QUESTION: I have been utilizing your retainer method for signing new clients, taking a diagnostic, and then explaining my process, i.e., reaching out to 60 to 80 candidates, each one up to seven times, and ultimately presenting the best three to five candidates who are qualified and motivated to make a move. I find myself in a situation where the client will not sign the retainer but will for contingency. I have never sold a retainer search, though I worked for one client on a monthly retainer for some time. If I have already described this detailed process that I follow and end up with a contingency search, how do I differentiate and explain right there and then that the level of service between contingency is a smaller list than a retainer. How would you suggest I handle this? – Felicia

ANSWER: Oh, you are right there. You are right on the edges, Felicia.   

There are two options – one risky and one not so risky.  

The riskiest option is to say: “That is not what we agreed to. Goodbye.” Maybe they come back.  A lot will or will not.  

A much less risky option and one that worked for me and continues to work for our clients is what I call the reverse retainer. I would say, “This is what I am willing to do. I liked our conversation, the assignment, and the story. I know I could sell that. My gut feeling is what is holding you back is we have never worked together, and what if you sent me $7,000 and you never see it again, and I am horrible?”  

Usually, the client will agree that was what they were thinking.  

From there, I would say:

“Here is what I am willing to do on the first search. I will do everything I told you I would do. We sign the agreement. If I present three qualified candidates within 30 days and you cancel the position or fill it internally, you then cut me a check at the end of the search for $7,000 because I invested money and research, going through the list of candidates seven times. You are getting this on contingency because you owe me nothing if I do not present three qualified candidates within 30 days. The definition of a qualified candidate is someone you see the resume of,  agree to interview, and ultimately show up for the interview. They might not show up for the interview in 30 days because you might procrastinate setting that up. Still, you see three candidates you like, three candidates that agree to interview, and three candidates that ultimately show up for the interview. If those three events occur within 30 days, at a minimum, and the position is canceled or filled through alternate means, you send me the $7,000 on the backend. After we have done this once, then you should have the confidence to work with the model upfront.” 

The reverse retainer method works most of the time for someone who will search you on contingency. Suppose the client says no because they are only comfortable on contingency. I acknowledge their feeling and understand their risk profile because you do not know me. I explain that I am taking all the risk. 

The client will sometimes ask what happens if they do not like any of the three candidates or interview and extend an offer to someone, and the candidate declines. In this situation, I say, “Let me ask you a question. If I just sent you three candidates and fulfilled my quota, how much business will you give me in the future?” The response is always – None. I wholeheartedly agree with their response. You must put that in the context of the question.     

I will explain that we put three to give a minimum level of satisfaction and comfort to know that we are working on this and a performance guarantee to justify the client making a deposit and paying the consulting fee at the backend. If I have to submit five, six, seven, eight candidates, we do that (1) to make them happy and (2) because we want your future business.  

I reinforce that what I am doing is not about the search but the relationship. I am doing so to earn the right to future business with them. Because of that, I will not gain that future business if I only present three candidates, even if they have not seen a candidate they like. Most clients agree with this reasoning.

Felicia, you have got to ask yourself, is that a company that will be your avatar if they still push back?  You are saying that you will put off all the risk and give them all the effort. This entire process can be seen as a test to see if they are a client avatar. If they just want to use you and abuse you, and you are okay with that, that is your own business decision, but that is how I would handle it.

P.S. Whenever you’re ready… here are 4 ways I can help you grow your recruitment business:

1. Grab a free copy of my Retainer Blueprint

It’s the exact, step-by-step process of getting clients to give you money upfront.​

2. Join the Recruiter Think Tank and connect with firm owners who are scaling too It’s our Facebook community where smart recruiters learn to make more money and get more freedom.​​…

3. Join me at our next event

3x a year, I run a 3-day virtual intensive, sharing the 9 key areas that drive a 7-figure search firm. Click here to check out the dates of our upcoming event:​

4. Work with me and my team privately

And if you ever want to get some 1:1 help, we can jump on the phone for a quick call, and brainstorm how to get you more leads, more placements, and more time.​

Photo by Jeremy Dorrough on Unsplash