Salespeople are too often consumed with planning what action they should take as the result of a sales call.
Sales managers need to focus them on asking: What action do I want the customer to take? If they don't know, and don't plan for how they will influence it, the answer is usually nothing!
From the outside looking in, recruitment consultants may not always be perceived as salespeople. But in reality the sales process applies equally as much, if not more so, than it does with "traditional" salespeople.
I recently had a chance to speak with John Shannahan, a long-time Fortune client who after many years in sales and management, moved into recruitment with GNP Australia, a firm specialising in scientific, medical and pharmaceutical roles. John has been impressed by just how much the sales process applies to his new position, and he shared some of his insights with me.
What follows is the first of a few blog posts from our conversation. This one focuses on recruitment consultants and building customer relationships, not just with client companies but also candidates. John explains why this part of the sales process, which Fortune considers critical, is actually doubly important for him and his peers to master.
On how many recruitment consultants treat candidates:
"My view is that many people in the recruitment industry tend to regard candidates almost like a number. Let's say they've got a particular job which they'd like to fill: They'll often meet with several candidates, ask each of them some pretty basic behavioural-type questions to see if they're likely to be comfortable with the primary aspects of the role, and based on these first impressions they'll quickly create a short list to put to the client company.
But I don't think that approach serves the candidate as well as it could. Often, insufficient time has been spent on really understanding the candidate's motivation in looking for another role and what they're hoping to achieve. Maybe they want to do something quite different than their previous roles; often I think in recruitment we close ourselves off to candidates who have an unusual background for a particular job. But sometimes they're still qualified, and their unique background could allow them to bring new insights to it."
On providing feedback to candidates:
"Many candidates have mentioned to me that they've found the experience of working with consultants to be very frustrating and unsatisfying – emails go unacknowledged and phone calls are not returned. People will go for an interview and if they aren't successful, won't get a call from the consultant, let alone some insight into why they weren't successful. Had they done well, but there was just a better candidate? Can they improve their interview skills?"
On the benefits of taking a long-term view and looking beyond just the immediate job placement:
"If you are looking for a long-term place in this industry, then candidates must be equally as important as the client companies you work for.
My view is if I come across a candidate, I want to work with them for the next 5, 10, 15 or 20 years, not only for other jobs they might like to look at, but also possibly further down the road when they move up the tree of seniority with a company and hire me to do recruiting for them.
And the other aspect is referrals. I hope that even if I'm not successful in placing a candidate, they at least can look back at our interactions and see the value that I provided so that if a colleague ever asks them for a recommendation for a recruitment consultant, they will point them in my direction."
On the long-term benefits of adding value:
"I offer additional services, like reviewing candidates' resumes, offering suggestions on format and content and advising them if they're up to the mark in terms of what's needed in the industry. I'll also give recommendations on other areas they can look at or even alternative channels they could follow for particular jobs. For example, if they're looking for a job which is not aligned with the area I work in, I'm happy to suggest other companies which perhaps may be able to help them.
It's just part of adding value; it doesn't really cost me anything other than a small amount of time, and it can only be beneficial for them, the company they end up with and of course myself in the long term."
"I think Fortune Group training, with its focus on the qualification, on the mutual understanding of what each party can offer, effective follow-up, looking at the overt reasons as to why people want to make a change as well as the psychological or deeper emotional reasons, enables you to build enduring customer relationships that will be with you for years. And in the recruitment industry particularly, I think we can do a lot better with the way we build relationships, not just with client companies but also with our candidates."
A few years ago, Fortune was working with the management team of a Japanese business and helped them move from the red to the black. After the local CEO went back to Japan to report on their success, we asked how he expressed the value of Fortune's contribution to his senior management in Tokyo. He said he told them we were training them to run the business like the Shinkansen.
Intrigued and bemused we asked T-san what he meant by 'run the business like the Shinkansen'?
The Shinkansen, or Japanese bullet train, is best understood when contrasted with a conventional train. Conventional trains are powered from the front and/or the rear, with both or either engine generating all the power and pulling or pushing every carriage into action. That's how his business, and most others, operate; management push and pull people towards achieving business goals, and any time their energy or attention is diverted, the entire operation slows down. Occasionally it runs off the rails altogether.
By contrast, the Shinkansen distributes power from its engines to every individual carriage, each of which has its own transformer that collects the power and drives it to the wheels. So the carriages collectively propel the train, and because it's working as one, the Shinkansen is consistently faster, more stable and operates more efficiently than a conventional train.
Setting objectives and dragging your organisation towards them, like the conventional train, is tiresome and ineffective... and fails to utilise people's natural motivations. But setting direction, building a climate or environment that harnesses people's motivations by building belief in the organisation and empowering them to achieve the organisation's goals while also achieving their own, like the Shinkansen, profoundly improves business productivity. And it builds resilient organisations that know how to adapt, compete and make money!
A new book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, offers some important insights into how managers and leaders can help increase employee engagement and retention rates. With the aid of several research studies, the book's authors identify five key factors that contribute towards people's wellbeing: career wellbeing, social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing and community wellbeing.
Even though many of these elements occur outside the traditional scope of the work environment, a recent article in The Weekend Australian quotes an engagement manager who suggests that employers must go out of their way promote all of them, and even goes so far as to say that they should foster social wellbeing by encouraging the use of social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Most importantly, the authors found that managers and leaders play a central role in promoting wellbeing:
If a manager ignores an employee, there is a 40 per cent chance the employee will be actively disengaged or filled with hostility about their job. But for someone whose manager is paying them attention, even if that attention is negative, the chances of that employee being disengaged goes down to 22 per cent.
If you run any sort of a team, think about your team members' wellbeing. Can you help to improve it, in each of the five areas identified? And are you and other managers paying attention to each person on the team? The more you give them, the more they'll give in return.