There is no doubt that these are very unchartered waters for recruitment leaders and recruiters across the globe and whilst the current situation we are facing creates immense challenges for many of us, it does also generate some unique opportunities to create more productive, more profitable and more sustainable recruitment businesses that are truly fit-for-purpose in tomorrow’s market.
Over the past few months, I have worked with literally hundreds of recruitment leaders, all currently navigating through a global crisis unlike anything anyone has experienced before. No one has a guaranteed, fail-safe, textbook plan to get through this and that is ok.
However, as everyone is trying to figure it all out, there are some clear common themes that I am seeing emerge from the thousands of conversations we have had these past few months that I have pulled together into a simple 12 point plan.
This is not a guarantee of success, of course, but a guide for recruitment leaders (and their employees) that I am convinced will help recruitment organisations in some way both survive and thrive these extraordinary times, and more importantly emerge as fitter, stronger and better businesses on the other side.
To set things up from the outset, you first need to…
Avoid the Sideshows
All that matters right now is survival. You simply have to be around at the end of all this, when the markets bounce back, to be able to fight another day.
This means absolute focus on that, first.
Understand what sits outside your circles of control right now (you can’t control the markets, you can’t control the macro covid19 situation, you can’t even to an extent accurately control revenue coming in to your business) but instead align your thinking to just the things you can control (costs going out of the business, where you invest your time and / resources, low-risk revenue generating opportunities) and those things that that will have the biggest impact on assuring your survival and your ability to thrive on the other side.
One recruitment business we work with have been running some phenomenal marketing campaigns over this time, being very noisy on social media and keeping their brand front of mind. That’s great.
But what they weren’t doing was selling. They were neglecting sales for marketing. They forget their Calls 2 Action. They weren’t driving a pipeline of new business. They hadn’t adapted their sales approach, so their old approach just felt out of place (and rightly so). It felt good, it kept them busy, but with no real results.
We changed their focus. We realigned sales with marketing and redesigned their selling process to ensure every interaction was output focused with clear measurable actions for the customer to follow up and now they are seeing genuine conversions. It just worked.
You can also control how you plan to…
Design your New Normal
There are too many people simply asking the wrong question right now – what will the new normal be after this? This wrong. The question we should all be asking is what do we want our new normal to be after this?
This is an extraordinary opportunity for us all to take the lessons we are currently learning about ourselves, about our businesses, about what we value and proactively construct a future that we want.
Don’t let paralysis set in, waiting / hoping to find out what tomorrow might look like, but go out instead and build the future you want right now.
As the lockdown has started ease ever so slightly, there seems to be a sudden rush back to the old normal, but why? Is that actually what we want?
I heard of a story the other day of a recruitment manager who had spent an entire weekend in his old office getting it ready for the mass return of his employees. Distancing arrows everywhere, signs on the doors, hand sanitisers on the desks, screens up and so on – he had worked tirelessly to get things ready and had done a great job. But when he announced this to the team on a video posted on social media, not a single one of them actually wanted to go back. They felt they were 10x more productive working from home, using commuting time to do more business and just getting more things done.
I am by no means saying that we should get back to normality as soon as possible, our businesses / our economy needs it, but does that normality have be modelled on the normality of before?
This leads nicely into the next point of the plan…
Look Way Back to See Way Forward
These past few months have been unlike not other. You can’t compare what we are going through to a typical downturn in a typical economic cycle. This is not typical.
This is an event-led downturn driven by something that is impacting people’s lives in very deep and personal ways.
From both a health and economics perspective, we can certainly look back and get some pointers from similar historical events that have occurred before but the world evolves at such a fast pace that comparing the current economical cycle with that of the Global Financial crisis of 2008 is just not a like for like comparison.
Politics and global trade relations have evolved in the last 10 years, social demographics have changed, technology has moved on significantly. Imagine all having to work from home using the technology and broadband capacity that we had even just 12 years ago!
What we can learn from history though are trends and more importantly how certain trends will have both quickened as well as aligned because of this, thus creating new markets, new needs, new opportunities for businesses.
- Have you mapped out the emerging trends in your markets that came out of the last downturn?
