SSEffective Business Development in a Downturn
Recession, downturn, readjustment … call it what you will, you cannot deny that the
black cloud hanging over business confidence has become even darker since the tragic
events of September 11th.
Whether we are technically in a recession doesn‟t really matter, does it? It feels like a
recession to those of us who were around in the last one and remember it as if it were
yesterday! Those of us who have been around for a few years, and have the
obligatory grey hairs to prove it, know that one day we will see the sunlight again.
What none us can know for sure is when it will end. It could be in a few months or it
could last for eighteen and it will, of course, differ from sector to sector.
History tells us that around one-third of companies sadly will not survive the slump.
This of course is good news for the two-thirds who will be around to take full
advantage of clients re-staffing as the economy booms again. But, many of those
two-thirds will have been forced to radically downsize and refocus. So how will you
Michael Moonesinghe, Managing Director of Glover Daniels Executive Search,
the recruitment to recruitment consultancy that focuses on senior management
opportunities within our own sector and provides a proactive executive search service
to the search and selection industry, offers his advice on effective business
development activity during an economic down turn.
Who is the king of the jungle?
Over the last couple of years you had to be a complete idiot, or at least pretty unlucky,
not to earn significant money in recruitment, certainly in the IT and Telecomms
industries where the candidate was king. Very few recruiters needed to „waste‟ time
on business development or nurturing client relationships. Quite simply, if the
recruiter had the CV of a super-candidate then clients competed to pay the biggest fee.
How quickly that has changed. Now the client with the vacancy is king again and
desperate recruiters have to court them to be anointed with some of their limited
recruitment budget. Retained assignments are being used for only the most senior or
strategic roles, sole supplier arrangements are being relaxed or forgotten about as
recruiter after recruiter falls at the feet of the HR Director to „get the vacancy on‟ so
that one of their many candidates might get an interview.
Many consultancies have seen their few major accounts impose a „headcount freeze‟
or at best selective recruiting. Many have seen major redundancies.
The law is simple… survival of the fittest!
In Africa, when the herds start to migrate, lions change their hunting tactics. They
know that the young calves have grown and cannot be picked off easily by a lone lion.
Instead they swap the sudden blinding rush to the kill to work with the pride through a
long patient stalk. The problem for many recruitment companies is that they have a
lot of young lions that have never seen the lean times and need to learn a new way of
I regularly meet recruiters who were still at school in the boom and bust Thatcher era,
perhaps not surprising in an industry where the average age is between 23 and 35
years. They have yet to learn that recessions are a natural fact of modern economic
life; all they see is a long, lonely journey through a wilderness with no map. They
and their companies need to learn that we; recruiters, candidates and clients, are all in
the same savannah and that this is the perfect opportunity to get closer to candidates,
learn to add real value for clients and to excel against the competition in the process.
Take for example, companies that install call loggers and use call sheets and demand
a specific number of calls within a set time frame. A very blunt and ineffective way
in my opinion, of only measuring talk-time as consultants, by their own admission,
call friends, family and even the speaking clock, to meet their “targeted” telephone
No Glover Daniels consultant has ever made a typical cold call to a company touting
for vacancies or canvassing a press advert. We focus not on talk time, but on stalk
How to hunt effectively
I believe effective and targeted networking calls and meetings are the best business
development strategy. A lot of consultants keep in contact with placed candidates
until they are out of the replacement or refund guarantee period. But when did you
last speak to the candidate you placed six, twelve or even eighteen months ago? Do
you know what they are doing now? Have they got hiring power? Or could they be
your sponsor to get you in front of a hiring manager or decision maker?
What about the scores of candidates you have interviewed over the last couple of
years that you didn‟t finally place? Where did they finally go to? Have they got
hiring authority in their new role or did they stay put and get promoted? Five of
Glover Daniels current clients came as a result of staying in touch with candidates
although we never placed actually them in their new positions. Instead we continued
the personal consultative service, for which Glover Daniels is well known. When
they needed to hire someone or were asked to recommend a professional recruitment
to recruitment consultant they called us instead of the agency that introduced them,
picked up their fee, and then never bothered to call again.
You know whom the prime targets are, so why not invest a few hours talking to them?
Okay, if they have moved on you may only have their home number. But surely one
or two evenings a week on your home „phone, talking to someone who knows you is
still better than making fifty cold calls a day.
In headhunting (executive search) we speak to dozens of new people a week, who
may or may not be motivated to move at that particular time, but because we stay in
contact and build a consultative relationship with them, without becoming a pest by
calling every week, we are at the front of their minds when they are ready to move on
or are looking to retain or recommend a professional search consultancy.
Get closer to your target
Don‟t forget your clients, they can be some of the best people to network with. Your
contact will be speaking to peers in their own organisation as well as senior level
people in other companies, which they come into contact with in either a business or
social situation. A happy and satisfied client speaking on your behalf will be 100
times more convincing than your best salesman.
Be sure to attend some of the many trade shows or forums; they provide excellent
networking opportunities at little or no cost. You can often get to speak directly with
the decision maker without his PA stonewalling or a ringing telephone to interrupt
Always go to the best place to hunt
The importance of client visits should not be overlooked, after all the only real way
you are going to get a clear idea of the culture, ethos and working environment of
your client is to go there and experience it yourself. I was amazed to hear the other
day of a company banning all visits to clients as “ a waste of telephone selling time”,
what a short sighted and desperate attitude! I will watch with great interest to see
whether they survive the recession.
