There’s a very good reason vendor is a four letter word in recruiting and HR. That’s because almost everyone in the business of business development for any product or service in our industry (and there are literally thousands) pretty much sucks.
They’re a pain in the butt to deal with, use tactics that the average stalker would probably find a little too aggressive and refuse to take no for an answer – even when it’s pretty obvious that whatever they’re selling has nothing to do with what you or your organization actually needs.
Yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking – too harsh, right?
Well, try sitting in my seat. If you have, you already know exactly what I’m talking about.
You Make Me Feel…
Now, I’ve spent more years than I care to count in the talent business, and over the course of my career, I’ve watched software and service sales tactics plummet fundamentally evolve – and markedly not for the better. Maybe it might make sense if I provided a little context up front.
What follows is a real life exchange between an HR Tech sale guy and myself. Let’s just call him “Chuck” for the sake of the story.
I’m not sure exactly what it was about this particular exchange that set me off – probably the collective culmination of years worth of eroding professional standards and my own increased personal frustration that Chuck is the rule, rather than the exception, in HR Technology today.
That would probably make me a little sad, really, if it didn’t make me so ticked off that for some reason, this exchange was the one that finally pushed me over the edge.
From: [email protected]
To: Davis, Jennifer
Subject: RE: “XYZ company” referral – “Recruiter Name From Your Company”
Hope you’re doing well. I wanted to reach out as your colleague, “XYZ Recruiter name from your company”, said you’d be the best person to speak with regarding “my company”, our intelligence recruitment software.
I’d love to steal 10-15 minutes to show you how we can provide you and your recruitment team with a much more effective and time efficient way of sourcing top talent, rather than blasting InMail messages that turn up few responses.
How does next week work for a quick chat? Let me know.
Now, I want to be pretty clear here that this doesn’t actually qualify as a “cold call” or even necessarily an unsolicited message, since not only had I actually heard of this particular company before, from industry peers and other professional colleagues from my network – technically, I suppose, this makes me a “warm lead,” in sales vernacular.
And, I concede, there’s a good chance I got in their database by making the rookie mistake of letting them scan my badge at a trade show in exchange for some swag, or signing up for a webinar I didn’t realize would also lead to a biz dev blitzkrieg, more or less. It happens.
But putting that aside for a minute, let’s take a closer look at this e-mail from Chuck for a minute. Now, if there’s one thing salespeople (and recruiters, for that matter) rely on as a time tested, well honed tactic for gaining trust (and a call back), it’s dropping the names of coworkers, colleagues and any other person in your network or company that’ll be recognizable enough to reliably open the door for future conversation – one step closer to a close, in their eyes.
Chuck noted that he was being referred directly through a recruiter on my team, which means, c’mon dude – that recruiter totally blew you off, and you needed another in. If your product was any good or they were excited enough about it to warrant you reaching out to me, they would have given me the heads up, you idiot.
Now, name dropping can work, but in this case, it’s pretty obvious that in the absence of clout or street cred, you’re just trying a different tact to get into my company. Let me tell you, Chuck, this kind of obvious duplicity isn’t doing you a whole hell of a lot of favors, buddy.
I’m not sure why I just didn’t delete this message like I almost always do, but for some reason, I figured that I’d give the guy a chance. After all, his brand had been getting some good buzz, the product looked halfway decent from their website, and my peers in the industry had some decent things to say about this particular technology.
So, even though Chuck was clearly another snake oil salesman, his product might actually be worth hearing out a pitch for. So, I replied and asked him to send me an invite for the following week, and I’d propose a new time if the original one didn’t work.
Pretty standard stuff.
Will You Love Me Tomorrow?
This right here is every SaaS salesperson’s dream – getting an actual meeting with an actual decision maker. Chuck sends me a meeting invite; I accepted, with every intention of keeping the meeting, even though, let’s just say, Chuck didn’t necessarily start things off on the right foot. But everyone deserves a second chance, and I thought there was a slight chance it might end up worth the time it took to hear him out. Hey, nothing’s impossible, right?
Except, it turns out, guys like Chuck.