- What do these trends show you about how your market evolves in situations like this?
But now is really not the time to let your thinking get anchored in the past. Instead, we need to look forward 3 to 5 years at what the current trends are telling us about your markets tomorrow and then work your strategies back from that.
This future trend analysis will then help you to start building out how you will…
Create your Own Recovery
Business leaders in recruitment tend to be entrepreneurial, and entrepreneurs by nature tend to be optimistic. I am definitely an optimist, with a very heavy dose of realism, and personally cannot stand pessimism.
Not for once ignoring the terrible plight that many are facing right now, the reality of the matter is that for most people, we will get through this and good times will return. You don’t have to be an optimist to know that.
The bit that really separates the optimists and the pessimists, the part that prevents the realists from moving forward whilst the opportunists are picking up market share, all comes down to timing. When.
When will the recovery come? When will my markets come back? When will we start growing again?
The optimist in me, coupled with some very sensible data / insights from some of the best social economists out there, points towards a “V” shape downturn – the market drops off a cliff, as it has, and then fairly sharply bounces back again. At the time of me writing this, even the UK Govt are swaying towards that prediction.
Remember what we said above, this is an event led downturn – the recovery will be driven less by the traditional number analysis that the economists calculate and more by the social will of the people aching to get back out working, to get out of lockdown, to just get on.
However, what some leaders forget is that businesses do not have to necessarily follow the same trend as the markets. They will be influenced by that, of course, but a business can have its own “V” shaped bounce even if the market itself is on a “U” trajectory.
Look at it this way, the recruitment market will inevitably be smaller after this. There will be winners and losers, and some business simply / sadly won’t make it out the other side. The markets may contract / shrink and take longer to return to pre-covid19 levels (if at all) but with a smaller market, those recruitment companies still strongly trading have a greater market share opportunity with less competition to go up against.
So, move. Move faster than everyone else and decide what type of recovery you’re shooting for by developing your…
Outside In Strategy
You must look beyond the walls of your business to build your future strategy.
It is easy to become too inwards focused at times like these, when in reality (once you are on top of your business survival plan) you need to look at the bigger picture and more importantly at the wider supply chains within your target markets. If you don’t, you might end up walking head on into a load of challenges that will negatively impact your growth plans or indeed a bunch of opportunities that will make them fly.
Ask yourself questions like:
- What exactly is going on right now in your markets?
- What parts of your target market will be decimated because of this, and similarly, which parts will grow?
- Which companies are just about getting through this and which companies will be thriving? Why?
- If those companies are thriving, which of their suppliers will also be doing well?
- Which areas of the market will capitalise most on the ensuing upturn? Why?
- If those companies start to do well, which of their suppliers further down the supply chain will also follow suit?
What are those supply chain trends telling you about where you should be focusing your sales and marketing resource, and also what products / services do you need to be developing right now that align to what your customers are going to want to buy (from you)?
We recently created a market map for a retail recruitment business, drawing out the future supply chain in retail and how that has and will be affected by all that is going on, helping them identify a number of brand new, high demand / high margin niche areas to target.
If market share is going to start increasing, we now need to maximise our return by doing some…
Bottom Up Planning
Without doubt, one of the clear trends that is coming out of all this, is the extent that many businesses have actually been running fairly inefficiently in the past.
Now, when our backs have been put against the wall, and we have been forced to literally cut out as much as we can from our businesses (and quickly), we have all managed to do it across most areas. Whilst in some cases quite hard to do emotionally, it has been relatively easy to start spotting areas of inefficiency, unprofitability, and wastage that have slowly creeped into our business over the years, especially when we were in the good times and business was booming.
What this period has made us all do (and we have had the time to do this), is to focus long and hard on cash generation and profit maximisation, perhaps more than we have ever done before. Turnover and GP is irrelevant if it doesn’t drop enough to the bottom line.
- Where does the real profit in our businesses come from?
- What drives EBIT and generates cash?
- Which clients deliver the most contribution to the bottom line?
- Which products and services that we sell create the most net yield?
- Who, amongst our consultants, delivers the most ROI?
