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Recruitment; Sales or Service Industry?

Recruitment Sales Or Service Industry Blog

Recruitment; Sales or Service Industry?

As an industry, Recruitment is no stranger to debate, and perhaps one of the most polarising questions for those working within the industry is whether recruitment is sales or service-based?

Recruitment often gets a bad rep, with people using terms such as ‘sales’ in a derogatory manner, but why? The attributes that make someone a great salesperson should be celebrated, but instead, they are derided and looked down upon in a professional context. We recently had a debate about where recruitment should sit in terms of professional services. And actually that is exactly what it is; a professional service. Alan McBride, our Chairman, quoted Adam Smith and the elements of Capitalism to define the essential parts needed to run a business “Labour, Capital and a Means of Production” or as we like to see it  “Men*, Money and Machines”. The people who provide a means to secure these elements are well-regarded and well-respected, think lawyers, bankers, accountants, etc. but what about us?

I am not saying that there aren’t cowboys out there who warrant such negativity, but from experience, the majority of people I have met who work in the industry strives to provide an outstanding and ethical service to both their clients and their candidates.

Is there an overlap?

My question is this: why do they have to be mutually exclusive? What do you look for when taking on a new employee? 

Hard-working? Resilient? Great communication skills? Ability to build relationships? To me these sound like attributes anyone would wish to have but why the negative connotation with sales? Recruiters provide a service; they are out there searching for, and developing, the best talent in the marketplace; providing clients with priceless industry knowledge and the best of all?

Changing people’s lives for the better. This is a service, but if you are not able to SELL the service that you provide, how can you help the people that need it? If you cannot sell how your candidate could potentially revolutionise your client's business, or how your client is offering an opportunity of a lifetime, you are unlikely to make those matches stick. This, of course, is my humble opinion!

Recruitment Leaders' Thoughts

I’ve been chatting with a variety of Recruitment Leaders and getting their thoughts. I’d love to hear from you too!

“I think it's a blend between the two. With the rise of the millennial, there is more of an onus on service than there has been historical. People aren't just about money or placement anymore.

Add to this the growth of the MSP / RPO and the impending death of the generalist SME recruiter and it's easy to see why there is the need to operate in a more service-driven manner: the more niche you are, the smaller your market. Take our niche as an example; we work in an extremely incestuous market and our mistakes and misgivings go much further than our successes. 

We can't afford to operate in a highly sales-driven, transactional manner. The focus is on relationships and naturally alongside that is the ethos that the customer (client) comes first.

Finally, having gone from tech making things more faceless e.g. Self-service counters at everything from McD's to banks, I believe that we are beginning to see a bit of a shift in areas of business, where human contact is at the fore (it's now a USP for businesses like Metro Bank). We're seeing more and more companies taking Net Promoter Score more seriously. First the likes of Virgin and other large corporates and now to SMEs in the recruitment space like Energize and Understanding Recruitment which pay their consultants based on their Net Promoter Scores.” Sachin Ruparelia - Director, Camino Partners.

“It’s Sales - representing client and candidate equally - if you can’t sell or market yourself, your brand and “the product” you can’t possibly deliver any service.” - Gary Goldsmith - Co-Founder, RDLC.

“While Recruitment has traditionally been seen as a sales-based industry, we’ve seen that shift over the last few years. We’re having to hunt less new business down as it has begun to come and find us. As such our model has needed to shift to be the best service-provider we can be.  Don’t get me wrong, strong sales skills are a huge asset within any recruitment role but the industry is very much about who can provide the best service and deliver the best results rather than those who can just talk a good game.” - Joe Gray - Sales Director, Oho Group.

“I think recruitment is a sales business where you have to exemplify excellent customer service. I think recruitment is about educating and engineering your client's’ decision but steering them in the direction you genuinely believe to be true, based upon your expert knowledge.

Even when we advise someone towards a result which will generate us less revenue, it is because we believe they will then value our opinion, refer us to other clients and come back to us with more business – for me, that suggests a sales mentality.” - Harry Hewson - Team Leader, Camino Partners.

“I feel that we are both.  We sell the service we provide.

This seems to have been forgotten across the industry as now the only thing we discuss when working with clients is the candidates we have on at that moment and when speaking to candidates we only discuss the jobs we have on. Very rarely these days do I hear a recruiter trying to identify where a client has issues with their recruitment process and then sell against it with their service.  I never hear a recruiter trying to understand the bigger picture of a client in terms of commercial objectives and commercial challenges and then selling insight from their own market knowledge.

In my opinion, we need to go back to the good old days where sales and service were keywords and actually meant something in the industry.” - Dave Curtis - Director, Affinity Learning

Every business owner knows that sales are a crucial part of a successful business. The interesting aspect of our approach is that we have found that here at the Oho Group; by hiring people who have no sales history who are interested in an optimum service, the sales have looked after themselves!” - Roger Wilkinson - Managing Director, Oho Group.

“Recruitment should always be service based, whether dealing with clients or candidates. Taking a sales approach usually means that you will end up treating both sides poorly. The best recruiters build a network and offer this network to their clients, and it's from this that sales come, not the other way around.” - Jake Whittall - Co-Founder, Venture Up.

“I think that in an ideal world it is a mix of both.

If a recruitment business was purely a service business it may struggle to attract clients or increase market share, reliant only on word of mouth, goodwill and referrals. If a recruitment business was purely a sales business, the delivery side of the business is likely to be impacted and the work considered transactional. Often the stigma is that recruitment businesses fall into this category looking to make a placement regardless of the long term satisfaction of the candidate and client.

A successful recruitment business should be seen as providing a great service for their clients with sales at the heart of the business and driving it forward. Their reputation as a service business can be used as a marketing tool when pitching to new clients.” - Matt Newman - Director, Camino Partners.

“It's Sales. If you're a service, you're a bus route or filling jobs on a VMS (vendor managed service). Service doesn't sell itself, every action has to be embossed and benefited in a sales process, otherwise, your complacency will see you go backward and eventually capitulate.

We all sell every day, whether saying why one colour is nicer than another or why we deserve accolades over the next person. Service is delivery (but without sales, it doesn't exist). If you're a service you’re not recruitment, you're a job board & repository... give up and hand over to a computer!” - Dean Kelly - Co-Founder, RDLC.

“My simplistic view is that we’re very much a service business, but like all businesses/services, we need to sell it (well, and professionally so good sales skills remain very important). However, at the end of the day, clients are buying a professional, consultative service.” - Alan McBride - Chairman, Camino Partners.

So what do you think?

As I said, in my opinion recruitment is a mixture of both, but also it depends heavily on the type of business and the sector you recruit in. Perhaps the negative perception over the last few years surrounding ‘Sales’ has prompted a move towards marketing recruitment as a more service orientated industry, but sales, and sales skills are still essential. If you can’t sell the benefit of using your service, the candidates you represent and the clients you work on behalf of, you are unlikely to be a successful recruiter. There are endless blogs on ‘Cold-calling is dead’/’KPI’s are dead’ etc. but there are undeniable links between these things and billing success. What the industry is perhaps doing better is strategic recruiting, where actually no call is a ‘cold’ call because the consultants have gone to the effort of researching their market thoroughly, networking efficiently and having the commerciality of reaching out to the right people. Maybe recruiting, more so than sales, can afford the ‘work smart, not hard’ approach.

*Men refers to ‘People’ and is not gender specific, but I’m a big fan of the old alliteration :-)