QUESTION: I have used your process from other posts that you have talked about in regards to taking a search. However, I am still having a little bit of a problem in getting clients. Once I take them through the whole process, I get their verbal commitment on the fee. They want to hire me on an exclusive or even on an engaged basis which is great. However, 25% or so of these clients are falling off. By that, I mean, they are going dark. When I go for the follow up calls, they are not there or they are not returning my calls. How can I fix this?David

ANSWER: So, there is a whole series of things that happen when you take a potential client through a search the right way. Many times, you will get a retainer or worst case, an exclusive, because there is something in that process which has created a degree of certainty and removed some doubt on their behalf. So, it sound like you’re getting to this and it sounds like it is still working most of the time.

The 25% is the hole you want to fill. I do not think we will ever get to 100, but we can probably chop that down to 90-95% compliance or chop it down to 5-10% non-compliance. My gut feeling is, at the end of that process, if you said, “I will get you off that agreement. Get back to me.” There is not a defined time for the next call.

If I am talking to a hiring manager and they say, “Great. We want to go with you on retainer. Send me over your agreement,” and that is where I think you said when you follow up, they are going dark. So, I say, “No problem. I usually try to get those off by the end of business that day. Worst case, the next day. So, if I get this off to you, Mr./Mrs. Client, by the close of business today, when is the next time we can talk? Let’s put it in our calendar. I want to have a follow up.” “Well, I’m going to have to run it by…”

That is the other question, by the way. “Who, other than yourself, needs to approve this?” Now, he might call the CEO because sometimes HR goes to the CEO and the CEO says, “We do not want to pay a retainer.” So, if the Hiring manager says, “Well, it is really my call and …but I want to run it by Human Resources. You know, this is part of their budget and, blah blah blah.” I have said, “Mr./Mrs. CEO, no problem.” My gut feeling is maybe they have not done this before. It is out of the parameters of how they have done business in the past.

I will say something to the effect of, “My gut feeling is you are going to get incredible resistance from Human Resources. And, again, I don’t know your HR person. I have been recruiting a long time. Because there is a misconception, especially in this market right now where candidates are so hard to come by that we can put 6, 7 recruiters on it and it will be effective. So, what I want to do to support you in this endeavor, Mr./Mrs. CEO, arrange a conference call and if the HR person is onsite, they can come to your office and the three of us can chat. We can go on 3 different phone lines so that you and I can go back through our conversation and he or she can challenge me with any of the logic as to why you are doing business this way.”

Now, some CEO’s might say, “Well, look. It is my call and I am going to do this with or without them.” “Fantastic. So, if I get this to you by the close of business today, when can I expect it back signed? Worst case scenario if it is not signed by next Tuesday at 5:00 PM, what is my next step with you?” Always clearly define what the next step is. If the next step is, “Yes, let’s set up a call for next Tuesday at 2:00 PM I will make sure I have my HR person. Actually, I am meeting with them at 1:00 for something else.”

“So, I have got next Tuesday at 2:00 PM in my calendar and I am treating it like I am driving to your office. I am going to clear my schedule. As a matter of fact, I’ve got something going on Tuesday at 2:00 pm that I will happily change for you because this is so important for me to earn the right to help you build your team. Now, Mr./Mrs. CEO, I know stuff happens. So, between now and then, something might blow up and you might not be available, too. Can we make a commitment to each other that if either one of us has to change the call, here is my cell number and direct dial number. We will talk to reschedule.”

So, David, it really just becomes a matter of tying it down better. I want everything tied down crystal clear. I want every expectation kind of black and white. I don’t want to leave anything up for interpretation.