I had heard of this company from peers in the industry so technically I was already a warm lead. Business development folks in general like to drop names that you’ll recognize within your company. He noted that a Recruiter on our team was referring him; the Recruiter just deflected you dude, and there’s no clout or street cred there.
Back to Chuck. I replied and asked him to send me an invite the following week, and I’d propose a new time if it didn’t work. Chuck sent me a meeting invite and I accepted.
Things are going well at this point and Chuck’s gaining my trust already. I was prepared to keep the meeting.
Then this happened.
From: [email protected]
To: Davis, Jennifer
Subject: “XYZ company” referral – “Recruiter Name From my Company”
Was wondering if we can move the meeting to 4:30 CST today? One of our enterprise guys who was going to lead the introduction isn’t feeling well so we’re putting in a replacement.
If that doesn’t work we’re available Friday morning and afternoon or any other time that is convenient for you.
So sorry for the inconvenience!
Yeah, Chuck. Me too. Trust me on this one, buddy.
Particularly since you’d sent me about 9 confirmation e-mails before this cancellation telling me how excited you were to touch base. Liar.
So Far Away.
Now, as many of you know, there’s been something of a movement recently among recruiters to finally combat the copious amounts of automated emails and unsolicited sends so many candidates have complained about for so long; in fact, like every “movement” in recruiting, this one even has its own Facebook group and dedicated hashtag: #FightSpam.
I think this is, of course, a worthy cause, if not maybe a little bit ironic given the copious amounts of unsolicited messages and connection requests that #FightingSpam seems to generate pretty much every day. That said, while there’s been a lot of attention turned towards the problem of “spamming candidates,” the fact is, most recruiters receive as much, if not more, unsolicited or automated emails than they generate.
As endemic as recruiter spam might be in talent acquisition today, there seems to be a comparatively sparse amount of attention turned on a problem that’s every bit as pernicious throughout our profession.
I’m talking about, of course, the scourge of spam generated by vendors. Between staffing firms and solution providers, recruiting and talent professionals today find themselves squarely in the crosshairs of what’s become a high stakes competition for mindshare and marketshare alike. And it’s got to stop. Like, now. Because this is one spam problem that’s equally worth fighting – and one that, unlike candidate communications, is one that with a united front, recruiters realistically have some sort of chance to turn the tide before it’s too late.
Now, I’d like to stop for a moment and point out that, yes, I began my career in third party recruiting, and one of my primary responsibilities in running my desk for my first few years in the industry was business development, so I get the pressure of closing clients and meeting quotas. I understand what it’s like to have to grow a book of business, to cold call potential clients and convert prospects into paying customers. I get that it’s not easy, but the thing is, it seems that vendors today are making it harder on themselves – and their prospective customers – than it really has to be.
For the last 10 years now, I’ve worked in-house, where I’ve owned third party vendor management on the corporate side – a portfolio that encompasses everything from HR Technology spend to third party search and recruitment advertising agencies. If it involves an SLA or an RFP, it’s on me. This makes me a prime target for the slings and arrows of outrageous vendor spamming. After a decade, I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore.
Now, there’s a right way to communicate with corporate contacts, and there’s a wrong way. If you want to get my attention, don’t force your lame and vaguely ‘threatening’ e-mails on me to try to coerce me to set up a time for a “chat” or a “demo” or whatever the heck it is you want me to take time out of my busy day for.
If I turn you down or just don’t respond, then don’t be ridiculous and think you’re being all smooth by going around me to someone else at my company, dropping my name or copying a colleague on communications to try to weasel your way into the “decision maker” (which, by the way, is actually me, most of the time – and this stuff makes it a pretty easy decision).
Your dishonesty and deceit are bad enough as it is, and while your suspect strategies are so obvious it’s kind of laughable, it just discredits you and your company even more. Ultimately, we’ll be the ones having the last laugh – trust me on this one. But I digress.
