When Did “Vendor” and “Client” Become Four Letter Words?

I have had the advantage of working in all three areas of staffing in my long (sigh) career. I have been an inside Corporate HR type, an Agency Recruiter (Contingency and Search), and now for the last ten plus years, a Consultant. I have struggled to maintain my ability to see situations from not only the perspective of the moment, but also as things appeared when I stood in other shoes. Recently, several e-mails dealt with yet another of the age old issues that arise between Agencies and Clients over resume ownership. Of equal interest was the “tone” as well as substance of some of the responses. We all too often forget, I think, that the relationship is a SALES relationship. From that perceived need to understand roles and relationships, I pen these comments. When someone does not “buy” from you, the important thing is not that they were unfair, unreasonable, uncooperative, or unprofessional. The important thing is that they did not buy from you. This is about making money, not scoring points in the “Us vs. Them Right-A-Thon.” Besides, correctness is always, as much a function of whether or not people agree with us as it is anything else. I am always amazed at how bright and intelligent my clients are, and how quickly my prospects seem to be learning, and how “fence post” stupid all the rest seem to be. After all, it has got to be them, right? It cannot be me! Now, you may be waiting for the other shoe to drop. The client isn’t always perfect either, are they? A lot of good agencies and a lot of good recruiters have been treated badly over the years by unprofessional corporate recruiters and unprofessional or unfairly applied corporate policies or guidelines, isn’t that right? OK, now that we said it, so what! When a recruiter is declared a victim by a court of their peers, the recruiter still does not get the fee. If you are in recruiting, you are in sales. If you are in sales, you are paid based on performance as a sales professional, not the value and worthiness of your views of who was right and who was wrong in a client issue. So there are a few rules of recruiting I think all agency recruiters need hanging on their walls:

  1. It’s business – do not take it personally.

    The worst thing a sales professional can do is “lose it” with a prospect or a customer. For all you know, the business you work for may have a relationship with the client that pre-dates your hire. They may not yet have decided who is more valuable to them. Besides, sales professionals are hired to control situations, not cause them. When you take business issues personally, you bring a sense of “win-lose” into the problem resolution cycle. Faced with that prospect – the client will give you what you are asking for, a chance to lose. Most conflicts are not the result of someone trying to “mess you up” or “rob you” or even “outright theft.” Most conflicts in business are based on well-intentioned people who failed to communicate sufficiently in the beginning of a process to prevent issues from arising (You got in a poker game without learning the house rules first). Now that an “issue” has arisen, calm business level discussions are all you have left to save the fee, a partial fee, or the prospect of making a fee in the future. Get angry AFTER the phone call, not before or during. It’s business, keep it business and you may save your fee. Only your mother thinks you are always right, the rest of us want proof.

  2. When you argue with a “check writer” – you lose. Period.

    I have never won an argument with a client. Sure, I have gotten my way, or maybe I have been given the check I thought had been denied to me. But do not confuse that with wining. As an example, let’s pretend that you had a resume you sent directly to a hiring manager and later HR said that that resume had been also sourced by them, sent to the hiring manager, and that you did not have the right to claim primary source status. So, you call the hiring manager, get them on your side and you get the fee. So, you win! Right? I do not think so. If the company currently has 75 openings controlled by the HR department, and only two of them are through this hiring manager, how many other openings do you think you have a fair shot at? Let me do the math for you, it isn’t the other 73. The hiring manager then gets called into his or her boss’ office because of a “nasty-gram” he or she received from the VP of Human Resources citing a fee paid for a candidate that it can be documented was in the hands of the hiring manager a full week before the agency called. “Thanks for blowing my money.” You may get one more phone call from this hiring manager. But I do not recommend taking that call. At he next HR association dinner this HR staffer goes to, you are mentioned, not favorably, to many of their peers (I have four rolodexes of HR business cards on my desk – how many do you have?). Is it petty and unprofessional for you to suffer because you were right and stood your ground? Of course it is. What’s your point? If you “jam people up” they will return the favor. Fight for what you have earned, fairly and professionally, and you will not always suffer – but you may. Decide first where the greater value lies. If the “check writer” is guilty of unethical behavior (Understanding it is possible to disagree with you and still be ethical), then fight for what is rightly yours and never do business with this person again. If it is possible that the issue arises out of an honest misunderstanding of your, their, or both parties’ part, focus on problem resolution for the future. When, as a client, I feel I have unintentionally wronged a vendor, who maintains a “let’s fix this for the future” mindset, I become their champion internally. I’ll probably fight for the check and feel good doing it. Good and reasonable vendors are hard to find. They are “keepers.” When I am accused of misdeeds or my ethics assaulted as part of the problem resolution process, by a vendor, it is at best a one-check relationship. You win. Once.