When did your MD last visit your accounts? Not just the major accounts or the big
sales pitches, but the one with the recently completed assignment? I know we can all
claim to have more important things to occupy our days, but what can be more
important than keeping and winning satisfied clients, especially in a recession. Surely
clients are our raison d‟être. Get your MD in to do a quality audit, a great way of
opening new business opportunities or put him in front of the important prospects you
I regularly visit every single client of Glover Daniels and I don‟t just sit in the MD or
HR Director‟s office or the meeting room. I always ask to have a walk around the
area where our candidate will be working, and I make a point of speaking to the
juniors, peers and seniors that they will be working with, so that I can fully describe
the client to prospective candidates. The result is better selected and briefed
candidates attending interviews and increased value add to both candidate and client.
I find that they really appreciate the personal interest shown by the owner of the
business. And in return I keep a good handle on what is happening in the client and
get invaluable feedback on how we are performing.
Get yourself a hunting licence
If you were a client which conversation would you prefer to have? “Got any jobs
need filling? No? OK, I‟ll call you next month” or one which talks about their
business and their market and how it will impact their recruitment plans?
I find clients appreciate the interest shown in their businesses more than a consultant
„heavy selling‟ a CV over the „phone without a real grasp of their current and future
Sure, you have to ask about the immediate opportunities, but don‟t stop there. In my
opinion, sitting down with a client or prospective client and discussing their three, six
or twelve month plans is time well invested. It positions the recruiter as a consultative
partner, rather than a CV seller, and knowing the direction in which your client is
going allows you to become more proactive instead of being completely reactive. So
while your competitors are waiting at their offices for a vacancy list from HR, you,
with the benefit of your hunting licence, present suitable candidates at the appropriate
time, thus stealing the lead.
Exploit your new licence
Proactive recruitment more properly called executive search, is no longer the
hallowed preserve of a select few top London based consultancies. It is becoming
more talked about as an effective recruitment tool, to the point that if everyone Glover
Daniels interviews who claims to be a search consultant, actually was, then the search
industry would be a bit like the SAS; more members than the rest of the army‟s
regiments put together.
If you know what or whom your client will need in the near future it doesn‟t do any
harm to establish some contacts with individuals in their competitors. This can be
done confidentially, without any direct reference to your client at this stage, and if you
let your client know that you are doing this on their behalf, they will know you have a
list of the right candidates. So when they get the green light to recruit, you represent a
short recruitment cycle for them and you should get the assignment. Then you have
only to pick up the telephone to your new contacts and brief them on the opportunity,
which you know will interest them because you have already established their criteria
for any future career move.
And of course proactive candidate calls can always be switched to business
development calls if the contact is not looking to move on, but actually looking to
recruit, widening the essential network.
Reference checks should also be seen as an opportunity to develop new business,
which is why it is crucial to get the name of the candidate‟s immediate manager or
director at the first interview, together with a direct or mobile number to ensure that
you can bypass the usual „gatekeeper.‟ As soon as you know the candidate has done
the deed, you should phone his now ex-boss and offer your services. After all, the
candidates that weren‟t right for the position you just closed may be perfect
replacements for the candidate you just placed. This may be awkward if this was a
headhunted candidate, but possible if they approached you.
One last tip on effective networking, and one that is so often overlooked; don‟t forget
to go back and show your gratitude to the individual that opened the door for you
whether you win the business or not. They will appreciate it and be happy to help you
again. Just picking up the phone or sending over a case of wine, will pay dividends in
Use the weight of your pride
Look at the situation logically, surely one lion on his own has less chance of a
successful hunt than a pride that works together.
Researchers and resourcers, if not fully utilised on current assignments, can easily
focus their tracking skills on profiling target accounts, as opposed to search sites or
candidate calls. Use them as „knowledge managers‟, assisting the business developers
by making sure they are sitting in front of the maximum number of decision makers
each week, well briefed on their client or prospect‟s business and sector issues.
Get the whole team together on a regular basis to “brain dump” all the snippets of
information they have picked up from speaking to candidates, clients and contacts as
well as from trade journals, conferences and exhibitions, Internet sites and discussion
forums. You will be surprised how many “halves” of a new business opportunity you
already have within your team.
When different parts of your team visit the same client (i.e. permanent and contract or
search and contingency), are they keeping their eyes and ears open for every
opportunity for your company or group to cross sell? Are they leveraging every
contact to the full? For example do your temporary consultants always look for an
opportunity to introduce a colleague from the permanent team?
Do you have an organogram of each of your clients and prospects drawn up? When
was it last updated? What about subsidiaries, sister companies or parent holding
companies? Does it have lines drawn to show the relationships between people in
different companies in the group? Does it show where the recruiting activity and
power base actually lays? Don‟t have one? Just ask. You‟ll be surprised how many
clients are willing to share the information, especially if you have a strong
consultative relationship with them.
Finally, are your consultants finishing every single client call by asking, “What else
can we help you with?” Remember, many a barber got wealthy by offering
“something for the weekend”.
Never stop hunting
Don‟t get cold calling and new business development confused. New business
development is about talking with people you already know, or have a good reason
for calling. It should be an ongoing activity, used to open and expand relationships
and not left until you have no business to work on.
In the last few years‟ mediocre recruitment consultants could easily earn significant
money by believing that the candidate was king and clients would just have to pay
whatever was asked if they were to be in with a chance of hiring „their‟ candidate.
Now the crown is firmly on another head. Clients have the power again and, quite
rightly, expect a first class consultative recruitment service instead of paying
thousands of pounds just for a CV to be forwarded.
Consultancies who establish and develop close relationships and strategic partnerships
with their clients and continually seek out new business opportunities within them
whilst widening their networking circle will always survive a recession. Some may
even grow. Which may be one reason why retained search consultancies usually
weather a downturn better than contingency agencies. Of course there are always
exceptions to the rule - before everyone rushes to their email.