As a Talent Acquisition Leader, I am often coaching and seeking to inspire my teams to become more consultative with their hiring manager relationships. This client service approach is useful in sales, account management, customer support, human resources business partnering, and of course, recruiting.
What does “Consultative” look like?
Our clients may have a strong opinion about what they want or need. However, they may not know what they need or how things should go or have significant experience in the process through which we are about to partner with them. A consultative relationship begins with understanding where your client is on this spectrum, and then helping them get to a place where they are comfortable with their knowledge of the process and satisfied with your support and the results.
Our clients may not know what to expect from certain decisions they might make. A consultative relationship is one in which the partner helps the client fully understand the process and the ramifications of their decisions. I call this, “helping the client to see around corners,” based on our experience of the process. A good read on this technique for business is Graham Hogg’s Seeing Around Corners.
So, how do you build a consultative approach with your clients?
Here is an acronym I use to explain the building-blocks I believe are essential for a consultative approach. CREST: Confidence, Relationship, Experience, Strategy and Time.
Becoming a consultative business partner starts with confidence. You must be confident with your training, experience and resources. I’ll talk a little about experience in a moment, but if you are not confident in the training you have received or the technology and tools at your disposal, get the training you need and master your tools. Remember that your client only uses your process and your tools occasionally, while you use them daily. You are the expert in your field.
Confidence is built with practice.
Seven years into my recruiting career, I joined Robert Half International (RHI) as a Senior Technology Recruiter. I felt like I was confident and knew my trade, but RHI still required me to attend deep training and practice my skills, for hours upon hours. We practiced phone calls and face-to-face meetings. We honed our skills in listening and reflecting, mirroring and matching, absorbing and deflecting. We practiced gathering requirements, uncovering important information and unspoken needs, and overcoming objections. If you do not yet have training in these skills and you are working in a role that requires consultative business partnering, go get it!
I can tell you that my confidence greatly increased with this practice under my belt!
Building a consultative relationship starts with a deep exploration of your client - their business, products, services, team and resources. Get to know your client’s background. You may find that you can connect with your client on a variety of things in their background, personal or professional. But be authentic! Don’t say you love fishing, just because your client loves fishing. In fact, it is better to say you don’t know anything about fishing and ask a ton of questions about the craft. This way, you will learn and connect more genuinely with your client.
Next in the relationship, you want to establish mutual expectations. You will develop a script, that you will modify based on the situation, which describes what you do and what your client can expect from you, but you will also want to describe what you need from your client. Be clear with your client about the up-front commitments required. In talent acquisition, we say that an hour-long hiring strategy meeting at the beginning of each search project will save 20% off their time to fill, due to the clarity you can gain, and continuous engagement throughout the project will save an additional 10%. Show your client how their engagement in each stage of the project will save them time and improve results.
Also, show your client the metrics on your current performance. How long on average, are projects taking to complete in your team, in your region, globally? How long is it taking, on average, for candidates to complete the pre-screening process? And show your client the “best practices” in your region – the unique things you can do together to get the best results from your project.
Communication is critical in a relationship.
I tell my team that they may have done 15 critical things to advance a project for their client, but if they do not communicate with their client about that progress, it is as if they have done nothing. Another way to say this is, your work is not done today until your client knows what you did for them. A consultative relationship includes continuous check-ins, updates and progress meetings. This may mean scheduling bi-weekly, weekly or bi-monthly meetings. I would advise you to set this as an expectation during the project kick-off meeting and schedule those meetings as the first step in building your relationship.
Communication is a two-way street. Set expectations with your client around what communication you will need from them to keep making progress, and remind your client during progress meetings, of those needs.
Your experience as a professional in your field is important in establishing a consultative approach. Your client knows about your experience only if you share it with them. You might consider sharing a bit of your resume with your client in the initial hiring strategy meeting, to let them know how you have been prepared to partner in this endeavor. You will use this experience again and again as you help your client “see around corners.” I recommend that you give real examples, but protect the anonymity of past clients, to illustrate how certain decisions of others have failed, and why decisions of others have succeeded.
Initially in your career, you may need to lean on the experience of others. Your team may talk about its combined years of experience, because you will be supporting each other with research, brainstorming and basic project work, to move things forward. You may also utilize the stories and experience of your manager, mentor or trainer to offer consultations to your client.
A consultative approach offers a defined process or illustrated methodology for the work you are doing. As a Talent Acquisition leader, the first thing I do is check on the efficiency and efficacy of my recruiting process model. I am looking to illustrate the steps, tools, responsible parties and expected timeline for each step.
The last thing you want is your client believing you are launching a project without a plan. However, if you do not communicate the plan or help them understand how the plan will get the results they need, this is exactly what they will think. At any time during the project, either you or your client should be able to refer back to the process map and identify where you are at. Your plan should also include mutual expectations, as well as timelines and expected deliverables.
Additionally, your strategy should include customization for the unique needs of your client. In talent acquisition, we have a set of procedures and practices that we always follow (requirements gathering, sourcing, screening, interviewing, offering), and others that we may choose to do (referral requests, targeted search, technical tests, video interviewing), to insure we get a great hire. In a consultative relationship, you will want to advise your client of those options and help develop a strategy that fits their unique needs.
My top recruiters always detail the core recruiting processes in their initial hiring strategy meetings, and then talk about their plans for additional targeted searching they think are necessary. One of my recruiters would show her clients how she writes a Boolean string, and she asks for their input to the search terms needed for their requisition.
Lastly, your strategy should accommodate new and innovative techniques, which should be discussed, trialed and measured for success. This same recruiter also shows her hiring managers how we have had success sharing social media networks to find talent. If they have a strong network of their own, they develop a plan for sending key messages, which she helps develop, to attract top talent from the hiring manager’s network.
The last piece of the puzzle for building a consultative relationship is time. You’ve got to make a personal commitment to spend time with your client, and to spend time focusing on your client’s needs. I am aware that corporate recruiters are often challenged with managing very high requisition loads and multiple clients. Those in talent acquisition leadership should consider the impact capacity planning has on the consultative client relationship. Depending on the complexity of the job descriptions and requirements and the diversity of the functional areas or business units a recruiter is supporting, one can typically provide effective client relationship management at around 15 open requisitions across about 10 different hiring managers. But even at this workload, a corporate recruiter must budget their time very efficiently, planning their work carefully. Reduce distractions that take you away from your core responsibilities and prioritize time with your hiring managers.
As time progresses with your hiring manager, your consultative capabilities should grow as well. As you build your personal confidence, deepen your relationship and knowledge of each other, demonstrate your expertise and experience, and deliver on a well-defined strategy, the time you spend together will give you more and more leverage to offer advice, guidance and direction.
As a manager, I am thrilled when I have a hiring manager contact me to request a specific recruiter from my team; especially when I know that this recruiter has been able to tactfully push back, train this hiring manager in our process, and guide them through a challenging hiring process. These are the consultative relationships I document as successes, year over year.
So remember - CREST the peak of consultative approach to client service with your hiring managers. Build your confidence through great training and practice. Build an authentic relationship with mutual expectations and continuous communication. Establish your experience as a foundation for your guidance. Clearly communicate your strategy and options for innovation. And prioritize time with your client, focused on their needs. If you can master these fundamentals, you will be well ahead of the curve and we’d love to chat with you about becoming a Recruiter for Proactive Talent. For open positions, click here.