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Recruiter Tips: Handling Client Objections … What “No” Might Really Mean

Handling Client Objections: What “No’ Might Really MeanI’ll never forget my first ever client meeting as a recruitment consultant.

There I was sitting opposite a very intimidating HR Director. I’d handed him our glossy green brochure with the words “Our People Make The Difference” jumping up at him off the cover.

He stared it for a few seconds, put it down, and literally flicked it back at me across the desk.

Really? All you recruiters spin the same rubbish. How about you humour me and tell me exactly how you’re different from the other losers out there!

What he actually said was a lot worse but I have chosen to be more professional – but I’m sure you get the gist.

I took a moment, glanced down at the glossy brochure, looked back up at Damian, and was about say something just to avoid the awkward silence when my nose started bleeding profusely.

Nice diversion, Paul!

At this point you’re probably assuming that Damian wasn’t interested in working with me.

Never assume.

About six (persistent) months later, Damian turned into a very happy (and regular) client … for at least three years.

Now I am certainly not suggesting that you cue a nosebleed whenever you’re faced with a curly objection. But understanding what you’re client is really wanting to know can certainly help.

Perhaps you haven’t convinced them you really understand their issues or they just lack confidence in you. Maybe what you’re offering them doesn’t solve their perceived problem at this particular point in time.

Of course the client could just be a dickhead or have a hidden agenda.

But what if the objection is really a question where your prospect is in fact crying out for more information?

You need to be on guard at all times. You need to scrutinize every objection. You need to keep probing until you find out what the “No” might really mean.

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1. “Not right now

I don’t want to state the obvious here but headcount freezes don’t last forever.

Perhaps I am sharing a bit too much information here into the way my mind works. But the first time a client tried to fob me off by telling me there was a headcount freeze in place, I just asked “So when’s it going to melt?

This threw her off to the point she started laughing hysterically and the ice was broken immediately (pardon the pun).

It turned out that the headcount freeze lifted about a month later.

Guess who she came to with her first four perm job briefs?

2. “Not exactly

Remember that the objection (or “No”) could be your potential client telling you that what you have to offer isn’t quite what he or she is looking for from a recruitment provider at this point in time.

Are you able to offer something different that might be closer to the level of help they need?

Find out their specific requirements so that the “not exactly” could lead to a “but if could help us with a, b, or c then I’d definitely be willing to listen”.

3. “Not unless …”

I remember trying to speak to a prospective client once about an A-grade candidate I had met. It was the first time we’d spoken and on the call she asked me what our terms of business were before I could even talk about my candidate.

I launched straight into justifying our tiered fee structure and the call ended pretty quickly.

Sorry were we just cut off?

About two weeks later my candidate told me that he’d accepted a role through another agency at the company I had tried to float him to.

It didn’t take much to discover that the agency that had placed my candidate successfully actually charged 6% less than I would have charged for the same salary level.

In other words when I had explained our terms of business, my potential ‘client’ only heard a number and would have immediately thought “18.5%? Surely you can’t be serious. The agency I have been using for the last two years charges me 12.5%. What more are you providing me to justify another 6%?”

Had I probed about her fee expectations up front, I could have potentially introduced my candidate and made an easy placement … even it would have meant a bit of negotiating if she had limited funds.

After all a fee of $8,125 would have been better than nothing.

4. “Not yet

And just like headcount freezes, Preferred Supplier Agreements don’t last forever either. They all come up for renewal … eventually.

HR departments get bombarded with calls from recruiters all the time.

I remember calling the HR Manager at a large media agency once and his voicemail greeting actually said “If you’re a recruiter please do not leave me a message since I won’t return your call”.

If you’re lucky enough to get through to a prospective client and they tell you they have a PSA in place, this definitely isn’t a “No“.

Keep that potential customer on a regular call cycle. Keep sharing profiles of A-grade candidates with them. Trust me one day the preferred suppliers will not be able to find them a diamond in the rough. And you may just have the CV of their ideal candidate on your desk when you call.

Talk about perfect timing and believe me this scenario comes from personal experience. Oh … and guess who was eventually invited to become a preferred supplier?

5. “Not up to me

You could have just met an awesome candidate. Your terms of business might even be ‘appealing’. And you might have even gotten along fantastically with the prospect you just cold called.

So why did he still say “No”?

Because maybe he wasn’t the decision maker. Maybe HR has the final sign-off and your prospect was too busy to give you the details of an HR contact and just needed to get you off the phone.

Whatever the roadblock, find out if the voiced objection is really the only one – probe further; treat the objection as a question that you need to provide more information to answer. Never confront the objection head on. Never argue with your prospective client and certainly never belittle!

Cofounder at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for 20 years. Follow me @paul_slezak.

  • Jessica

    We have Ramadan in June and July in Dubai, and sometimes a possible client’s objection is, well we will only be hiring after Ramadan? How do you deal with this type of objection, during Ramadan the UAE almost comes to a hault.