Human Capital Selling

My insights this month will be very brief due to the long “top producer tip from the trenches,” which centers on the application of sales principles to recruiting. I chose this topic because I have noticed a troubling trend while attending several conferences and meetings recently. The trend is that many practitioners are starting to believe that the bigger the vocabulary, the more that recruiters are management consultants and not search/sales consultants. Strategic alignment, globalization, employee engagement, and workforce demographics are impacting the conventional paradigms inculcated in the human capital market. These words are some of the industry’s “consultant speak” to add to the themes of outsourcing, core competencies, and top grading!

At the end of the day, though, companies hire us to IDENTIFY, ATTRACT, EVALUATE, AND SECURE THE VERY BEST TALENT FOR THEIR MOST URGENT AND CRITICAL NEEDS. Bain, McKinsey, and Mercer, to name but a few, are all well-respected management consulting firms that do not do recruiting, so why do we feel the need at times to sound like them? OUR JOB IS TO SELL, AND WE SHOULD NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR THAT!

If we believe that a position represents a significant career enhancement for someone, then WHY NOT SELL THEM ON CONSIDERING IT? If we believe that a candidate presents a solution to a client’s current staffing challenge, then WHY NOT SELL THEM ON HIRING THAT PERSON?

Consultative SALES is persuading someone to do something that is GOOD FOR THEM. Just as doctors are occasionally guilty of medical malpractice, recruiters are occasionally guilty of sales malpractice. So, the next time you decide to refer to yourself as a “human capital talent acquisition strategist,” just don’t forget to SELL!!!

This month’s top producer tip from the trenches was co-created by Mark Whalls and Stephen Norred, who are co-directors of Kaye/Bassman’s Military Specialty Practice. The Military Specialty Practice complements and supplements all industry sectors by providing the best and the brightest candidates from our nation’s armed forces. Mark and Stephen achieved a first-year (2005) company record in both placements and revenue. They have over 16 years of combined experience in military search and four decades of active duty for the United States Navy. In 2007, they are attempting to break the $2 million mark in search-fee revenue, which is a feat accomplished only once before in Kaye/Bassman history.

Sales Mechanics 101

To be a top biller requires more than hard work and luck. Many people in our industry love saying that what we do is not rocket science, but believe me when I tell you there is a science and a method to all we do in sales. This starts with a fundamental understanding of both the science and the art of persuasive communication. Understanding the flow and purpose of the conversation is the only way to get to the fifth step, the only one that matters – the close. Just as an athlete needs to warm up and stretch before performing, the first four steps serve as a warm-up to the close. Always remember that the trial close can be used at any step of the sale when your client is sending buying signals.


Before anyone wants to listen to what’s important to you (your agenda), they want to see what’s in it for them or how you’re going to help them (their needs). Before someone is going to talk to you about what is important to them, you want to have permission to collect their information. This is best accomplished in the opening, by proposing or stating an agenda that lets your client give you the information you need while not making them feel too committed too early. For example, “What I’d like to do today, with your permission, is to find out the three most important things to you when deciding to partner with a search firm.”

You should always ask open-ended questions. For example, “What profiles do you have the most difficulty filling and what do you attribute that to?” as opposed to “Do you have any needs?” At this point, it’s time to close your mouth and open your ears to listen for the language of needs. Before you move out of the conversation, you should feel that you have established rapport with your client/candidate. You should feel comfortable and that you’re talking on the same level and that there is a mutual buy-in. Your client or candidate should be saying, “Tell me more.”


Curiosity is the bridge to “tell me more.” After listening to your client’s/candidate’s needs, you should preface a basic understanding of what you heard in the first step of the sale. For example, “You said earlier that the three things most important to you in choosing a partner in search were depth of experience, the ability to deliver both quality and quantity in a timely manner, and being flexible enough to work with them as timelines, needs, and fits may change within the course of the relationship.” To demonstrate this understanding is the purpose of the curiosity step of the sale. For example, “I clearly understand your need to have (quote exactly their need) depth of experience, the ability to deliver both quality and quantity in a timely manner, and being flexible enough to work with them as timelines, needs, and fits may change within the course of the relationship. We here at (your firm) are industry experts at delivering quantity while not sacrificing quality and meeting your onboard commitments and timelines and maintaining a high degree of flexibility based on your understanding of your market space.” This is just a verbal confirmation to your client that you hear and understand their needs and will help them solve their problem.


Conviction should always be delivered in a consultative and relevant need-support module, meaning that no one is looking to partner with a used car salesman on a $400,000 deal. If you ever listen to a salesman who sells Ferraris, you will not hear the same presentation you will get from a salesman selling Fords. Conviction is about clearly and professionally explaining to your client how your services are going to support their exact needs. For example, “You said you wanted quantity without sacrificing quality. Our firm specializes in (insert your practice here) and has complete market mastery within your space. All we do here five days a week, 52 weeks a year, is screen, source, and place the exact candidates you are looking to find. Our database is composed of candidates with the skills and background needed to impact your bottom line (the benefit to the client), giving us the ability to respond quickly to any search while remaining flexible due to our understanding of your market space.”


