Creating Certainty in Uncertain Times
By David Searns
Enough of the news. Enough of social media. Enough negativity in our lives.
I think this year has pushed all of us to our limits. Coronavirus. Lockdowns. Record unemployment. A global recession. Fires. Floods. Oh yeah, and it's an election year.
My biggest hope for 2020...
is that none of us ever see another one like it!
But we're here now. While we can't change reality, we can absolutely change how we see things and how we deal with challenge. As Sir Winston Churchill famously said, "Never let a good crisis go to waste."
If you are in staffing or recruiting, the challenge you face is creating more certainty. Certainty in sales. Certainty in recruiting. And most importantly, certainty in your cash flow.
You need to build a sales and recruiting engine that powers your company, enables your salespeople and recruiters to achieve greater results (without incessant cold calling), and strengthens your business so that you thrive in the months and years to come.
How to build your sales and recruiting engine
Step 1: Define your positioning
Where are you the best in the world? In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins defines a concept he calls the "hedgehog principle," which is a convergence of three things:
If you ask most staffing company owners "what makes you different?," you'll often hear some variation of "it's our service" or "our relationships" or "how much we care about our clients and candidates."
While these are all great values, they don't create differentiation. They don't position you to stand out. To really define your positioning, you need to apply Jim Collins' model.
What are you deeply passionate about?
Why did you get into staffing? Is it about the kinds of people you place? The types of clients you serve? A commitment to helping people advance their careers? A staffing company built around a passionate belief will be much stronger than one built around a general goal of providing better service.
Where are you (or can you be) the best in the world?
What types of people are you really good at recruiting? What industries or job functions do you really understand? What unique skills, experience or technology does your company possess? In what locations are you strongest? Or with what size clients or types of staffing buyers? The idea is to define a very specific market segment or service offering where you can consistently outperform every other staffing and recruiting company on the planet.
What is your economic engine?
What is the value you offer that people will pay you to deliver? Is it traditional "temp help" or "direct hire recruiting" where you are paid a premium (or fee) for providing talented people that companies cannot find on their own? Are you paid for the convenience you offer? The result you deliver? In staffing the economic engine is most often thought to be "we provide people to do work." But could your value be more than this? Are there better ways to deliver...and get paid for the value you can offer?
Positioning is about defining your turf...carving out a segment of the staffing market that you truly own. This can be based on the types of people you place, kinds of clients you service, where you offer your services, or how you provide service delivery.
With positioning, think of a pie. That pie represents all staffing and recruiting services (or bigger picture, all workforce management solutions). Your positioning represents the slice of the pie that you own. The idea is to pick a slice (your hedgehog) that you truly own and one that is large enough to allow you to accomplish your business goals.
Step 2: Define your brand
If I called 10 of your clients and asked them to tell me about your company, what would they say? Would I hear the same, clear message over and over again?
Branding is not about your logo or your colors or your website. It's not about how visible you are on social media or how aggressively you sell (although all of these things are part of branding).
Branding is about clearly defining how you want to be seen. And then ensuring that message permeates everything you do.
Branding starts with a definition of your company values, mission and vision. That then gets translated into a list of key differentiators, a positioning statement, and a value proposition (collectively referred to as your messaging).
Your messaging then gets integrated into your corporate identity, website, sales collateral, and the processes you use to sell and service your clients and candidates.
Ideally, your brand will be highly unique. You will definite your value, service offerings and differentiators in a way that no other company can match. But unfortunately, that ideal is simply not feasible for most staffing companies.
The harsh reality is that for most staffing and recruiting firms, there is no way to create a brand that is so unique that there is no one else in the world exactly like you.
When you can't be 100% unique, what can you do?
I have a good friend from graduate school who has an answer. His name is Chris Malone, and he is the Chairman of a company called Fidelum Partners. Chris worked for companies like Procter and Gamble, Coca Cola, ARAMARK, Choice Hotels, and the National Basketball Association.
Chris is also co-author of an award-winning book: The HUMAN Brand: How We Relate to People, Products & Companies. In this book, Chris describes two key attributes that are essential for branding: warmth and competence.
Warmth is about showing people that you care. You care for your clients. You care for your candidates. You care for your local community and broader social interests. In today's world, people what to work for (and work with) companies that care...companies that demonstrate warmth to others.
Competence is about being good at what you do. It's about your knowledge, experience, and proven processes. It's about the awards you have won, the problems you know how to solve, and the social proof (testimonials and reviews) of the value you deliver.
When developing the brand for your staffing company, you want to clearly define the characteristics of your business that demonstrate your warmth and competence.
Step 3: Build your visibility and authority
It's time to start putting marketing theory into action. Steps one and two are all about understanding your business - who you are and how you want to be seen. This step is about getting the word out.
You've probably heard about content marketing and/or inbound marketing. These are strategies to generate inbound sales leads by sharing content that your audience will find to be interesting, relevant, useful, timely, educational and/or entertaining.
