QUESTION: When selling retained search, do you have a strategy for when the client is sold on the retainer but is resistant to committing to money upfront?  – Anonymous  

ANSWER: This situation happens quite a bit, regardless if this is your first retainer or you work a fully retained desk.  

Many people think there is some magical “script” that works to sell retainers. There is not. I have seen “pitches” that work, but they do not work consistently. You have to find somebody that is really bleeding or someone who has paid retainers before and you come across as credible. I am not saying it is impossible. What I have found to work consistently is to have a very specific diagnostic process. 

Most of the people that paid me money upfront never paid retainers for the roles I filled before.  Many of these clients were startups and never paid retainers for any role. I was in a marketplace that it was not usual and customary that people paid money upfront for the types of things I billed.  

Selling retainers is a process that goes beyond a simple blog post, but is available in our specialized retainer program. 

In short, to sell retained search you need to ask all the right questions, establish that there is some pain or agony in the fact that they cannot fill these positions, and quote the fee and the retainer. If after doing this the client may say that it is out of their hands financially. What I would say in that situation is:  

If I am hearing correctly, if you were absolutely sure I was going to fill the role, you would have no problem giving me $7,000 upfront. Is that correct?  Please be honest with me.  

They might admit that this is the case, but because they have never worked with you, they are not comfortable with paying money upfront. Sometimes providing references of previous clients helps.  But sometimes it does not, when that happens I would say, 

You know, at some level, Mr. or Ms. Hiring Manager, are you worried you are going to send me $7,000, and my wife and I will go off to the Bahamas and kind of blow it all at an all-inclusive resort?  

This will cause them to laugh and probably admit that it is not what they were thinking at all. They may also admit that writing a check for $7,000 is at risk. From there I would say, 

I just want to make something clear, Mr. Hiring Manager, if I am hearing you correctly, you have no problem working with me exclusively. You would have no problem if you were certain that I would fill the role that you would pay me a retainer, and you have no problem that if you filled the role with somebody from your own internal network, but I did everything I promised to do, meaning providing you 3 or 4 qualified candidates that you interviewed and you were happy with that talent if all those conditions existed, or a combination of those existed, I just want to ask, for clarity’s sake, the retainer would not be an obstacle. Am I understanding that correctly?  

They would most likely agree.  

Because I want to make sure that I eliminate all the other objections, I would follow up by saying,  

If we had that kind of scenario, are you in a position to approve it now, if I could create that magically? 

At this, you want to find out, if the budget is for their department or is it HR’s? If it is HR’s budget or they have to run it by the CFO, I am still going to talk to them about it, but at least I know I am not going to have a decision today. Not having a decision today is not an uncommon scenario either.   

Retainers are a dating process that takes time. I find recruiters – it is not your fault – tend to be impatient. Getting a contingency job order can be done in one phone call. It is rare that getting a retained search can be done in one phone call. It happens once in a while, but it is rare.   

Thanks for the question.

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