Have you ever read a quote, an article or a passage in a book even heard an industry speaker or listened to a training tape — and said to yourself, “Aha!”? Some call it an epiphany or a moment of realization. For many, these moments don’t happen often. When they do, they seem to clarify what we know instinctually. Well, it just happened to me recently while reading a book on the plane back from an industry conference.The newly published book I picked up is The One Minute Millionaire by Mark Hansen and Robert Allen. Now, don’t let the title fool you. This book has substance. My epiphany came in the tenth page of the book’s introduction where the authors talk about the “Butterfly Effect,” as it relates to process and quality. They cited W. Edwards Deming, the father of Total Quality Management. Here is the passage that was seared into my brain:
“After over 50 years of statistical study, Deming pointed out that in every process there is a beginning and an end. When you focus on the first 15% of that process and get it correct (its initial conditions), you ensure at least 85% of your desired outcome. By focusing on the first 15% of anything, the remaining 85% will effortlessly follow.”
That’s a proven, powerful concept as it applies to all businesses including ours search and placement. Get the beginning of the process “correct” and all else will follow. The word that gives me goose bumps is “effortlessly.”Many who have attended my training and/or read other articles I’ve written share common feedback, “Mike, you always seem to focus on the beginning of the process.” Very true. And up to this point, I never could give a clear reason why I emphasized the beginning of the search process so much.How can we apply this thinking in our business? In today’s market many want to know how we can increase the number of quality search assignments. The obvious first place to start is with our existing client base where we have built well-established relationships. Though, if you’re in the same boat I am, you’ve exhausted these leads long ago. For those of us still in the game, it has come down to pre-planned, targeted new client development — what I call precision marketing.The Thinking Before The CallWe all know the many ways we could first approach a prospective new client. Letter of introduction. Email note with link to our website. Marketing “gimmick” to get attention. PR news release. Request to add to our newsletter. Face-to-face at an industry trade show. Warm referral introduction. And other forms of direct or indirect communication.
Though, if you believe as I do, there’s nothing more efficient in speed, quantity and quality (if it’s done right), than the good old-fashioned phone call. How’s that for ‘pre-internet’ talk!
However, before any call is placed, we need to realign our thinking. What is it that we do? As I see it, we are management consultants with our expertise being in human resources, specifically talent acquisition. We solve staffing problems and add value for our clients by seeking out and referring high-performing human capital (the most valuable of all company assets). Simply, this accomplishes one of two things for our clients: 1) it increases their revenues or 2) it reduces their expenses.Many would agree that “added-value” and “consultant” are over-used terms today. I agree. Let’s give some meaning to them by answering the following questions:1) What can we do that human resources can’t? (Adding value for our clients.) Recruit passive candidates from competitor firms. Give proper focus, time and attention to fill critical need positions. Know whether a candidate will accept an offer before it’s made.2) What can we do for candidates that they may not be able to do effectively for themselves? (Adding value for our candidates.) Speak directly with hiring authorities about open positions. Market their skills to their choice prospective employers. Negotiate an offer using third party leverage.3) What can we do that the internet can’t? (Adding value for both clients and candidates). Convey the all-important human elements beyond the resume. Create and manage expectations in the interview process. Match critical skills (client side) with career desires (candidate side).There are many more answers to each of these questions. Add your own. They are empowering and the reasons for our true value-added. They offer a consultant’s perspective to how we may engage potential new clients. They are why we earn our fees.The Research Before The CallWhat if there was an approach where we could make ten that’s just 10 — new client development calls per day and be bursting from the seams with new business in today’s market or in any market? Let’s start with the following thinking:
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A winning business strategy is to focus on quality over quantity — short, medium and long-term. This is how we build our ‘brand’ and our reputation especially in a highly competitive service business like search.