  3. Your client isn’t paying for speedy delivery. They are paying for a different resume resource.

    Many of the “Vendor-Client” disputes in today’s market are based on “resume races.” Your client runs ads in newspapers, has a WEB site, has postings and banners on other Internet job sites, goes to job fairs, has employee referral programs, and attends trade shows. They pay for all these activities. They get resumes from all these activities. If you are sending them the same resumes they are already getting (For a 25% fee), why are you getting mad at them for not thinking you are an “Ace Recruiter.” You are not recruiting, you are a very expensive resource for paper they are already getting. The more frequently your paper is the paper they already have, the less urgency they will place in their relationship with you. They probably do not think of you as a recruiter, “As I already have an administrative assistant processing paper for me, why do I need you?” Then, if you “fight” for your right to a fee based on the fact that the same resume I got from an ad is one you were recruiting for me, are you not lowering yourself in your clients eyes as a recruiter. You are establishing yourself as a courier service, not a recruiter. The recruiters who consistently submit resumes that are 80% matches to my needs and with the least frequency of multiple source issues are the ones I work with the most closely. They are recruiting. Using sources and resources I do not have at my disposal. They have interviewed the resumes they are submitting. They interview well enough that their candidates tell them the truth. The candidates ARE their candidates. These are candidates that I do not already have. This is recruiting. I pay fees for that. Gladly. The argument regarding “creating interest” or the candidate’s “preference to work through you” is the last desperate gasp of a weak recruiter. If I have the paper, what is the service you are providing, what is its market value? Creating candidate interest is moot if they already mailed their resume to me. Claiming they only want to work through you is tough to believe if they already e-mailed me their resume. Beating my internal mail system by one day with a duplicate resume is not a service worth 25% on the thousand. Try this sentence out for size, “I know he sent the resume to you directly, but he wants all phone conversations to funnel through me. At a base salary of 60K, this phone messaging service will cost you 12K. Hello, hello?” There is a difference between recruiting and dumping resume file drawers into the FAX machine.

  4. If it isn’t in writing, it isn’t.

    Business is a complex world. That’s why we have contracts. Policies and procedures. Issues of past practice. True, the concept of an assumed contract can be defined and defended in a court of law. But you cannot assume a process as assumed if the client can prove that your assumed process has not been part of their past practice with other vendors. Rookie sales persons are always afraid of losing “the deal” on the initial phone call by asking too many questions, or establishing guidelines. Well, there “ain’t no deal” in the initial phone call. It is not a deal until there is money on the table. Use the first calls to learn the client’s process, or establish your own. Get agreement, get commitment. Ask the tough questions; what other sources are you using, what other agencies are you working with, what is the thing they are not providing you want, what happens if I send a resume you received three months ago – two weeks ago – interviewed – never interviewed… Only Rookies blame the client for their own failure to place value on their work by stating their professional expectations and requirements. Here is a simple lesson, if a client will not discuss process with you, they are not a client.

  5. You do not always get the full story.

    When you are so certain that the Corporate HR staff is always wrong and you are always right about “perfect fit” candidates. Make sure you have all the facts. As an outsider, do not assume that you know all the details of what is going on internally at your client’s site. Again, your “ole buddy” hiring manager is screaming that he or she is not getting any “action” from HR and really wants you to funnel in the resumes. But, despite that, HR seems to be dragging their feet. But, it is early Q1 and the “paranoid” hiring manager’s new requisition is not budgeted till late Q2. The hiring manager’s boss has made it clear to HR that they will not release the funding for this position under any circumstances till the agreed date. So HR is focusing their attention, efforts and resources on the 37 open requisitions they can fill today. But, since you always have gone “around” HR, since you always play the “Us vs. Them” game with your hiring manager buddies, HR is letting you spin cycles with no fee in site. But, then again, you take pride in the fact that you, “don’t work with HR.” Well, nothing in life is free and arrogance is probably the most expensive thing you can buy in sales, but why would you? You can never have enough friends “inside” the client in sales. Never forget that you are the “outsider.” Never assume the loyalties of your contacts in a company are absolute, assume they are conditional. That hiring manager buddy of yours was misrepresenting the truth to keep you interested in their needs in the future. The HR person may have welcomed your help on the other 37 requisitions if only you stopped finding fault with them long enough to ask for the business. Clients are capable of being stupid. Some in HR do not have the experience or temperament to successfully execute staffing programs. But, the criteria used to determine their competence is not necessarily whether or not you think they know what they are doing. When in doubt about client relations remember rule #2.

