One of my clients, Matthew, rolled his eyes at our last meeting. “Clients have become such tarts! They’ll engage with anyone these days who promises them a CV.”
Matthew was frustrated. Despite bringing on and billing 46 new clients this year, his business still felt “hand to mouth” with no reliable repeat business. Nothing was getting easier – in fact, he was going through the same business motions as he had always done; finding a client, convincing him to see his candidate, and then moving on to the next assignment.
Matthew’s particular frustration today was that his staff have discovered another recruiter supplying their client – despite them having “done a great job” earlier in the year. “Why did we not get a crack at this first?” he asked. His consultants shrugged their shoulders. “You would expect that we’d have been his first call, wouldn’t you?”.
Well, actually no. In my long career in recruitment, I have discovered that people have very short memories. I can still remember the name of the very first candidate I placed in 1985 – and the salary. But I strongly doubt that the candidate can.
On top of that, people like to put suppliers in boxes. For example, I was astonished to find that one of my clients for whom I work as a board adviser in 2018 had decided to engage another external consultant to deliver her “values discovery” programme. Despite being aware that this was an area of my expertise, my client had categorised me as a board advisor, not somebody who would actually conduct the hands-on work with staff.
The same may be true of your clients; let’s say you have successfully sourced a programme manager for them. The hiring manager may be the same, but it may not even cross their minds that you are also capable of supplying a contract cyber security specialist. Having this info on the homepage of your website is not enough, you need to have a plan to get this information to where it counts.
Recruitment businesses with a key account management plan have shown that a 5% increase in customer retention increases profits by as much as 95% (source: RAIN group). Furthermore, those organisations that are best at account management see drastically better account growth. They are 3.1 times more likely to grow revenue by 20% or more in their key accounts, 3.4 times more likely to grow profit by 20% or more, and 4.5 times more likely to experience year over year client satisfaction improvement.
So, here I am outlining a five-point plan for account management. It’s designed for all recruiters and may require some amendment for your market depending on your capabilities and the size of your organisation.
Follow up on all your customer interactions. Obviously, that means having a proper protocol for following up with clients and candidates after you’ve made a successful placement.
It also means having a process for following up with the candidates who find their own job and the clients who fill their own job via another source. They’ve already consented to use you and one presumes you’ve learned something about them in that interaction. You can either throw that knowledge away and assume that because you failed to make the successful placement they won’t speak to you again or, you can stand out by being the recruiter who follows up effectively.
Here’s how I introduce this conversation. “Well Bob, this doesn’t happen to us very often and I’m sure that you’ve selected the best person for the job. I’d like to learn what we could have done to improve our service or our candidate matching.”
Bob will be quite taken aback by this approach or may even try to fob you off, but I persist:
“Superb! Was there anything that my team did well that you can remember?”
Next, I will ask when the lucky candidate is due to start. “In the current climate, Bob, we know that many candidates are ghosting their new employers and they are often subject to wild counter offers by their current employer. I’m not saying that will happen to you with your chosen candidate, but I’d like to send you a PDF that I prepared for my clients. It shows them how to minimise the chances of this happening.”
By now Bob is intrigued and will probably read my PDF. “Before I go, Bob, can I ask about the background of the candidate who was successful?” There’s a good chance that Bob will tell me where that person is currently working. I may choose to do something with that market intelligence. But if not, I can at least check in with Bob before and on the due start date.
If I’m going to maintain and build a relationship with Bob, I need to increase his engagement and learn more about him. A couple of years ago I was contacted by a supplier to the recruitment industry who wanted to engage me with his CRM. At the time, my daughter had just become engaged and I mentioned this on our call. The sales representative had clearly made a note. He continued to contact me on average once every four months for the next two years. And each time he asked me, “How is your daughter? Still married?”.
Recruiters, please note that merely contacting someone over and over is not building a relationship. A business relationship requires business learning and interaction. Let me be clear; I am not advocating but you never discuss personal subjects with clients and candidates. I am recommending that you increase your engagement by providing helpful information, acting on referrals and presenting new and alternative ways to help your client achieve their business goals. In other words, stop selling and start helping.
So I will regard an account as being “developed” when I can see new decision-maker referrals, cross-selling (for example promoting our contract services to a permanent client), and perhaps a meeting arranged to benchmark the client’s current recruitment performance.
By the time I have had conversations with multiple decision-makers in the client, I have a much clearer idea of what works and what doesn’t in the current recruitment practices. Sometimes, clients are unaware that their recruitment metrics are well below par for the market. On occasions, recruitment has become a strategic activity for the first time. Either way, I will have enough evidence from the client’s own managers to present some recommendations at the most senior level. In my early career, this was how I was able to win multi-million-pound contracts with international blue-chip and listed companies.
Please note: it is important to deal at the most senior level you can, rather than stick at the level where you originally made contact. A CEO, once interested, may delegate future discussions. For example, to a Head of Talent Acquisition. But that person will work with you because the CEO has asked them to. You will be aiming for a much closer relationship than other suppliers who only sell to that Head of TA.
Recruiters are notorious for overestimating their own centrality to client relationships. Actually, a relationship that relies on one person in each business is obviously fragile and vulnerable. It, therefore, makes sense to have multiple points of contact with your larger clients, incorporating different levels of staff. For example, if you work in a highly regulated sector and are providing large numbers of contract workers, then a compliance partner and a member of the finance team can be equally important members of an account team, alongside the sales consultant.
The client experience does not begin and end with sales: it includes accurate invoicing, ensuring compliance checks are made and renewed, and performance is monitored. So when you have identified a potential major account, consider putting a team on it, and requiring that team to produce a specific action plan for that account, updated on a monthly basis. It can involve bespoke service offerings where you have real insight into the client. The more the client is using your systems/training/reporting platform, the harder it is for them to separate from you.
Most of the recruitment business owners I know understand the importance of their own presence in the eyes of the client. This can be achieved via specific invitations, such as the celebrity interview format which I use myself.
Have you ever noticed how when you attend a conference or exhibition, people you’ve met once become your best buddy, hugs and kisses accompanying their recognition? It’s not just recruiters who liked to show off their network! So, if you are going to develop beyond the traditional recruitment service provider profile, make sure you are personally visible and show your clients how much you appreciate their business. You are also likely to learn a lot from that interaction.
Could successful account development improve your business? To discuss this and how Alison Humphries can help you transform your efficiency, profitability and satisfaction, contact alison@ recruitmentleadership.co.uk to arrange a discovery call.