- Do we have the right people, in the right jobs, doing the right things that generate profit?
- What is the one thing we do above all else that really makes us money?
Over the past few weeks, my conversations with recruitment leaders has been firmly fixed on retraining and redeployment of people and re-engineering of business structures to, quite simply, create greater capability to generate greater profit margins.
We have just completely flipped a recruitment business (circa 40 consultants) that utilised a 360⁰ recruiter model to a hybrid 120⁰ / 120⁰ / 120⁰ model redeploying their consultants to be either recruiters, new business or account managers / penetrators – we are reforecasting the second half of the year with greater costs savings per head and increased job flow / conversion ratios accordingly.
This will of course impact everything within your business, from incentives and commissions to hiring plans and importantly culture. That is why a great recruitment leader will always put…
Purpose over Profit
How ridiculous is that! Profit should come before everything right? Wrong.
Profit is created by having products / services that your customers value and want (need) and a team of employees in your business who deliver an amazing user experience to get those products / services out to your customers efficiently. The whole process of profit generation falls down when one of those elements is missing.
Purpose drives the culture, that drives the behaviours, that drive the customer experience.
Deliver an incredible customer experience, backed up with a fantastic product / service and you will create both profit and growth. Focus too much on the profit and you will create a heartless business with limited commitment and a disengaged culture.
These past few months have been an incredible test of a company’s culture and whilst many organisations have stepped up and put their values and purpose at the heart of their strategy during this extraordinary time, many haven’t.
Our employees don’t just have financial concerns right now, they are also fearful for the health and wellbeing, they are being emotionally challenged, they have very real and personal worries, which is why this is so different from a typical economic downturn. The leaders in a recruitment business need to lead with far greater heart and demonstrate genuine empathy more than they have ever done before.
After this, we will all be remembered for what we did and didn’t do, which is why we should now…
Leave the Shutters Up
Never before have we had the most incredible opportunity to get as close to our customers as we have now.
We meet them in their lounges / bedrooms / sheds, our meetings are interrupted by their children and pets running in, we have to look them in the eyes and focus more intently on their words than ever before, we genuinely care about how they are, they genuinely care about us. The barriers between our clients as corporate people and our clients as just people have been removed and the shutters are no longer down. This changes everything about the business of business.
One of those recruitment trends that we have been watching pre-covid19, is the swing away from customer / supplier relationship and more towards true partnerships. Where recruiters are seen as a transformational business partner not as a transactional supplier of services. This has now been accelerated and creates huge opportunities for recruitment businesses to reposition themselves.
Look at what you offer your clients…
- Is it easy to buy from you easy and use you?
- Is it hard to get rid of you?
- Have you an embedded solution that makes you sticky?
- Do you have a line in your budgets for MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) and a matching strategy to deliver that?
Look at how you work with your clients…
- Do you deliver a truly celebrity user experience to both clients and candidates?
- Do they value what you do?
- Do you get paid according to that value?
- Is most of your business contingent (arm’s length, low trust relationships)?
Look at the output of your client relationships?
- What is the typical length of a customer relationship?
- What percentage of your existing customers’ total annual spend on “talent” do you have?
- What is their intended spend across all agencies and direct hiring over the next 12 months?
- How much of your new business is referred to you by existing customers?
If you can set your business up to reposition your offering more towards long-term, embedded partnerships and less towards contingent supply, then you can start to…
Feed the Machine
This is where marketing meets selling, and selling becomes a continuous part of your DNA, not an enforced KPI.
For years marketing has been kept independent from sales. It was about making us look good in print and online, about how much kudos you can get per social media post to feed your ego, about how much (often pointless) noise we can make above the competition. Now more than ever, people are online consuming content, seeking out ideas, watching brands and marketing has never been so important.
Sales on the other hand has always been about the phone, the meetings, the numbers game. It is equally as important as marketing, but when done badly can create huge wastage and inefficiency in a recruitment business (do we still think working towards the 80/20 principle makes sense?!) and negatively impact brand value (external) and consultants’ confidence (internal).
So both are critically important, but not in silo. These are not independent things but instead are two very joined up parts of your ability to create consistent sales pipelines – what we refer to as “the machine”.