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Desire is a powerful tool that paints a picture of your prospect enjoying the benefits of your services and can only really be used if while in the “Mr. Big Ears” mode, we were able to uncover the “why?” behind the “want.” For example, “You said earlier, if you could fill these three vacant positions that have been open for the last four months, you believe your boss has given you this final test before offering you the new VP position in HR-Global Staffing. This may sound something like this. For example, “Mr. Client, it has now been three months since we partnered in this search and you have filled all three positions and the feedback from the top is ‘you nailed it.’ Your department head has informed you that the CEO is sending the corporate jet down from Chicago to talk about your new position as the VP-Global Staffing. You sit back in the leather seat, you look out the extra-large Gulfstream porthole window, you hear the engines roar up, you see the runway begin to race by you, you feel yourself shifting back in your seat as you begin to climb to 34,000 feet, you level off, and the flight attendant (the only one) brings you a champagne flute and says, ‘Congratulations, Mr. Client, you must be very excited.’ ”

This is a tool designed to put your client in the future enjoying the benefits of your services, by painting a picture that appeals to the senses. This one of course may be outlandish, but a little levity and humor never hurt either!

Trial Close/Close

The secret to closing is knowing WHEN to close, not how. When can you close? Anytime! Remember, a trial close can be used anytime you are hearing the language of needs. Overselling can be hazardous once you hear what your client needs. For example, “All I want is a mechanical engineer, 2007 graduate from a good school with a 3.0 GPA who can start in January. I’m willing to pay 35%.” Trial close, “I will get you a fee agreement today for the one position for a mechanical engineer at 35% (trial close). Can you get that signed and faxed back to me today so that I can initiate the search?” This is an example of an action close that requires your client to perform an action (send me an email, fax, etc.).

While there are a multitude of closes, below are three examples that are frequently used in staffing.

1. Alternate proposal. Ask your prospect to choose between two options or a set of circumstances that you provide. Their selection of one of the two is the close, so as soon as they make a choice, stop selling and get to work. For example, “Would you like that fee agreement emailed or faxed?” or “Would tomorrow morning be a good time to take the search assignment or would this afternoon be better?”

2. Weighing close. Some people refer to this as the “Ben Franklin Close.” It asks your client to mentally weigh the choice between using your services or not. This is best used when a client just needs a little nudge to close. Per the previous example, your client was looking for quantity and quality, speed and flexibility. At this point, the scale is tipped in their direction. You must now tip it in your direction. For example, “Our specialized teams can give you quantity and quality. Being the largest single-site search firm gives us the ability to respond quickly. Our 25-year experience gives us the maturity to be flexible.” At this point, the weighing close is equal. You’ve addressed each of their needs. Mentally, they are weighing their options and simply need a little push. “Did I also mention that we are a certified national testing center and we can test your engineers? Did I mention that we can do the background checks on your candidates in-house, which will speed up the process even further? Did I also mention that we have a national relocation service to assist your candidates with their relocation?” The reasons for working with you will far outweigh their reasons for not. Lastly, “Now, in your opinion, do you feel that you are better served working with us rather than not?”

3. Impending doom. All other closes have failed. They are seized by decision paralysis. This particular close is used frequently in the retail world and looks like “TONIGHT FROM 10-12 ONLY, THIS ONE-TIME SPECIAL EVENT FOR YOU AND ONLY YOU!!!” With regard to the client, there is an issue that needs to be met, they need to make a decision on a proposal, they need to pay a 30-day delinquent invoice, or we just need them to take action. For example, “I sent you the fee agreement two weeks ago today. You promised to have it to me five days ago. If I do not have it today by 5 p.m., we will be withdrawing ourselves from this search.” or “If you want us to start this search next month, then we must have your fee agreement and engagement fee before we commence the search.” This particular close is designed to say, “If you don’t do what I need you to do by a specific requirement, all bets are off.” You should never move forward with this client or attempt contact until whatever condition you set forth is met.

Sales is both an art and a science, and while there is a common thread of identifying the supporting needs as well as a time and a method to close, the nuances of these processes vary only slightly from methodology to methodology. Read as many sales books as you can. The one who is fully aware of the current dynamics of the conversation and has the skills and understanding to facilitate or direct that conversation is the person who will have the greatest influence over the outcome of the conversation.

Jeff Kaye is president and CEO of Kaye/Bassman International and Next Level Recruiting Training. This former Management Recruiter National Recruiter of the year has helped build the largest single-site search firm in the country, with annual search revenue in excess of $18 million. His firm has won national awards for philanthropy and workplace flexibility and also was named the best company to work for in the state of Texas in 2006 and 2007. Kaye/Bassman has retained over 30 search professionals whose annual production exceeds $400,000. The same training that helped build this successful firm is now available through Next Level Recruiting Training. They are making a series of DVDs for training. The first series was on the candidate side, and the four hours were dedicated to marketing. The new series, on the client side, is dedicated to marketing, effective search assignments, and fee clearing. It is over seven hours in length. To learn how to take your practice and business to the NEXT LEVEL, please visit to view their product and service offerings. You can also email Jeff a thought or question at


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