With visibility and authority, we're doing the same thing, but with a slightly different spin. First, let's start with authority.
Authority is about positioning your company as an expert in something (ideally, tied to your positioning and branding). The mistake companies make is thinking they need to be a "thought leader." While that's great, if you really can be one, you don't need to be on the leading edge of thought in your industry to be an authority.
Authorities are people who know a lot and are very interested in specific subjects. The trick is to really understand your ideal customers (on both the employer and job seeker sides), so you can become an authority on topics that MATTER TO THEM!
Unfortunately, staffing and recruiting is probably not at the top of the list of topics they care about. So when you think about becoming an authority, start by making a list of several things:
- What problems are my ideal customers experiencing?
- What common challenges do they face?
- What obstacles must they overcome to be successful in their job / in their career?
- What concerns do they have about using the services our company offers?
- What common questions do they ask your salespeople and recruiters?
- What objections do they raise?
In building authority, you simply answer the questions others are asking. The questions above are a great place to start. These are the kinds of questions that address the most important issues your target audience is facing. These questions (and your answers) will pull prospects into your sales funnel.
There's also a second set of questions that are important to answer - questions employers and job seekers when they are in the process of evaluating your services. The first list of questions above are "top of the funnel" questions. This second set are the mid-funnel questions that drive people to applying for a job or placing a job order with your company.
I just finished reading a book called "They Ask, You Answer" by Marcus Sheridan. Marcus was a guy who sold fiberglass pools. Back in 2009, he was in a commodity business and on the brink of failure. Then he discovered inbound marketing, and by applying those principles, he turned his company into one of the world's leading authorities in fiberglass pools...and in the process sold A LOT of pools.
In the book, Marcus shows people how to become the most trusted authority in their industry by becoming a source for unbiased answers to five key (middle of the funnel) questions:
- What is the cost of what you sell?
- What are the problems that could go wrong with your services?
- How does your product (or service) compare with competitors?
- What do customers think about your work?
- Who (which companies) are the best in class in your industry?
Okay, let's move on to visibility. Authority was about defining topics and creating content. Visibility is about getting that content found. So how do you get found?
- SEO. Search engine optimization today is about understanding search intent and then providing relevant information to that intent. In simple English, it's about answering the questions people are asking. If you want to CRUSH SEO, produce content that answers questions. Your content can be in the form of blog posts, eBooks, whitepapers, infographics, videos, podcasts, webinars or any other way you want to tell your story online. The key for SEO is to ensure that you have content that answers questions (and lots of it) on your website. Want to know more about SEO best practices? Download our eBook!
- Social media. Since March 2020, people have increased their social content
consumption by 200%. Therefore, the obvious solution is to share more of your content on
But just sharing is not enough.
Sadly, all the major social platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter), are showing
and less of the content companies share to people who follow those companies. To maximize
social reach, you need two strategies:
Paid social - sponsoring content to get your authority building information
the people you want to reach.
Team-based social sharing (or employee advocacy) - content your team
share will reach a greater percentage of their connections, so you want to have your team
connected to more people and share your company content regularly.
Want more ideas on social marketing?
Download our eBook: Tapping Social Media's Superpowers
Need help with Team-Based Social Sharing?
- Email. Despite our overflowing inboxes, email remains the fastest, least expensive way to share content with people. Whether it's an email newsletter or a quick email note linking to your content, email is the communication vehicle that most of your clients and candidates prefer.
- PPC. Paid advertising on Google and social media is an ideal way to promote your business, share content and build your authority. With PPC, you can accurately target your ideal clients and candidates based on searches they are doing, websites they have visited, demographic characteristics and even past behaviors. You can also stay top-of-mind with people who visited your website and re-engage client and candidates in your ATS (something called matched-audience advertising). Want to learn more about PPC? Watch our Lunch with Haley Webinar: Google & Social PPC for Staffing
- Speak and write for others. Visibility doesn't have to come just from your own digital marketing efforts. Often, it's faster and easier to leverage platforms (and networks) that others have created. And part of becoming an authority is sharing content with others. Look for opportunities to write guest blog posts for others in your industry. Offer to present a webinar or speak on a podcast. And as we get back to real-world, in-person events, try to become a speaker at conferences. When you create that top-of-the-funnel content that answers questions around the challenges people are having, you are creating perfect topics for presentations!
Step 4: Optimize conversion paths
Okay, it's time to get a little geeky. But to put it bluntly, your website is probably not doing its job. Or at least not doing it as well as it could.
Conversion path optimization is about getting more of the people who visit your website to take action by downloading content, opting-in to a newsletter, requesting information on your services or applying for a job.
So how do you get more of your website visitors to take action?
First, you're going to need to dig into Google Analytics. You want to look at your entry and exit pages. These are the pages people first come to when they visit your website (entry pages) and the pages they were on when they left (exit pages).
