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Getting Past Fee Discussions with Clients

QUESTION: I had a client who insisted we talk fees up front. I tried to steer the conversation towards our differentiators to no avail. They essentially said, “If we don’t talk fees, we cannot speak further.'” How do I handle this?Robert

ANSWER: It is not uncommon for this to happen when you try to differentiate yourself from other recruiters. Companies hear this from every other recruiter and that is why you get steered toward fee. Most of the recruiters that are steer towards “differentiators” do not really have any and they have heard it. Anyway, you are in the mode of selling is telling, so when you get that question, and they say, “Before we going any further, what is your fee?” And I usually say, “I have no idea. Right now I have no idea what level of service you are looking for.  I am thrilled to talk to you about that.  Let me ask you….” and I go right into the search.

If you were to bring this person on my first opening line question, “I have no idea what level of service you are looking for, Robert,” if you were the hiring manager, “Robert, let me ask you, if you were to bring this person on and a year from now, they had an outstanding year with your organization, what are two or three things that they accomplished in that year?”  It is hard for them to say, “Wait. Back to the fee.”

If they insist on staying on the fee and they say “Wait, wait, wait, before we go onto that I need to know your fee” and I have said it like this, depending on how obnoxious they are and how obnoxious you want to be, I have said, “It sounds like I am not your guy.  It sounds like you are looking for a commodity, resume mill, which is not me because it is all about fee.  If it is all about fee, with all due respect, Mr. Employer, when you guys hire accountants or lawyers, do you ask ‘What’s your hourly rate?’  Or, ‘We have a legal problem. We need to solve it. How would you fix it?’ See, I am the type of recruiter that says, ‘We have a key need.  I want to know how you would fill it.’ Now, I understand that fee is important but if all you are going to do is stretch me on fee, I am going to lose because I am not the cheapest guy on the front end.  I am the least expensive guy on the back end. I can justify it for you but it does not sound like you want to hear about how I am the least expensive in the long run.  It looks like you are looking for a low cost, commodity provider and that is not me.”

A lot of times if you say “I have no problem” and you go into the question they will actually follow your lead.  That has been my experience.  The key here is you have to ask highly consultative questions throughout the process.  You can not ask the typical. There is nothing wrong with these questions, the only problem is everyone asks them.  So, if you ask “What are you looking for?  What are the duties and responsibilities?  What is the compensation package? If I found somebody making 10% more do you want to see them?”  They have heard that a thousand times.

What I would just challenge you to do, is go in and drill down into highly consultative questions you can ask them at each step of the search, identifying the search, that has them say for themselves, “Robert is different.”  Where they uncover the differentiators is in really, step one. You ask phenomenal questions.

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