Now I know that this probably sounds like venting, but it feels almost cathartic – I’ve been waiting to say this stuff for a while now. In the past, vendors who tried connecting with me did at least a little perfunctory research on me, my company and how their solution might help fit into the bigger talent picture; now, it seems almost every vendor who reaches out to me has no idea who I am, what my company does or even anything about recruiting, really. They have no knowledge of relationship building, ignore the basics of salesmanship, and care more about meeting quota than they do my organization’s long term talent success.
Spam me, and you can stick it. Including you, Chuck. Now, instead of simply dropping the mic, let me take a few minutes to break down exactly what you did wrong, and what you and every other HR Tech vendor out there can do differently to win back the trust and credibility you’ve spent the last few years steadily eroding.
If you don’t start doing business differently, then you’re not going to be in business for very long. So listen up and let me tell you how to stop sucking and start selling. Seriously.
It’s Too Late.
Now, back to Chuck. OK, so as we’ve established, several months of stalking and a pretty shady pseudo-referral e-mail later, I decided to finally book a quick call with the guy, only to have him blow me off at the last minute and ask if I could possibly reschedule for a meeting that I was actually planning to attend and had even prepared for (I’m old fashioned like that).
The day we were supposed to touch base, I had back-to-back meetings booked solid all day, which means that I’m not able to constantly refresh my inbox or respond to messages in real time – I don’t live and die by what’s in my email, unlike a lot of people I know. So, guess who showed up to the call? Yep. This girl right here. Guess who didn’t show up as scheduled.
That’s right. Chuck. To reiterate, I’m a warm lead, and he’d booked time on my schedule for an in-person conversation with a prospect, which is a pretty critical hurdle in any sales process, really.
Put simply, Chuck was in!
That is, until he let common courtesy get in the way of what could have been a big client, significant contract and lucrative commission – all of which he blew when he more or less no showed, frantic e-mail :15 ahead of time.
Now, even if I had gotten his e-mail in time, I couldn’t have taken the new meeting time, and given the fact my plate is perpetually overflowing, rescheduling our conversation around when his “enterprise guy” might be around just wasn’t going to happen.
Chuck should have kept the call, and used it simply for the purposes of establishing some sort of connection or foundation for building a relationship – even if it wasn’t to close me, at the very least he could have used the time to understand my business problems and how he might be able to help.
C’mon, Chuck. You don’t need an “enterprise guy” for that. All you had to do was just pick up the darn phone. Instead, you dropped the ball – and wasted a pretty big opportunity in what’s often a pretty long, pretty complicated sales cycle in what was more or less the final lap.
Fast forward, way forward – in fact, let’s skip ahead to the time I get the ninth email from Chuck since his no-show, begging, pleading to reschedule. Thing is, you can’t ask for one more chance when you’ve blown the only one you’re going to get. And by this point, his incessant emails are starting to feel like spam (and, at times, a bit like stalking, too).
Now, even though I had an out of the office on to let anyone who hit me up know I was going to be travelling internationally for a 3 week work trip, and even though I know I had explicitly told Chuck that when we were originally trying to schedule our conversation, he kept trying to contact me, even though I’d made it clear I’d be out for a month or more.
Of course, on the exact date I indicated I’d return in my OOTO, Chuck drops me an e-mail. The next day, another one. And three more b the end of the week. This is where I finally snap.
On Friday, April 1, 2016 at 7:20 PM, Davis, Jennifer wrote:
I appreciate your tenacity. I’d like to give you some feedback on your approach. Pushing me or other TA people that do what I do isn’t so great alright.
All good. This week sucks. Next week I’m happy to have a call. Half hour max for starters, and Wed/Thurs afternoon should be fine.
I need data in advance. Who are you working with that I know that uses XYZ Company and has success, and give me a success story. Cool?
To: Davis, Jennifer
Subject: Re: XYZ Company referral – “Recruiter Name From my Company”
Thanks for the reply and the feedback. Putting myself in your shoes, I understand that my persistence comes off in the least annoying and the most, rude. Definitely makes me rethink my approach and I thank you for that.
I’m including all of our data sheets that explain each of the pieces that make up the XYZ Company platform. The platform is first and foremost a very powerful search engine that is built specifically for recruiters. On top of that, it includes data, intelligence, and productivity tools that allow recruiters to see a candidate’s online digital footprint and use that information to engage and qualify with them.
