Closing the Deal: Applying Agency Philosophy at the Corporate Level

We all know the feeling. You have an offer out to a great candidate for a critical position. The offer letter is in the candidate’s hands and they are thinking it over. Now you are waiting for a response. You jump every time the phone rings. You’ve stopped eating and sleeping. Right now, doubling your dosage of Xanax is beginning to sound appealing. All corporate eyes are on you. If the candidate accepts the offer, your company pats itself on the back and you can show your face in public again. If the candidate rejects the offer, it is, naturally, your fault ó so you might as well start packing and sign up to enter the witness protection program. What is a recruiter to do? Glad you asked. Having been called “the greatest recruiter who ever lived” by those who know me (actually, it was only my wife who said it), I have five ideas you should consider employing when comes to closing the deal, which I’ll get to at the end of this article. But to start with, all offer letters should go out next-day air, even if the candidate lives across the street. This is critical. It lends an air of achievement and importance to the offer. Furthermore, you can track your offer letter so you know exactly when it was received. There is nothing worse than sending the letter out through regular mail and then calling the candidate only to find out the letter never arrived. If management wants to save eleven dollars, let them take smaller bonuses. With this in mind, take a deep breath, realize that the best defense is a good offense, and call the candidate. The primary objective of this call is to gather as much information as possible and to ascertain exactly what the candidate is thinking regarding the offer. Remember, this call is very important so make sure that its tone is open, upbeat, and friendly. If you pull a Spanish Inquisition on the phone, the candidate will close down ó and you will probably get nothing. In most cases, the best time to call is usually after 8:00 p.m. (an especially good night to call is Sunday, and an especially bad night to call is Saturday). When making the call, after a minute or so of opening conversation, say the following: The purpose of this call is not to get an acceptance ó although that would be great ó but rather to get a feeling of what your thoughts about the offer are. If the candidate is less than thrilled with the offer, ask specifically what they feel is needed to make the offer more tailored to their needs and expectations. (Never ask what it will take to make the offer perfect. That’s usually impossible and sets unreasonable expectations.) Sometimes it can be a small thing; other times, it can be more significant. But you can’t fix the problem if you can’t identify the problem. Anything can happen as a result of the call. You can get an acceptance or rejection right there on the phone. Or you can find out that the candidate is the most dangerous candidate of all ó the candidate who is on the fence. Candidates on the fence have to move one way or the other as soon as possible, and you have to be the one who does the moving. The longer the candidate is on the fence, the more paralyzed they become and the harder it is to move them towards an acceptance. Although there are many reasons for this, the number one reason is because it is always easier to say “no” and stay than to say “yes” and go. Staying usually carries less risk and going seems to carry more. After you have gathered a good deal of information, and when you think you have it all, say the following: Tell me, is there anything else I should know having to do with the offer, or, for that matter, anything else I should know about anything at all? Notice the “anything else” part of the question. It is very important. Deals are often lost for reasons that have nothing to do with the offer or the opportunity. Elderly parents, kids in school, second thoughts on the part of a spouse, or a pet that might be ill. Believe me, anything imaginable is capable of killing the deal (ask me about the deer story some day). Asking the question this way opens the door for the candidate to tell you what is really on his or her mind. Again, you may not be able to fix it, but you can’t try if you don’t know what needs to be fixed. Unless you get an acceptance, set a time to talk with the candidate again in less than 24 hours. Now is the time to act! Meet with the hiring manager and develop what is called a “capture strategy.” Together, review all aspects of the deal coupled with the new information gleaned from the telephone conversation. Review everything from total compensation and the relocation package, to the placement of the candidate’s office, the position title, and the type of projects the person will be working on. Do not allow a sliver of the deal to go unexamined. At that point, see what changes you can make to accommodate the candidate’s concerns. If compensation is one of the issues, do not hesitate to increase any part of the overall compensation in a reasonable manner. This is not a time to worry about internal equity. You can always bring that back in line with restrained salary increases. The next thing is to call the candidate and review each and every item that was discussed as an obstacle, right down the line. Do it slowly and methodically. If a new offer letter has to go out, send it out immediately. After reviewing all of the items with the candidate, ask the following: So tell me, have we done enough to demonstrate our desire to get you on board? How do the changes I have outlined make you feel about accepting our offer? I can go on endlessly (at presentations, sometimes I do) about all of the things you can say in terms of overcoming objections and closing the deal, but it would take three days to read such an article. Suffice it to say, I would like to provide you with five strong closing techniques that are very helpful. These are presented in order of severity from the mildest to the most extreme. You can’t win them all, but you can increase your rate of closure if you make use of the following ideas:

