We work with clients every single day on how to win clients. We work on lead generation, sales and recruiting enablement, messaging and differentiation, social media, websites and more, but we haven’t spent time talking about what it means to be a “TRUE” partner to your clients. Most staffing firms say that they are a partner to their clients, but what does that mean?

What is the definition of Partnership?
A simple definition of partnership is… a relationship usually involving close cooperation between parties and having specified roles and responsibilities. So, why is the definition important? In order to have this conversation we all need to be operating off of a similar belief. Most people use an easier definition: partnership means bringing value, concepts, and solutions to the table in order to assist the client. Does this sound like your definition?

But, what does partnership look like?
Most firms use the word partnership and they have not developed anything that is truly partnering. It is long overdue that we bring value to the word. The first thing you need to understand about partnering is that it requires asking great questions and most importantly listening to the answer.

When meeting with a client, we use the word partnership in our pitches, but we immediately follow it by pointing out that it is so important to us that we want you to judge for yourself and judge us on it. Normally, that gets a response of “So how do you show that you are partner?” Thank you for asking. We are going to be asking a great deal of questions about the business, sometimes even a few too many questions. We want to know about the sales funnel and how it is working. We want to know about what challenges you are specifically seeing. We want to know the project roadmap. And much more. The answers are the surprise.

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Clients and even prospects share a great deal about the future plans and where they see their business going. They will tell you where the weak links are and what keeps them up at night. Sometimes, we have immediate recommendations and sometimes it is information that is not immediately actionable, but we file it away so that we can pursue solutions that could prove fruitful to them in the future. We commonly go back to clients after weeks or even months on a challenge that they perceived as important with recommendations. Normally, they are shocked that we even remembered. The recommendations that make you a partner are the ones that don’t line your pocket. Good will for the sake of good will.

Do your sales and recruiting team talk about being a partner?
If you are going to use the word partner, then it is time to establish meaning around it. The first thing to keep in mind is that the word itself requires questions in order to establish value. For example, how many of your sales team ask their client what the project roadmap looks like over the next 3 to 6 months? My guess is very few inquire about the project roadmap and for those that do they do not do a good job of explaining why. Try this, explain to your client how important being a “true” partner is to your organization. Second, explain that the only way we can be a partner is through understanding. Conduct a session with them on the project roadmap, pitfalls for their department, what their project success looks like, where they see the overall business going, and what new areas of business are they developing. Please note that not once I have talked about people. The information you will hear gives you so many opportunities. One of our clients was sharing with me about the PPP (Payroll Protection Plan) and that they were concerned about retroactive changes. Now, consider for a moment that I am in Marketing, not a CFO or tax professional, but I do have access to our accountant. I asked the client if they would like to talk with our accountant because he is a 20-year veteran of the staffing industry and has held many finance roles throughout the staffing industry. I simply made an introduction and the two of them worked together in order to help understand the nuances. Other clients have asked about ATS’ so we conducted our first ATS survey to have the staffing world evaluate their ATS. One client needed some help with sales management, which is a thing more of my past, but I still have many tools for sales management that I was able to recommend and they are working with to drive their efforts.

I use these examples, not to brag, but to point out that not one of these brought us any business and I am sure they would have been fine if I had never opened my mouth, but the takeaway was that we were backing up our comment of partnership.

Partners begets Partners
We benefit from a great deal of referral business and while this was not our intent, partnership is why. Our partner clients commonly refer us and go out of their way to offer advice on our business. Many of our clients have even acted like board members for us in sharing advice and pushing our business forward. Very big shout out to Kevin Grassa of Whitridge Associates because he has always cared to give me advice on different ways to benefit our business. When you offer “true” partnership, you typically get partnership in return. Partnership is not a one and done kind of dialogue. It is using your active listening to see where you can provide value.

As a staffing firm, if you heard that a client was having challenges with navigating the management waters at their company, how would you help? The typical salesperson might say that they really can’t offer any advice because they don’t have the experience, but their managers and leaders and family members do have the experience. I have had four (4) very important mentors in my life and I still reach out to them with areas that could help my client because I know they will know. What if the salesperson asked the manager a little more about that challenge with navigating the management waters and without promising anything or even really going in depth simply went back to the office and spoke with their management about what they would tell someone. What if that leader met with the client and shared advice on how to navigate the waters? A coaching session of sorts. What if we actually got involved with how to help our clients regardless of the challenge?
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Time to get serious
Sit down for an hour or two and think about what the different questions of your client could be and think of the possible answers you could give. Think of the challenges they face and think about what solutions you could offer. Teach your sales and recruiting team and make sure they know that you don’t expect or even want them to feel like they have to answer every question. Bring it back to the firm and let’s see who knows what would be helpful. Don’t look for the self-serving questions and answers, but really think about how to help people. When you hear about the project roadmap, don’t immediately jump into “We can get you a person for that.” That is not partnership.

After every client meeting ask the sales team how they demonstrated partnership and hold them accountable. Ask each recruiter what they did to partner with a consultant. Consultants that receive partnership from a staffing firm are the very same people that refer a ton of business, give you a ton of knowledge and are loyal to you. The companies that are “TRUE” partners are around for a long time and the ones that pay lip service usually make it easier for the people that really mean it. We constantly beat everyone up on messaging and differentiation, but if you really want to be different, be a “true” partner.

About S.J.Hemley Marketing
S.J.Hemley Marketing is a marketing and sales consulting firm focused on driving tangible results for professional services firms. Brand matters, but not without ROI. With over 20 years of sales and marketing experience within staffing and recruiting, we have helped to drive successful branding, sales training, lead generation activities as well as defining marketing strategy for top organizations. www.sjhemleymarketing.com