to “make sure what the candidate is selling you about  themselves is real and not smoke and mirrors. We have an 11-step hiring process that includes a great deal of behavioral interviewing so that we can clearly establish whether the person has been able to drive success under adversity in their past.”

Post is also realistic in that just putting the right person in the right seat is not enough. “I have the candidate lay out for me how they plan on approaching a success-directed strategy.” Combined with this are a series of clear and reasonable metrics that provide for continuity in accountability, coaching and education. Even though the staffing division of the A Team is only three-years old, this methodical approach to hiring and accountability has quickly vaulted the firm to a highly competitive position in the market.

Law of the Jungle

The need for sustenance drives the behaviors of all animals on the food chain, with the desire and hunger for success being a key component to a sustainable sales effort. This is why hiring highly motivated people and facilitating ongoing elevated levels of motivation is inherent to any successful company. “This is a seminal issue in our industry and something we focus on continually,” says McMahan. Post agrees, and has found that one of the keys to promoting drive and determination is through employee development. “I find that if you make the investment in time and training, they will learn new techniques and strategies, and, perhaps re-learn the basics.”

In addition to hiring right and developing people consistently, understanding their evolving needs must be treated as a strategic priority. At Helpmates, Villa and her team make this a consistent practice. “Understanding what motivates each employee or employee group helps in understanding what they need to personally stay motivated. Staying very connected to the employees and keeping them in the loop of communication is also critical to their feeling part of the bigger picture.”

Through this ongoing process of employee engagement, Helpmates has learned the tremendous value of employee recognition. The company is known for its rich rewards and recognition programs in the industry. This initiative has proven to enhance motivation each year as the company brings together all the employees to honor individual and team results in front of their peers.

Crocodile Tears

While there might be some degree of sadness as the crocodile-like companies watch dinosaur organizations fade away, any tears shed must also be out of joy and satisfaction at being highly adaptable. While change is inevitable, extinction is not. Your sales strategy and efforts in the weeks and months to come will create the foundation for either quick, temporary grabs of market share or sustainable growth and profits that will support your company in the coming evolutions of the industry.

Scott Wintrip is president of StaffingU and the Wintrip Consulting Group. He was named to the Staffing 100 by Staffing Industry Analysts in 2011. He can be reached at scott@ScottWintrip.com.

[SIDEBAR]

Evolutionary selling that propels growth through varying economic conditions requires a combination of maintaining true best practices with refined methods for changing conditions. Here are five key ideas from my 12-step system for evolutionary selling that I employ with my clients that helps them to grow and prosper year after year:

Focus on your focus. Define the scope of the orders and business your company will accept and don’t be afraid to walk away from opportunities that fall well outside your competencies.

Add value, charge more. People will pay more for added value. Delineate your offerings, charge customers for the value they require, and create new services and delivery methods based upon the specific needs and objectives of your customer base.

Hire atypical salespeople. Hire people with a driver personality and you’ll find that they’ll literally drive in business while being a breath of fresh air for customers as they are more efficient with their time and their words as they deliver valuable results.

Out with the old, in with the truly new. Many companies perpetuate the same ways of doing business because that’s how it has always been done, and then they call these methods best practices. In reality, many of these techniques must be replaced in order to continuously engage in evolutionary selling.

Create hunger, not comfort. Re-evaluate your compensation plans. Companies with high incentive commission plans combined with very modest base salaries end up with producers who generate more profits — and these individuals end up earning far more than those with higher base salaries. 

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