Ideally, every exit page would be a "thank you page" where you are thanking the visitor for the action they just took to contact you, apply for a job, etc. But most likely, you will find that your home page is your biggest entry and exit page. You will also have lots of individual job posts and blog posts that are great entry pages, but then people leave those pages without contacting you. And you'll probably find that you have thousands of people leaving your website without taking any action.
Once you know where people are coming in and where they are leaving, you can start to optimize those pages. Here's a quick, simple plan to improve your conversion path optimization:
- Brainstorm calls to action. When an employer or job seeker visits your website, what are you offering? Is there content to download? A newsletter subscription? A free consultation? The ability to quick apply with your company? The more ideas you have for CTAs (calls to action) the more you can test those CTAs to see what works and what does not.
- Start with your exit pages. Are there clear CTAs on these pages? Are there other things you could add to the page to get people to take action, such as: a button or graphic with your CTA, on exit pop-up or fly-in that presents an offer, or trying a new CTA if the one you have isn't working.
- Next, ensure there are strong CTAs on entry pages. A visitor to your website will give you 3 to 8 seconds before they take action or leave. If you look at each of your entry pages, will people understand the content on the page within this timeframe? Is there a CTA on these pages to take them deeper into your website or to get them to take action? For example, does your home page have a job search widget right near the top to allow job seekers to get right to searching jobs?
- Re-engage people after they leave. Using retargeting PPC, you can have advertisements (and CTAs) follow people who visited your website after they leave. You can have these ads on social media, like Facebook and on Google where your ads can appear on more than 2 million websites that are part of Google's display network.
Conversion path optimization is about having great offers, and then testing your content, graphics and methods by which you promote those offers to see what works best. At a minimum, it's about ensuring that every web page, job and blog post has a clear CTA included.
Step 5: Integrate your content into your sales process
While I'd love to tell you that you can build a sales engine in staffing and recruiting entirely with digital marketing, I can't. Our industry is too competitive to ignore the role and importance of salespeople and recruiters.
However, in an industry as competitive as staffing and recruiting, adding content into the mix can make a HUGE difference in the effectiveness of your sales efforts. Here are a couple of strategies for integrating content into your sales process for maximum impact:
- Integrated Direct Marketing. With this technique, you create a structured, multi-step sales process that integrates outbound marketing (mail, email, social messaging) with sales calls to make your sales efforts more productive. You use direct marketing to capture the attention and interest of targeted prospects (essentially, to warm sales leads). Then marketing is used after the sales call to keep your company top-of-mind, demonstrate your positioning, and build your authority. After all, staffing is rarely a one-call close! Here's a webinar we did a few years back about integrated direct marketing: Watch our Lunch with Haley webinar: Direct Marketing Campaigns
- Assignment Selling. This is a concept I learned from that Marcus Sheridan book I noted earlier. According to Marcus, assignment selling is the process of using educational content to resolve the major concerns and answer the burning questions your prospects have (before the sales call), so they are much more prepared for a sales appointment. In some cases, you are literally giving your prospects a homework assignment (required reading or videos to watch) before you agree to a sales meeting. And if it is not required homework, you can still provide prospects with lots of information to show that you: understand their concerns, have answers to their likely questions, are honest and transparent, and that you are an expert at what you do (your content demonstrates that warmth and competence mentioned earlier). In looking at buyer trends, one of the things Marcus learned was that his salespeople had two groups of prospects with very different close rates. One group had a close rate around 25%, and these people had only visited a small number of web pages prior to the sales call. The other group had a close rate of 80% and they had visited 30 pages or more prior to the sales call. In other words, the more people know about you and your services, and the more they have engaged with your content, the more likely they are to buy. So in your sales process, you want to be leveraging all that content you are creating to build your authority. Want to read more about Assignment Selling? Check out this article: https://www.impactbnd.com/blog/what-is-assignment-selling And yes, I am promoting content from another company that provides marketing services. They are smart and have great ideas. I'd be doing you a disservice if I did not share!
Creating Certainty for Your Staffing Company
I'd love to conclude this article by taking out my crystal ball and telling you exactly what the rest of 2020 and 2021 will look like. Sadly, my crystal ball appears to be broken!
However, regardless of what the world throws at us during the coming months, we can make it positive. We may not be able to control the future, but we can control how we react!
- We can choose to maintain an enthusiastic outlook for the possibilities of the future.
- We can refine our mission and vision to be laser focused on where we are going and how we want to get there.
- We can build on each of our company's strengths and find more ways to deliver value.
- We can determine our positioning and better control our brand message.
- We can build authority around topics that matter to our clients, prospects and candidates.
- We can increase our visibility through content creation and digital marketing.
- We can provide tools and processes that make our salespeople and recruiters more productive.
- We can choose to outwork, out smart and out hustle the competition.
I hope you find these ideas helpful. And one last giveaway to wrap up this article. If you need help developing your plan, please download a copy of our 2020 Vision workbook. This will guide you through the process of creating a strategic sales and marketing plan for your business.