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Idea Club Newsletter

Unstaffing. The REAL Differentiator?
Unstaffing. The REAL Differentiator?


You've been given a bad rap. You provide an incredibly valuable service. You put people to work. You help employers save time and reduce costs. You enable businesses to access critical resources, capitalize on opportunities and better manage risk. And, you provide organizations with their single most important asset, people.

So why don't people love you more?

Why don't employers eagerly take your calls?

Why don't more executives seek your advice?

Why don't more job seekers beat a path to your door?

It's not about staffing service. It's about staffing sales.

As an industry, we've shot ourselves in the foot. We've damaged our own reputation. We've done things that make people perceive us as akin to used car salesmen.

Here's the problem. We're too aggressive. We're too optimistic about our abilities. And we're not always upfront about what we can and cannot do.

It's not that we're dishonest. Most staffing firms sincerely want to deliver exceptional value for their clients and candidates. Most are proud of the firms they represent and extremely confident in their abilities.

But when 10,000 companies compete for the same business, say the same things, and deliver service that's exceptionally similar, it causes some serious consequences.

The Problem

Cold calling is #1 on the list. Our clients despise our sales methods. At Haley Marketing, we've spoken with staffing buyers all over the country (we actually did research with more than 900 staffing buyers), and the biggest complaint employers have with our industry is the aggressive sales methods we employ.

They HATE the unsolicited calls, drop bys and emails. They're sick of hearing the same "Our service is better," "We take the time to get to know your needs," and "We focus on long-term relationships" messages over and over again. Even worse, they perceive that our industry doesn't back up its promises with a sufficient level of follow through.

The Cost

As an industry, we've commoditized our value. We've literally trained employers to buy on mark-up. We've created a situation where the mere mention of the word staffing creates a negative connotation and an increase in sales resistance.

So What Can You Do?

For most staffing firms, the solution has been to be even more aggressive. Make more calls. Out hustle the competition. And this works. But it's a game of ever-diminishing returns -- one that takes a toll on sales people and leads to excessive turnover.

So instead of trying to beat the competition by being a better staffing company, why not become an "unstaffing company?"

This is the strategy 7-Up used to gain a toe hold against Coke and Pepsi. They positioned their product as the "un-cola." They carved out a unique segment in the market by becoming everything their competitors weren't.

So how do you become an unstaffing company?

To start, look at everything your clients and candidates dislike about your services. For example, employers don't like cold calls. They don't like when candidate skills are misrepresented. They don't like having to call multiple vendors because one can't fulfill all their requirements. And they really don't like when temps fail to show up, give less than 100% effort, and quit before the end of an assignment.

Candidates hate the lack of communication. They want someone to follow-up, let them know what's going on with their job search, and, at a minimum, to be honest with them about their opportunities for employment.

Once you've defined the issues, you can then look for solutions.

If clients don't want you to cold call, how else could you engage them in discussions? How could you stay top-of-mind without constant calling? How could you alter the sales process to make it more rewarding and engaging for the employer?

As a model, you might look at professional services firms. They rarely employ sales people to make cold calls, but they do employ high level "rainmakers" who consult with clients in order to drive business opportunities. They may also have sales engineers or industry specialists who work with prospects to diagnose problems and develop solutions. And they may focus on thought leadership, education, and community involvement to generate business development opportunities.

Professional services firms live a consultative sales model with highly trained and experienced sales consultants who have the experience and training to add value for clients with every discussion. Yes, they sell. But they don't antagonize their clients in the process. The professional services approach positions these firms as experts with skill and experience to offer valuable advice--isn't that where you'd rather be seen?

As another alternative, you might lead with service, but not simply by striving to provide better service than other staffing firms. To be a service leader, you need to radically re-engineer the service process to make the experience exceptional at every step. Disney World does this. So does Amazon.com and Zappos. They find ways to make client interactions more fun and engaging. They make it easier to shop and purchase. They provide proactive recommendations. They turn being a customer into a more memorable experience.

How about your services? Is the experience you deliver truly different from the hundred other staffing firms in town? Do you make it easier for employers to find talent? Do you make the application process more fun and engaging for the candidate? Is your approach memorable?

Unstaffing is about really differentiating on service.

I hope this article has challenged your thinking. The bottom line is that if you continue to sell and service in a similar manner to every competitor, you will have an increasingly hard time differentiating your firm. You will have a hard time selling higher margin solutions. And you will have a hard time attracting and retaining great people.

If you're ready to really stand out from the competition, go figure out how to become an unstaffing company. Analyze all the things your clients and candidates don't like about staffing firms, brainstorm new ways to improve the service experience, and brand yourself as the only unstaffing firm in town!