What is it for you? What is your core differentiator?
How will you stand out from the sea of competition?

With the impending employment crisis budding, barrier to entry being virtually null, margin erosion, and a new and provocative competitor around each and every corner, now more than ever, we need to differentiate ourselves against the sea of competition.

There I am sitting in the training room with a group of people, or organizational development professionals as they call themselves. I had come to get trained on how to give a myriad of assessments for a myriad of situations, candidates, job openings, succession planning, retention, heck, even on ‘getting along better in the work place.’ I came to learn about a new suite of products, and what I learned is that we as an industry better wake up, smell the coffee, drink it fast, and then get out into the world and see who is after our market share.

Now I am not naive enough to think that the way it has been (with terrorist attacks, and a major economic dip aside) is the way it is always going to be, but what I heard in that room stunned me. When the instructor began the day it was focused on marketing and selling. They showed us how to discredit recruiting companies, how to prove that the fees being paid out to head hunters and recruiters could easily be turned into fees being paid to them to identify and assess candidates. In addition, they had methodology that demonstrated how we as an industry are in it for the quick buck, and that return on investment and the stay-ability of the candidate needs to be looked at first and the need for a warm body second.

As the morning continued, I heard many, while disturbing, very good go-to-market strategies, and consultative sales approaches that are simply way more sophisticated than the average recruiting and placement firm’s sales process.

The next day I am in a conversation with another assessment company, and the agent tells me that he is in a RFP process for Monster where they will offer for a fee, a validated hiring assessment on each and every candidate that applies, so that only the candidates who do well and score about 80% as compared to the national benchmark, will get forwarded to their customers. Couple that with last year where 48% of all candidates that were hired were hired through the job boards, says Peter Yessne from SI review, and WE my friends have a REAL PROBLEM & A REAL OPPORTUNITY.

We already knew there was a sea of competition. Now that sea is turning into a very vast ocean, and that ocean has inlet water streams that flow to many other industries, as well as many other countries. Not to mention, last time this country faced a people shortage, every shoddy sales person who loved making a quick buck penetrated our market and pummeled our industry’s reputation, so that even in some circles the word “RECRUITER” has some people react as if what they just heard was a sound not that different from nails on a chalk board.

If you thought you had to be good on a daily basis to keep your clients coming back, NOW you have to be great. And you have to be different. Whether it’s offering assessments, which anyone can do, as they are electronic and there are no barriers to entry to sell them, or it be offering a staff that is certified in a validated behavioral interviewing program, or having it be offering recruitment brand strategies, or offering onboarding and retention programs for our placements, it NEEDS to be something.

The Age of Unreason is upon us.

When I started my own business, my greatest concern was to fill my clients’ requisitions, and to serve my customer by sending them the best suited fit for their company. I had been focused on retaining customers, because cold calling to me, while thrilling when I made the kill, was very boring and mundane. Due to my aversion to boredom, and the feeling of power I gained by placing multiple people with the same client, and then watching them get promoted, and I unconsciously developed myself into a “Job Order Counselor.” That was what we were called back then.

Most of my openings were repeat business, referral business by either clients or candidates, or fresh business that I happened to stumble on because I asked good questions in an interview. I was a job order person first and a candidate person second and, of course, I knew enough even way back then that you cannot have one without the other. It just so happened that one of my strongest natural talents was curiosity, and another one was relationship building, and then, maybe not natural but developed, was tenacity; I did have a child to support after all. With that combination, coupled with a commitment not to fail, I did anything in my power to hold on to good customers.

During my first few years as a business owner, I enrolled myself in a course at the University of Illinois, and it was the equivalent to a MBA program, but for already successful business owners. At that time, I was ‘strongly encouraged’ to look at my business differently, and we had to create a business plan that took my company into the next 10 years. It had to include a complete SWOT analysis, and a clear and real value proposition.

What I turned in as a first draft was outright rejected by my strategy professor. I had a plan that looked very much like what the last ten years in the staffing business had looked, and my core differentiators were things like, ” I place better people,” “My clients can trust me,” and “Our service is better.” The professor pointed out that everyone in the class had the same differentiators –which meant that they were NOT differentiators after all.

It seemed that even while I was running an effective business, the need for a business plan was becoming more real every day. The problem I was facing is that I could not see in front of my next commission check. The business was beginning to experience somewhat of a boom, and I was not sure how long it would last, so I wavered back and forth between growing strategically and planning for the future, and processing the multitude of needs that were coming in. Part of me thought, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” – and part of me wanted my “A” and wanted to know that I had the smarts to create a business plan so that, regardless of the economy and other external factors, my business would sustain.

