When does the sales cycle start and end in the staffing industry? Seems like an easy and straight forward question but ask ten different industry professionals and you’re likely to get ten different answers. My experience is many staffing organizations and sales professionals think that once the job requirement comes in and sales “hands over the order” to the recruiting team, the sales cycle ends. I couldn’t disagree more.
Many staffing and professional services organizations deploy this philosophy as their customer service model. I like to call it the “bird dog” sales strategy or “bird dogging.” What this means is the sales representative goes out and finds job orders and brings them back for recruiting to work on and fill. Once recruiting has the job order(s) it’s the sales representative’s responsibility to go find additional job orders and let the recruiting team fill the existing order(s). This strategy is akin to a hunter who shoots a duck. The hunting dog fetches the duck in the field and brings it back to his master. After fetching and retrieving the duck, the dog runs back into the field to fetch the next duck. Staffing organizations like to deploy this service model because they want to keep their sales people focused exclusively on prospecting for new business (or fetching ducks). Prospecting for new business is critical to success, but this is a poor strategy.
First, recognize that when you receive an order from a customer, especially a brand new, first-time customer, you’re transitioning from the 1st sales cycle to a new or 2nd sales cycle. What I mean by that is you have just spent weeks or most likely months doing everything you can to build trust and credibility with the prospect and differentiating from your competition. You’ve finally established a relationship and they’re ready and willing to give you a shot. After putting in all the time and effort why would any sales representative want to hand it over to their recruiting team to close? You’ve invested too much. Not only are you handing over the fate of that sales opportunity, you’re also potentially handing over future sales opportunities and the client relationship to your recruiting team. You’re not working the drive-thru window at McDonalds, you’re a sales professional. I believe that a recruiter should communicate with a client but they shouldn’t drive the sale or own the relationship with the client. This transition from sales cycle #1 to cycle #2 is a critical point on multiple levels. You don’t want your customer wondering, “where in the heck did Dan go? I spent the past 4 months talking with Dan about working with him and his company and now I find out I’m going to be working with Tom the recruiter.” It’s bad business. You need to be there for your customer. You are the quarterback. You have to lead your team (the client, candidate and recruiter) into the end zone. If you think you did your job by simply pulling in the job order you’re wrong. As sales professionals we need to get the job order and we need to drive the sales cycle until the order is filled. More importantly, if you want to truly build client relationships and close more business, you need to be leading your team (client, candidate, recruiter) through every step of the process of sales cycle #2. Just expecting recruiting to fill the order is not selling. In fact, I believe that philosophy helps drive the commotidization that has wrecked havoc on our industry. It minimizes your value and makes you a transactional vendor. I bet companies who deploy this sales/customer service model have lower GP margins than those who don’t.
Justifying “Bird Dogging” as a Customer Service Model
Organizations who deploy “bird dogging” as their sales/customer service model will tell you they want their sales people focused on generating new business and bringing in more orders. And as I already mentioned, prospecting for new business is critical to success in this business. But it’s not more important than overlooking your existing opportunities. You’re priority has to be on driving your existing orders to closure. The good news is there is enough time in the day to properly manage your open/existing orders and driving them to closure and prospecting for new business.
The other thing that proponents of this sales/customer service model will tell you is that they have a recruiting team that is more than capable of working with customers and managing customer relationships. I agree, most recruiters are. But customer relationship management and closing business are two completely different activities requiring different skill sets. And that leads me to my final and most important point, recognizing when and how sales deals are won and lost.
Unless your filling low-end help desk or desktop support positions, the reality in IT staffing is that your candidates are typically not going to be a 100% perfect fit for your customer. Most candidates you present are going to be somewhere between an 80% and 95% fit for your customer. It’s your job to close that remaining “X%” or gap with the customer. The conversation that takes place after a candidate interview (or resume review) is typically when deals are won and lost. This is why you want your sales people driving the sales cycle, to close this gap. I’ve found that recruiters (and sales people alike) are often afraid to push back on clients who express concerns regarding the candidate’s skills and qualifications. Recruiters also tend to lack the experience & skills to properly sell through a client objection. Recruiters will often accept what the client objection is and move on to a new search for a new candidate. Meanwhile the client is off filling the order through a competitor and you’ve lost the deal. I’m not suggesting you try to “sell” a candidate your client doesn’t need or want. You have to be able to recognize the difference. But this is exactly when and why the sales person needs to be engaged. They should not be focused on prospecting for new business. And if the sales person is not having this conversation with the client than you have another issue to contend with altogether. In my next article I will discuss what it means to drive the order throughout the sales process until closure and how to properly manage the sales cycle.
About Dan Fisher
Dan Fisher is founder and owner of Menemsha Group, a provider of sales enablement solutions dedicated to helping IT staffing firms improve win rates, shorten their sales cycle, and increase revenue per sales rep. Since launching Menemsha Group in 2008, Dan has consulted with over 200 IT staffing firms and has invested over 5000 hours coaching IT staffing sales reps. He’s authored is his own proprietary sales methodology and has previously spoken at Staffing World, TechServe Alliance and Bullhorn Live 2012. Prior to launching Menemsha Group, Dan spent 16 years in the IT industry running local, regional and national sales teams. Dan worked for Kelly Services, Oracle Corporation and Alliance Consulting. Dan currently resides in Boston, Ma.