All day, every day, the machine needs to be fired up and fed – not when we get time to do it (as per the 360⁰ vs 120⁰ example in Bottom to Top Planning above), but continuously. All day every day.
The machine also needs checking every day for performance improvements (squeezing better conversion ratios at every stage of the sales pipeline) and it requires an automated process to sit behind the human effort to ensure efficiency can be made to improve conversion ratios at each stage of the pipeline process.
Don’t forget to adjust your selling styles to fit the market and…
Be Part of the Solution, Not the Problem
This is one of the most exciting evolutions of the recruitment sector that will come out of all this, I think.
In some parts of the sector, selling in recruitment has become as bland as it has become superfluously complex, which is why so many struggle to win good quality new business (exclusive, retained, high value, long term contracts) based on deep relationships and trusted partnerships.
- We miss opportunities because we don’t explore deeply enough into the customers’ real challenges.
- We try and sell products and services that aren’t applicable because we don’t understand their real needs.
- We focus too much on short term, quick wins and less about building long term solutions.
- We still talk about price and not value.
- We sell the same “product” as everyone else keeping our competition always relevant
These are of course generalisations, but I am sure ring true for many if we honestly look back on what we were all doing pre-covid19.
Selling is not one dimensional, but nor should it be complicated.
It should be consultative, truly consultative, helping customers to understand their future needs, to challenge their perceptions of what is possible and working collaboratively with them to reengineer talent processes tot drive efficiencies and outputs that make a very real and tangible difference.
It should start with a blank page, a bunch of data and a load of questions – where it ends up is anyone’s guess, but it will more often than not end up far deeper and further down the line than traditional selling does. Let the conversation decide, let the problems be discussed, let the solutions flow.
We built one of these just before the lockdown with an SME recruitment business in the marketing space – literally a dual branded blank canvas that the recruiter literally took to the sales pitch and worked through with the HR team. 2.5 hours later the customer had in principal agreed a six figure exclusive contract when before they just had two perm roles to discuss!
It is about building win:win outcomes where both recruiter and customer achieve what they want and not more one than the other, because if you do that, I guarantee you will far more…
Enjoy the Journey
I’ll start this by going to back to the beginning – these are very unchartered waters for recruiters but even more so for recruitment leaders who are meant to know all the answers right now. Give yourself a pat on the back for what you have done and how you have responded so far, and more importantly give yourself a break.
Recruitment leaders have concerns about the economy, about families, about personal health as everyone does, but they also have to keep an eye on how the overall businesses are faring, about how they are faring as leaders, about the team, about just about everything! Emotionally, this is tough and our resilience is being tested.
But it doesn’t have to be.
The start of every new day is a new opportunity to drop in the next building block of our future. Throughout every day we have wins, however small, that we must celebrate with our teams. We also have challenges that ultimately we somehow overcome, that should also be celebrated.
The end of every day is an opportunity to celebrate another step closer to a new and better normality.
As an observer, I find the whole thing fascinating, watching how people are responding to all this, from those who have buried their heads and hope it will all just go away, to those who just want to ensure they…
Don’t Waste a Good Crisis
Winston Churchill said this in the mid-1940s, referring to the emerging US / Russia / UK alliance that would go on to become the United Nations and the opportunities that were coming out of the crisis that was the Second World War. And his words were as right then as they are today.
These are challenging times for sure.
The recruitment industry will change because of this. Recruitment businesses will change because of this. Recruiters themselves will change because of this. But if you want to, for the better.
This is rapid fire evolution.
Be an observer of everything right now – the good, the bad and the ugly, inside and outside of our sector – and look for the opportunities that change creates.
Don’t look at this time as being “difficult” and instead see it as being “different”.
Learn. Adapt. Compete.
- Avoid the Sideshows
- Design your New Normal
- Look Way Back to See Way Forward
- Create your Own Recovery
- Outside In Strategy
- Bottom Up Planning
- Purpose over Profit
- Leave the Shutters Up
- Feed the Machine
- Be Part of the Solution, Not the Problem
- Enjoy the Journey
- Don’t Waste a Good Crisis