  1. Call in the big guns. Have a very high-level person in the organization call the candidate personally ó perhaps a board member, a high-ranking technologist, or even the CEO. A quick call from one of the big guns telling the candidate that they hope to be working with them soon could make all of the difference in the world. It demonstrates teamwork at its best.
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  3. Restate the value proposition of accepting the deal. This tactic works well with candidates who are so tied up in the tiny details that they aren’t able to see the forest for the trees. It also helps to reemphasize the positive aspects of accepting the position and focuses the candidate’s thoughts on the value of accepting the position.
  4. Meet the candidate on neutral ground. If the candidate is local, offer to meet him or her for coffee or a beer. I once met a candidate at Hooligans on the first floor of the Empire State Building at midnight. Having an eyeball-to-eyeball conversation is a great way to try to get into the candidate’s head and really see what’s troubling them. It is a powerful tool.
  5. Use the “California close.” Ask the candidate this simple question (this won’t work if the candidate lives in California!): “If you were in California and unemployed, but had two different offers, one from the company for which you are currently employed and the one that we made to you, which offer would you accept?” Now this is getting a bit risky, and it’s best utilized if you know the answer in advance. If the candidate says that they would accept the offer from the company in which they are currently employed, you have a problem. However, if the candidate tells you they would accept your offer, this is a major win. What they are really saying is that they are only considering staying in their old position because they are already there in the first place. That is a terrible reason to turn down an offer, but it demonstrates that the candidate needs coaching in how to change positions gracefully. Bear in mind that changing positions is an emotionally charged issue and extremely difficult for some candidates.
  6. Play take away. This is the granddaddy of high-risk closes; be sure the hiring manager is on board before employing it. Say the following: “It appears that there is nothing we, as a company, can do to have you accept our offer, so I will just tell the hiring manager that you have turned it down.” I have had candidates jump through the phone and tell me not to do that. Congratulations, you have taken a big risk and are back in the game. Now is the time to open a new conversation relating to what on earth is preventing them from accepting the offer. Bear in mind that the candidate can also tell you that’s fine. At that point, the deal is pretty much dead. However, if this does happen, you just saved time and stress by putting an end to something that was going to end badly anyway. You didn’t lose anything because you really had nothing to lose in the first place.

Not to worry, no one closes every deal. Go have a beer and start recruiting the candidate’s references the next day (and use them to network for new candidates as well). You are on your way to finding a better candidate and filling the position in the comfort of knowing you are doing your job to the best of your abilities. That’s what makes a great recruiter.

Howard Adamsky has been recruiting since 1985 and is still alive to talk about it. A consultant, writer, public speaker, and educator, he works with organizations to support their efforts to build great companies and coaches others on how to do the same. He has over 20 years' experience in identifying, developing, and implementing effective solutions for organizations struggling to recruit and retain top talent. An internationally published author, he is a regular contributor to ERE Media, a member of the Human Capital Institute's Small and Mid-Sized business panel, a Certified Internet Recruiter, and rides one of the largest production motorcycles ever built. His book, Hiring and Retaining Top IT Professionals/The Guide for Savvy Hiring Managers and Job Hunters Alike (Osborne McGraw-Hill) is in local bookstores and available online. He is also working on his second book, The 25 New Rules for Today's Recruiting Professional. See twitter.com/howardadamsky if you are so inclined for the occasional tweet. Email him at H.adamsky@comcast.net

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3 Comments on “Closing the Deal: Applying Agency Philosophy at the Corporate Level

  1. While I think the premise is good, there are some basic steps that Howard has missed.

    First of all, he says that the objective on that first call after the offer has been sent out, is to ‘gather as much information as possible and to ascertain exactly what the candidate is thinking regarding the offer.’ He’s already behind the 8-ball. This HAS to be done prior to making any offer. Play hypotheticals with the candidate: ‘OK, you told me when we first met it was going to take $XXX amount of dollars to come on board. Has anything changed?’ ‘So if we offered you $XXX, you’d accept the position, correct?’ If the candidate is still not closed, DO NOT make the offer. We should never make an offer without knowing what the candidate will do or say. Does it always work this smoothly? Of course not. Sometimes they’ll say they’ll take a certain amount, you offer it, and all of a sudden they think they’re worth 5-15% more than that. These things will happen….but we should never make an offer unless we feel very confident the person will accept. There shouldn’t be guessing game of ‘will he’ or ‘won’t he’ on that first call.

    Secondly, the candidate needs to be asked if there is ‘anything else I should know about, or anything that has changed since we last spoke?’ BEFORE the offer goes out. Once you make the offer, the candidate doesn’t need you any more. If they’re on the fence, you’ll have a tough time getting them on the phone. Don’t show your cards first!!!

    Everything starts at the initial conversation/interview. Why is the person looking? What do they want in their new job that they aren’t getting currently? What is their salary…SPECIFICALLY broken down to base, bonus, etc. When was their last review? What are your career goals? What do you want in a company? You guys get the drift….but most importantly, NEVER make an offer unless the candidate is closed. Your recruiters will also need to be able to push back on their managers at times when they want to make an offer that you KNOW will be turned down. My recruiters have an acceptance rate of over 99% because we instill this behavior from the beginning.

    Thanks for allowing me to ramble this morning!!!

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