Please let me know if there is any more info I can provide for you. We’re completely open in the afternoon next Wednesday and Thursday, what time works for you?
Needless to say, I haven’t called or emailed Chuck to schedule a time. Hate to leave you hanging, my man – but karma sucks sometimes. Just like HR Tech salespeople.
So, in summary, how could Chuck – or any of his business development colleagues, really – approach this situation so that maybe they could get better results and build relationships, trust and a book of business instead of simply burning bridges and costing themselves clients?
Where You Lead: 8 Ways To Stop Sucking At Selling HR Tech.
Here are a few suggestions from my point of view as one of those coveted corporate “decision makers” who owns third party relationships for recruiting and staffing – and therefore, represent the target buyer for pretty much every enterprise HR Technology vendor out there.
8. If a prospect accepts a meeting invite, keep the appointment, no matter what. Build relationships, don’t sell product
The relationship started to grow when I agreed to and accepted the call. You don’t need your boss, “Billy Bob Big Wig”, to swoop in and talk my ear of while you sit silently. That’s a total turn off to me. Too many business development people on the first call focus on cramming every detail of their product down your throat. That, and they usually spend the first 20 minutes telling you why their company is so awesome.
Guess what? I don’t care! I just wanted to have a conversation with Chuck!
Bottom line, take the call, listen, and the relationship will start to take shape. So too will the sale. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, son.
7. #FightSpam. Or At Least, Cut It Out, Already.
I’ll bet if you ask 10 Director level people if they get too much email they’re all going to tell you yes. Just back off email and try a different approach. Don’t be a one trick pony and spam your potential prospect to death.
What do you want people to remember you for, spamming, or relationship building? Be different – and be better than the average software sales guy. Trust me, it’s not hard.
6. Don’t Play Games If A Prospect Is Unresponsive & Respect Reporting Relationships.
To be clear, Chuck didn’t commit one of the most heinous of sales blunders and CC my boss. That is the most ridiculous thing to do, and highly likely the person that’s copied is laughing at you. This has happened to me, and if you want to see how I respond feel free to give it a shot.
Chuck also wasn’t shaming me into rescheduling the appointment. He was being just very persistent and emailed me to death; on the ninth email I finally snapped. I’m normally pretty patient, but nine unnecessary follow-ups is enough to tick anyone off – even this girl.
5. Information is Everywhere. Use It.
There should never be such a thing as a cold call or connection request – at least make a perfunctory attempt at finding out a little information on your potential prospect. Are they on social media? Do they have a blog? Do they post pictures of their Springer Spaniel on Instagram, and guess what, you happen to have a Springer Spaniel too – which would earn you extra points if only you took a minute to look.
If you really care, take an extra minute to “like” their posts, comment on their updates, engage them around their personal interests instead of your professional end game and – voila!
You’ve got a leg up on every other sales guy out there, because the potential prospect is already going to remember you for doing that sort of simple thing when you call – and they’re infinitely more likely to be receptive to someone who wants to talk about spaniels instead of someone who just wants to talk about their SaaS solution.
4. Don’t Start By Selling Your Company. Just Listen.
Don’t lead off every 1:1 call you have with a prospect with a long list of selling points or extraneous company history or, heaven forbid, one of those “Hiring is Broken” slides that seem to be in every sales deck in existence. In fact, don’t start off by talking about you. Lead by listening to me and my problems – you’ve got to know what those are before you try to tell me you’ve got a solution for them.
If you want to dive right into a demo, know that you’re blowing a big chance to get to know the prospect better – and they’re probably secretly rolling your eyes, hoping you’ll hurry the hell up and get to the point. But without understanding what business problems I’m facing, there’s not a great chance you’ll tell me what I want to hear, since you never even asked.
If your standard script doesn’t offer a specialized solution that’s going to solve my real problems, then it’s time to shut up, step back and rethink your approach.