In my firm, we never make new client development calls unless one or two factors are in place: 1) there’s a position open in our specialized field at the level we work and/or 2) we’re marketing a “star” candidate who is interested in a specific position with a pre-selected company. Before each new call we do preliminary research to maximize the desired result. This is where the Internet comes in.A great proportion of my firm’s “cold” new client leads in the past several years have come from the Internet — whether they be job boards (the monsters or the specialized ones) or company websites — their career web pages. To find where you may find sites with new client leads, do a Google search with parameters: [your field], [your position specialty], [city/state], the words: ‘jobs,’ ‘positions’ or ‘careers.’ Experiment with different search parameters and see what comes up. If you haven’t already done so, the results should be enlightening.What I love about Internet postings is the depth of information revealed. These are virtual job descriptions which give detailed language (and ammunition) to incorporate into our marketing presentations. After sourcing leads, we go the company’s website to get a quick overview of the company’s products, services, size, org structure, etc. If you know your field/industry well, you should be able to absorb this very quickly.The last step before the marketing call is to source the name of the hiring manager, his/her title, direct phone number and/or email address. The usual method is by phone, though many times executives’ names are posted right on their companies’ websites. In our pre-planned marketing calls, it’s essential to hit the nail on the head the first time out and that means speaking with the hiring manager to which an open position reports.The Anatomy of the Consultative Cold Call“We never get a second chance to make a first impression.” I prefer my first contact to a prospective new client be by voice, i.e. telephone call. Not email. Not any other form of written communication. Not an in-person meeting (primarily due to time and geographic constraints). This approach works best for me and it’s how we train in my firm. Advertising, PR and/or other multi-media-mix strategies can be very effective ways to build a name in the client’s mind prior to contact especially to win retainer business. However, for our purposes here, we’re talking pure cold contact.The three elements of ‘The Call’ are:1) Content 2) Delivery 3) Timing1) Content. Although I can’t detail the exact script of my call here, I can share my strategy and the reason behind why we say what we say. First, each call is customized for each situation. We only call senior level hiring managers, not human resources. We state our background, that we work within the industry niche and that we work with leading firms in the industry. We do not mention our firm’s name. At the first opportunity, we describe what the hiring manager wants to hear — using technical language from the Internet posting’s job description. We do not identify that we are recruiters, staffing professionals or search consultants until well into our presentation. If we do that up-front, we find that people mentally shut down. The object here is to engage the hiring authority in the first fifteen seconds and create a conversation. Then, we ask tailored, consultative-style questions about the position to demonstrate our expertise in the field/industry. We go into listening mode.2) Delivery. How we carry ourselves in our voice is critical to achieving results. Mood, enthusiasm and educational background are a few of the elements conveyed by voice. That’s why I like voice mail so much. It gives us a glimpse of a person before we actually speak with him/her. Think of the old game show, “Name That Tune.” Odds are when we make the initial call, we are going to get voice mail. Who’s on the other end? Male or female? Deep voice or high voice? Quick or slow? Salesy extrovert or analytical introvert? Voice tone, pitch and cadence are telling signs of personality style. When we do speak with the hiring manager, we communicate as if we’re interviewing for the position ourselves. Look to match their style, ala neuro-linguistic programming. We all know there’s no substitute to communicating in an upbeat, can-do attitude.3) Timing. As I see it, there are two parts here. The first part of getting the timing right is based on need. As mentioned earlier, if we’re not marketing a “star” candidate, we’ll only make a marketing cold call when we know there is an open position. If not, our experience is we’re shooting at a moving target, which is a wheel spinning, time-waster. A primary objective is to get an internal referral from a senior hiring authority to either: a) another hiring manager who has a not-yet-public need or b) human resources for other open positions (which is the only preferred time to speak with HR in the beginning of the process.)The second part of getting the timing right is availability. That is, getting the hiring manager on the phone without calling ten times and getting voice mail every time. It’s a two-step process for us. If we don’t get the hiring manager first time out, we’re in touch with his/her assistant and ask the hiring manager’s schedule and availability for the day or week. Then, we call his/her direct line at that available time. We do have a specific voice message that we’ll leave which gets call back results four out of five times. The idea here is not to reveal ourselves as a search consultant but instead inquiring about the open position. Think: The hiring manager has a need!The Follow UpMost would agree there’s nothing more essential in the marketing process then continual, consistent follow-up. It’s a key ingredient that separates us from all others. Through action, we demonstrate our professionalism, our organizational abilities and our commitment to establishing a working partnership. Seasoned search consultants know it can take five to six contacts over the course of two months to two years before a new client relationship takes root. Staying with it while others fall by the wayside can make or break our chances of winning new business. Persistence does, indeed, win in the end.Our first follow up is usually a personalized email, summarizing our conversation, with a link to our firm’s website. In it, we describe our individual and firm background as well as when we will be back in touch (next actionable item). If we’re marketing a candidate, we include a confidential (blind) resume, withholding the candidate’s name, contact information and current employer.The speed of our response in addition to the time we’ll invest on the follow up email correlates with the time we’ve spent on the initial call. Our experience is that 15+ minutes on the first call is usually a good indication that it went well to follow up the same or next day.A second follow up, perhaps two weeks after the initial call, could be: 1) a brief, hand written, personalized note on our letterhead with business card (we have stationary that’s sized like an invitation), 2) a personalized, upbeat voice message referencing our first conversation topic and date we called or, 3) arranging an in-person meeting, if geographically desirable. Consistent follow up is key to displaying our future behavior, i.e. “actions speak louder than words.” Through our action we show that, given the opportunity, we’ll perform as we say we will.
A variety of consistent, well-timed, multi-media follow-up will distinguish us from others and leave an indelible positive impression in the mind of our future clients.
The First 15% Counts MostIn summary, Deming proved statistically that the first 15% of any process is most important in achieving 85% of the desired outcome. In the search process, the first 15% of new client development includes: 1) research 2) the marketing presentation 3) taking the search assignment and 4) negotiating the fee. Do these steps correctly (as well as the initial steps on the candidate side) and all else will follow effortlessly.This focus on quality in the first steps of the placement process is the essence of what I call the Art of Search. With this thinking and approach, we can win new business in today’s market. Now, you make the call!