02 March 2010

Getting past 60 seconds: tips for telephone prospecting

The golden flow of jobs that gushed through the doors of recruitment agencies for most of the 2000's, had the impact of loosening the discipline and reducing the skills of telephone prospecting for many agency recruiters.

The cost of this haphazard approach to telemarketing became very apparent when the impact of the GFC quickly turned off the tap of jobs coming in. What I have heard, and observed, with respect to recruiters' telemarketing efforts over the past 18 months has been less than inspiring.

The fundamental truth about telephone prospecting as a recruitment consultant is that if you have the same old pitch as every other recruiter, then expect to get the same old response as every other recruiter - rejection within 60 seconds.

Recognising the same old pitch is pretty easy, the words and phrases that give it away are ones such as ‘boutique', ‘customer service focused', ‘different to other recruiters', ‘extensive database of high quality candidates' and ‘specialist'. I am sure you can add a few more to this list.

Let's be clear ... I am not a telemarketing expert. As a recruiter, I thought I was no better or worse than the average phone jockey. Calling prospects was a very important part of being successful, so calling prospects was what I did each day.

From that experience, and what I have learned since, here are my 5 tips for effective telephone prospecting:

#1 Being upfront

When I called, I always said my full name and the company I represented. Just using a first name and not providing my company name, unless asked, risked giving the impression that I was ‘trying it on'.

#2 Providing context

This is about pro-actively answering the immediate, silent question being asked by my prospect; ‘should I know you and why are you calling me?'.

After introducing myself, my approach was to open the call with ‘We haven't spoken before. The reason I am calling you is...'. The more specific the reason I gave the more likely it was that I would get beyond the first 60 seconds.

A specific reason is something like 'I have been recruiting for XYZ company in your building for the past 2 years and my client at XYZ mentioned that you had taken a lease for another floor in the building. As you appear to be expanding I am interested to talk to you about how you intend to recruit new staff...'

#3 Asking permission

I increased my chances of having a productive conversation with a prospect when I asked their permission to do so. However the two most common permission questions - ‘do you have time to talk?' and ‘is it convenient to talk right now?' are two of the least effective permission questions because it is easy for the client to say ‘no'. A better question is ‘would it be okay to ask you 4 questions about your recruitment to quickly establish whether my services are relevant to you?'.

#4 Being myself

Injecting (appropriate) humour and/or playfulness or in some way revealing something of my personality worked for me in getting the prospect conversation past that critical 60 second mark. Who really wants to converse with a robotic voice that conveys I-am-really-bored-reading-this-script-for-the-33rd-time-today?

#5 Being different

I am sure you have heard that well-worn quote ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result'. However insanity appears to be alive and well in the recruitment agency world. My wife, who is an ex-agency recruiter of 10 years standing, has recently crossed over ‘to the dark side' and as a result she is now (as an HR Manager), on the receiving end of many prospecting calls from recruiters.

When she receives a prospecting pitch significantly different from the norm, she makes a point of telling me, because it happens so infrequently. Think about any ad on TV that has had an impact on you. I bet it was quite different to the norm.

The ad ('Casual Friday') for US job board Career Builder, screened during the Super Bowl, is a great example of a TV advertiser doing something different, and with humour, to make an impact.

Different responses to predictable objections are a great place to start. You can bet your salary on prospects rolling out the classic objections such as ‘we have a PSA', ‘we don't use agencies' and ‘we are very happy with our current suppliers'.

A different and very simple approach to these sorts of objections is simply to respond ‘That's great to hear. Would it be okay if I asked you a couple of questions about what you're doing?' (note: asking permission). Some of my prospects said ‘no' but mostly they said ‘yes' and away I went.
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Numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4 above, are examples of a different telephone approach I used compared to the majority of recruiters.

If you use these tips in the first 60 seconds of the phone conversation, it should quickly be clear to the prospect that you aren't just a run-of-the-mill recruiter.

Having a different prospecting approach is one of the most effective ways to communicate to a prospect that you are a different type of recruiter, and hence worth taking the time to talk to.

Naturally none of the above five tips are guaranteed to work every time. However I predict that if you use them consistently you will increase your success rate in getting past the critical first 60 seconds of the conversation.

It's worth giving something different a try, isn't it?

2 comments:

  1. I think the "being myself" part can be a USP on it's own, Great post I will be forwarding it to my staff. I also would love to see a step by step post on "How to" researching companies to call if you have time :)

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  2. Thanks for this valuable post! i found this very helpful. please keep updating. i have bookmarked.


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