From the dot-com boom and bust to the cliff dive that many staffing companies have experienced over the past several weeks, the staffing industry has seen its share of ups and downs since Russ Kelly launched his business in the late 40s. I spent eight years of my career selling staffing services and experienced my first major upheaval back in the 2008 recession 

During that time, my agency initially experienced a lot of client attrition, but we quickly pivoted our general call center staffing line of business to focus almost exclusively on staffing for collections call centers. Almost overnight we became collections staffing specialists. This move allowed us to weather the storm and eventually thrive as many of our competitors closed their doors for good. One of the tactics that helped us quickly make the move was the fact that we had a well-established sales culture that permeated all levels of the company. 

Blurring the lines between recruiting and sales 

During the last recession, the digital marketing strategy of the company I worked for consisted of Google AdWordsCompared to many of our competitors, our strategy was basic at best. However, we built a culture where everyone was always looking for opportunities to expand the business regardless of their role in the company. Leads came from every single department but, by far, the most leads for sales came from the recruiting team.  

In 2008, when unemployment was over 13%, it was much less of a candidate’s market than it was in February of 2020. At that time the recruiters did not have to spend a lot of time and energy selling candidates on job openings, but they approached every conversation with new business sales in mindWhile interviewing candidates, they got really good at learning who was hiring and how our sales team could get a foot in the door 

If you don’t already have this type of culture in place, using just one of the methods below will help you not just survive 2020 but crush your competition in the future. 

Teaching your recruiters how to track down leads 

Use the reference check as a tool 

During my time in staffing, reference calls were often our most productive means of generating leads. We adopted a corporate policy to call on at least three references who were either supervisors or managers—and, wherever possible, avoided calling HR staff for references. 

The benefit was twofold. First, this practice differentiated us from our competition, thus serving as a selling point to our clients and prospects. Second—and more importantly—we trained our recruiters to fill out lead forms. On the back end of calls to check references, after establishing rapport with the supervisor or manager, the recruiters would ask the supervisor or manager questions about how the applicant was hired into his or her department (e.g., internal hire or hired through an agency) and who was involved in the hiring decision. 

Use an undercover applicant

What’s the best way to find out what companies your competitors are hiring for? Ask them! It’s unlikely, however, that they’ll give the answer to one of their competitors. So, present yourself as an applicant instead: show up to an open house or, better yet, send in your resume and try to land an interview. 

This tactic isn’t for everyone, of course. Some staffers might feel uncomfortable with the ruse, and others might think it violates an unwritten code of business conduct (even though it is perfectly legal). Those who use this practice, however, often reap big rewards. 

Ultimately, though, it’s just another option on the playing field. Chances are good that a secret shopper has walked through your own doors at some point in time. Remember that awesome candidate who ghosted you after you interviewed him or her? That may have been a secret shopper from another firm who went through the interview process to learn about your organization’s practices and contacts. 

Teach them everything you know about the business

Here at Haley Marketing, we have a weekly company-wide meeting where we learn more about the industry and how we can help our clients. While I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “knowledge is power,” have you thought about what it would mean for the growth of your business if everyone on the team could act as a true consultant for candidates and clients? 

We truly are in this together. If your team can generate more leads, your business will continue to grow. If your business continues to grow, your staff will continue to track down leads. When your competitors catch on, you may have the need to partner with a marketing company to continue the growth. One thing is certain, lessons we’ve learned from past recessions are just as relevant today as they were 10 or 20 years ago. 

Looking for more resources to drive sales in this economy?

Visit our COVID-19 Recovery Resources web page, packed with business strategy and marketing ideas to help your staffing firm stand out, stay top-of-mind and sell more.

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