As I dug deeper and did the research, my eyes began to open to the real weaknesses of my company and the major threats facing our industry, as well as the immense opportunities that would come to be available in the recruiting industry. I was very well aware of my firm’s strengths but I never knew the real possibility of leveraging them in my ‘go to market strategy.’ Needless to say, this course at the University of Illinois Center for Entrepreneurial Studies was by far the most influential training and development in business that I have experienced. What came out of the experience was the development of a foundational core differentiator that the entire future of my company would be built on.

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Grippingly, I was then sitting on a whole new way to do business and a tremendous opportunity to differentiate my service and to diversify my income stream. The problem was I did NOT do anything about it, not until September 12, 2001. Before that point WHAT WAS THERE FOR ME WAS A FEAR OF CHANGE and a FEAR OF LOSING WHAT I HAD. Prior to that time, the gnawing need for people, the thriving business climate, the dot com craze, and the impending Y2K crisis had me busy working in my business 10-15 hours per day, so there in my mahogany drawer sat my great ideas and my business plan, tucked away for ‘someday, but not now.’

It took a terrorist attack, 1500 local recruiters defecting from the industry, staffing and recruiting businesses and offices closing around me, and moments of silence that lasted hours for me to pull out the plan and forge to the future. My perception was, at this time, it could not get any worse and there was nothing to lose. I went for it! It began with a name change, a service offering paradigm shift, and a lot of Internet marketing. We went from Personnel Network to Alliance HR Network, and from an employment agency placing temp and perm people to a full scope HR consulting firm specializing in

Talent Attraction, Selection and Retention.

Since 2004, I have been offering these services on a regular basis, and they have not only brought me a new revenue stream, they have allowed my company to differentiate ourselves from the sea, and I mean the sea of competition. And it does not stop here. My role has shifted from an operating president to a CEO accountable for new business, products and service offerings. I just became a certified retention specialist and have already taken that service to market with existing clients.

Our staffing and recruiting world never stops changing, and we are soon to face more competition than we have experienced since the heydays of 1997-2000. The thing to remember is that competition does not always work in our favor. They erode margins, squash our reputation, discredit our power, and basically muck up the water, and blur our prospects’ and clients’ view. Whether you alter your brand, add additional offerings, or even the perception of your offerings, you will be affected by the world around you. The question is “How will you respond?” Will you take the offensive approach and create something no one else is doing, the arrogant approach and do nothing, or the defense approach and fight back?

There are resources available everywhere that will help you differentiate yourself, your desk, and your company from the sea out there, IF you take the time to find them. I recommend doing your research. Make sure your clients have a need for what you think you want to offer. Make sure everyone in your market is not doing the same thing. Find something different, and align your passions and key contributors on your team’s passions, with service offerings. Keep your offerings simple and focused around your core functions – people and employment.

After all, as Terry Petra once told me, “there are NO other experts on this matter in the world. We live in it every day, all day, 365 days per year.” If you chose not to alter any service offerings, ALTER your ‘go to market strategy’ and your sales process, create and establish a marked variation in your sales process – with how you present your offerings, with the way you ask questions, and what you do with the answers. Get better and stronger, hire better talent internally. Leverage your ability to service your clients by partnering with people through Top Echelon or IPA or another split network. Find people in the industry that share the same values as you, and work together to synergize your efforts. DO something, just DON’T stand still.

Margaret Graziano, CPC, CTS, and mother of 3 has been a top producer in the staffing and recruiting industry for the past 20 years and owned her own firm since 1991. She prides herself on client retention, making the right hires. She has earned over $5,000,000 in personal ‘desk production’ income and has placed over 2000 candidates in direct hire positions. With the competitive business world and the war on talent in full force Margaret’s company, Alliance HR Network, has ventured into new realms of talent acquisition, organizational development and human capital consulting services thus diversifying Alliances revenue streams and gaining new and exciting Talent Acquisition and Assessment consulting opportunities.

Margaret Graziano
Alliance HR Network

Magi Graziano, as seen on NBC, is the CEO of Conscious Hiring® and Development, a speaker, employee recruitment and engagement expert and author of The Wealth of Talent. Through her expansive knowledge and captivating presentations, Magi provides her customers with actionable, practical ideas to maximize their effectiveness and ability to create high-performing teams. With more than 20 years’ experience as a top producer in the Recruitment and Search industry, she empowers and enables leaders to bring transformational thinking to the day-to-day operation. For more information on Magi please visit www.KeenAlignment.com.    


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