At the end of 2016 I was about to launch Talent Hero Media, a web design and online marketing agency focused on helping recruiters find new clients and candidates.
I had a website filled with useful resources tailored to recruiters. I had begun to build relationships with the most important industry influencers. I had paid advertising campaigns set up and ready to be launched with the click of a button.
After three months of tireless work to get the project off the ground, I was finally ready.
And then – crickets…
I had made a huge mistake and it would take me an entire year to fix it.
My cardinal sin
The number one rule in business is “know thy customer” and I had neglected to do that. While I had spoken to recruiters prior to launching the company, I hadn’t spoken to enough of them and I didn’t do it in a systematic way.
After sitting around and waiting for the leads to pour in and finding that little was happening, I knew that I had misread my market. For some reason, recruiters were not interested in the services I was offering.
With desperation setting in, I reached out to every recruiter I knew and began to ask for introductions to five other recruiters they knew.
Because of the helpful nature of recruiters, I was able to make contact with 156 recruiters over two weeks.
After many back-and-forths over email, I was able to schedule 88 20-minute interviews over the next four weeks.
Here’s what I learned in those interviews about how recruiters think about marketing their business and how you can stand out from the crowd.
Recruiters are old school
The first question I asked every recruiter was “How do you get your leads today?” Over 90% of recruiters who had been working in the industry for three years or fewer said either cold calling or cold emailing was their number one lead source. Over 70% of recruiters with more than three years of experience said that they relied primarily on referrals and follow on work.
Based on my experience after the Talent Hero launch, I was not surprised to hear that there was little emphasis being placed on online marketing.
As the interview progressed, I began to ask detailed follow up questions about their online marketing efforts. Specifically, I wanted to know how much time they had spent on search engine optimization, social media, paid online advertising campaigns and email marketing in the previous year.
The average answer was six hours. In the past 365 days, the typical recruiter had spent less than one working day on all of their online marketing activities combined.
Having marketed various businesses online for the past decade, I had seen firsthand how critical those activities were for the growth of my companies. In fact, I knew that there was no way any of my businesses would have been successful had I not taken advantage of the internet to find new clients.
While I knew that many recruiters still had a “grind it out” mentality, I was still shocked to hear it laid out so starkly.
Recruiters are impatient
Anyone who has executed a marketing plan in the professional services industry knows that a campaign can take months to pay dividends.
If you’re running an advertising campaign on LinkedIn, you’re not going to run a single ad for your business and have potential clients banging down your door.
You need to craft a complete plan that involves building brand awareness followed by demonstrating significant value before it is reasonable to reach out to your lead and expect to schedule a meeting.
This slow burn approach runs so counter to the natural instincts of a recruiter that they are highly skeptical that it will work. When I asked recruiters how long they would take before abandoned a new approach, the average answer was seven weeks.
Thinking back to what I already knew, this made a lot of sense.
When your primary business development tactic involves picking up the phone and making call after call to either cold prospects or people in your network, it’s not surprising that sitting down and planning out a strategy for the next six months is going to feel unnatural.
Recruiters are able to adapt
Fortunately, what I learned was not all doom and gloom.
If recruiters are provided a sound rationale for why they should try something different than what they are currently doing, they are willing to change.
At the conclusion of my 88 interviews, I scheduled follow-ups with 15 of the recruiters who seemed most interested in our discussion.
In these follow up calls, we walked through what I would do to find new clients if I was in their exact situation.
It was an exercise to see if I had made any headway in getting into the mind of a recruiter. I wanted to know if I had learned enough to offer value to the typical recruiter.
In every case but two, the recruiter was on board with the plan I had come up with for their business and would be willing to try it out.
After the six-week interview and follow up process was complete, I was exhausted. Over 100 phone calls later, I had explored everything there was to know about how a recruiter thinks about marketing their business.
My number one takeaway is this – a recruiter who is willing to try something different than their competition can gain a huge advantage.
At this moment, there are only a handful of recruiters who are using social media or search network advertising to market their business. Fewer than 10% of the recruiters I spoke with had paid any attention to search engine optimization. Even something basic like email marketing to past and current clients was not a priority for most people.
In short, if you are willing to buck convention and try something new, the opportunity for growth is massive.