Just Another Stinkin’ Agency

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Just Another Stinkin' Agency

How to overcome the industry’s bad rap so clients see your value

The staffing industry provides a tremendous service of great value to its customers, but still gets a bad rap. Some companies think staffing agencies are nothing more than a necessary evil-and they’re not shy about saying so to anyone who’ll listen.

A little harsh? Sure. There’s a lesson to be learned there, though, and staffing agencies should listen to the message behind all the griping. When clients give you flak, they’re trying to tell you something.

They need better results.

Case in point: a CEO from a staffing firm called me last year for help. This thirty-year veteran of the industry told me he’d finally had enough. He was sick and tired of all the negativity. He was beyond tired. He was done.

When I asked what was going on, he told me about a sales meeting he’d recently attended with one of his national sales managers. The meeting had barely begun before the client, who was the director of operations for an insurance services company, surprised them with a remarkably blunt question:

“Are you truly different or just another stinkin’ agency?”

On my end of the phone, my face split into a broad grin and I told the CEO that this was great news and presented us with a huge opportunity. After a stunned silence, during which I clearly imagined the perplexed look on his face, he asked me to explain.

I’d encountered this same situation countless times, so I had the answer ready.

“Problems always define the solution,” I told him.

Then I went on to break down the following issues, which have plagued the staffing industry for decades:

  • Staffing firms neither own nor control their product. The people provided to customers have free will. Firms have no control over the work they do or whether or not they show up for work.
  • Different staffing and recruitment firms do essentially the same thing. Yes, some do certain things better than others. Some put unique twists on common services. But when it comes down to it, buyers tend to lump all staffing companies together.
  • It’s easy to compete on price, so many firms do. Price wars undermine the value being provided, increasing the perception that staffing is a commodity.

I told the CEO that being truly different requires creating truly better outcomes for customers. I have the same advice for everyone in the staffing industry. If you want to be different, you have to be better. To be better-to provide better outcomes-you have to define those outcomes in advance and plan strategies to create them.

Here are three steps to better outcomes:

Step 1: Determine the outcomes you wish to create.
If you’re going to improve things for a buyer, you need to understand not just what’s going on in their company, but what they’re missing. Too many organizations keep doing things the same way because that’s how they’ve always been done. You job is to show them a better way-a better outcome.

Step 2: Leverage the five impacts of staffing.
I’ve identified five critical impact areas that can enhance your services and improve client outcomes. By exploring the implicit questions associated with each impact area, you’ll create true and meaningful differentiation.

Impact Area #1 – Flexibility
How can we deliver more flexible solutions that solve more of our customers’ problems?

Impact Area #2 – Accuracy
How accurately do we match jobs and candidates? What do we need to change to achieve “perfect” matching?

Impact Area #3 – Quality
Where is our quality of talent or service inconsistent? How can we leverage our strengths to improve our quality across all areas?

Impact Area #4 – Value
What do our customers value most? How can we best learn what they value and deliver more of it?

Impact Area #5 – Immediacy
Customers typically need someone yesterday. How can we deliver the talent they need the moment they call?

Step 3: Pick the right impact areas to create the desired outcomes.
My CEO client dug deeper and found out why his client was so blunt. It was simple: he was frustrated by persistently long time-to-fill and none of his current agencies were addressing the issue. Using the five impact areas as a blueprint, the CEO and his team offered a faster, on-demand approach for filling critical roles. Time-to-fill went from weeks to hours.

Now that same client is a huge fan because he’s getting much better results. The CEO and his team made a solid plan for a better outcome and then delivered like rock stars.

And guess what? The client did a complete one-eighty and recanted on his “stinkin’ agency” comment.


Potential customers in every market engage in the same kind of “stinkin’ thinkin’.” These buyers and their companies provide you with a great opportunity to improve their circumstances, turning them in to huge fans of what you do.

And what do you do? You plan and deliver better outcomes.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Staffing Industry Review.

Scott WintripJust Another Stinkin’ Agency

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