3. If You Can’t Help, Be Honest About It.
Some salespeople want to sell whatever they can, no matter whether or not it actually solves a prospect’s problems. They only care about making money and moving product, which, if that works for you and you can look yourself in the mirror, more power to you, I guess. But I promise that if your HR Technology can’t solve a prospect’s problems, than any potential prospect, experienced or otherwise, is going to see right through you.
Remember, the world of recruiting is fairly small and everyone’s more or less connected in some way – and we like to talk about our bad experiences with our colleagues, particularly if it involves getting burned by an HR Technology vendor. If you can’t help solve a problem, just admit it. It might not win you a sale right now, but once word gets around, it will probably pay dividends far greater than a single client.
After all, people talk, especially in the HR Technology space. Make sure you stay on the right side of that conversation – and in this case, honesty is not only the best policy, it’s the only one.
2. Doing the Same Thing Over And Over And Expecting Different Results Is The Definition of Insanity.
Look, stop banging your head against the wall and sending out more emails or making more phone calls – volume and persistence don’t necessarily mean better results. Whether you’re managed by the numbers or not, your leadership needs to understand that less is almost always more, and that you need training and support to be successful on your calls.
This starts by qualifying and researching prospects so that you’re only targeting qualified buyers instead of simply playing the numbers game. If you focus on just hitting output targets like number of calls made in a day, you’re missing the forest for the trees.
Every call counts, because every one could be the start of your next sale. A little research can go a long way into making sure that you make the right impression on the right prospects, even if it takes a little more time. The results are almost inevitably worth it – and that’s the bottom line, no matter what metric you use for sales success.
1. Be Real.
Whether you’re brand new to biz dev or are a seasoned veteran, if you’re not getting the results you want, it’s probably because you’re not being yourself. You’re being a sales guy, and we all know how badly they suck. If you want to stand out from all those other HR Tech biz dev guys and gals out there, the only real competitive differentiator you have is being yourself. People buy from people they know and trust – and the first step to getting there is by dropping the schmaltzy sales schtick and try being yourself.
You’ll be amazed what happens when you stop selling software and start building relationships. Don’t believe it, just watch.
Now, no matter what, I still have a special place in my heart for all the Chucks of those world, the business development professionals working the front lines to sell solutions, services and software to the recruiting and HR space. It’s not an easy gig – I know this from experience.
You have to have a thick skin, a lot of patience, and the ability to take “no” for an answer, because you’re going to hear that a lot (if you ever hear anything at all). That’s just a part of the business.
Don’t get frustrated; if you play the game the right way, chances are your prospects are still going to be willing to follow up or take a call with you eventually. Who knows, they might even buy your solution after all. I’d have bought Chuck’s, too, if he would have asked me the single most important question you need to remember to ask every prospect, every time:
“What business problem are you trying to solve?”
And that, my friends, is the bottom line when it comes to biz dev in recruiting and staffing.
About the Author: Jennifer Davis is the Sr. Director, People Strategies & HR Technology at Epsilon, the global leader in creating connections between people and brands, supporting 15 of the top 20 global brands and recognized by Ad Age as the #1 World CRM/Direct Marketing Network.
Jennifer has 17 years experience in talent acquisition, and has run recruiting operations for Epsilon across North America before moving into her current global-facing role.
Jennifer has developed, managed and lead third party vendor management programs and initiatives throughout her career, most recently focusing on enterprise wide initiatives such as creating a best-in-class recruiting group in India from the ground up, overseeing post-M&A integration and workforce planning, candidate experience programs and HR Technology selection & implementation.
Jen Davis has 20 years of experience in tech and executive recruiting, 10 years of TA leadership, and is highly skilled in targeted direct sourcing and candidate engagement. She partners with executives from start-ups to large companies to create and hone TA processes, establish consistent candidate screening, interviewing, and assessment methods, conducts TA and hiring manager training, and with a focus on building the most diverse and impactful teams. Above all, Jen will always be a Recruiter at heart and have a passion for positively impacting lives. In Jen's latest endeavor she has joined forces with Everlywell, a thriving start-up based out of Austin, Texas, and is partnering with Nick Parker, Chief Technology Officer, and his leaders to help grow and scale the engineering team. Everlywell expects to double in size over the next year.
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