  6. Relationship building cannot begin with veiled threats. Work for the business.

    Often in a first conversation, or early on, many new recruiters like to hint that it might be a good idea to be a client, as opposed to being a source. Now there is the basis of a long and healthy business relationship – threats. Why not just have a couple of “da boys” come around and “rough us up” if we don’t cooperate. Look in the phone book, see how many agencies there are out there. Companies cannot do business with all of them. So they lie a lot to prospecting recruiters to get them off their back. Give the HR professional a good reason to do business with you and they will. Deliver qualified candidates. Be fair and open in your dealings. Develop contacts in all levels of the business and work “with” people to meet “their” goals. Your goals are secondary to them. They pay you for satisfying theirs.

  7. Your client’s attitude may reflect “your” phone call multiplied 25 times that day.

    For any of you who have never been in Corporate HR, let me give you an example of a phone call I get at least 5 times a day (25 if I just ran an ad in the newspaper). “Hi, my name is John Doe and I have an ideal candidate for your current opening. How much does the job pay, where are you located, what king of business are you, what kind of duties does this position entail, what are the job requirements, do you pay fees, mine is 30%, send me a job description, send me information on your benefits….” Huh? How could you have a good candidate, if you did not have all that other information? I have a WEB site and there are numerous other resources for information about the company! Go there, then call me! When did I start working for you? Be creative, be informative, but do not be a nuisance. I always have time for productive phone calls. Those who represent such – I always call. Those who do not – I do not. It is not the HR representatives job to train you or your recruiting staff. If you think I am stretching the truth about the above example, show this section to ten HR professionals. I guarantee you 10 smirks. Sometimes the bad mood isn’t your fault, but, remember rule #1, and call back the next day.

There are other rule and policies and practices that a good recruiter/sales professional follows in their career, but these are the ones that will most impact and effect your attitude towards your leads, prospects and customers. Attitude might be a good tool for a linebacker. But it has no place in sales. Agency recruiters are not always at fault. Agency recruiters are not always treated fairly. There are unprofessional companies out there and there are unprofessional Corporate HR people out there. But your job isn’t to do battle against the forces of evil. That’s Superman’s gig. You are a commissioned sales professional. Your chosen product is job seekers. Your chosen clients and prospects are employers. You are a business unit responsible for the generation of revenue for professional and personal gratification. You do this by ethical practices and smart selling. Anything else is a waste of your time and the kind of stuff only people on salary should worry about. When I first went into sales I made every mistake that exists, and created a couple of new ones on the way. But, the great thing about sales is every time I learned NOT to do something wrong, I made more money. I also had the advantage of a good mentor. He told me something that helped me in my struggles to become a good sales representative. In dealing with tough, mean, or down right difficult clients he said, “The sweetest commission money comes from the check, from the customer, who hung up on you the first time you called.” Anybody can get angry, but sales professionals would rather get rich! Now, for all you corporate HR folks out there smirking – it’s your turn in the next article.

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Ken Gaffey (kengaffey@comcast.net) is currently an employee of CPS Personal Services (www.cps.ca.gov) and has been involved in the Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration project since its inception. Prior to this National Security project Ken was an independent human resources and staffing consultant with an extensive career of diversified human resources and staffing experience in the high-tech, financial services, manufacturing, and pharmaceutical industries. His past clients include Hewlett Packard, First Data Corporation, Fidelity Investments, Fleet Bank, Rational Software, Ericsson, Astra Pharmaceutical, G&D Engineering, and other national and international industry leaders. In addition to contributing articles and book reviews to publications like ERE, Monster.com, AIRS, HR Today, and the International Recruiters Newsletter, Ken is a speaker at national and international conferences, training seminars, and other staffing industry events. Ken is a Boston native and has lived in the greater Boston area most of his life. Ken attended the University of South Carolina and was an officer in the United States Marine Corps.


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