Your sales teams work tirelessly to land each and every job order. Every once in awhile, they'll hook a whale - working with a fortune 500 company through the coveted Master Services Agreement (MSA). A single MSA could be worth HUNDREDS, if not THOUSANDS of job orders, and ultimately, millions in revenue each year they are properly serviced.
I personally know several agencies who built their entire company around a single MSA that landed in their laps and happened to be in desperation mode, so it was a feast from day 1.
But landing them isn't typically where the hard work ends... not by a long shot. Job orders come separately, and the challenges your recruiters and sales teams face are numerous. It turns out though, that marketing can actually play a significant role in MSA success, and I'm going to share with you exactly how your department can help.
Why MSAs are so challenging
The process of simply getting an MSA signed can feel like moving mountains. Your salespeople have to jump through several hoops and departments, and face countless rejections along the way.
So, before we review how your department can help, let's review some of the down sides to working an MSA.
- Mark-ups are lower, sometimes 25 - 50% lower than your typical mark-up
- You're competing with 10 - 20 other agencies on any given job
- Working through an MSA often leads to working through a VMS, which can mean zero contact with hiring managers
- New vendors are given very low priority or visibility unless there is an emergency or they are in "desperation mode"
- Procurement is adamant about your company following their rules of engagement - regardless of how effective or ineffective they may be
So, if we're looking at a single job order in a vacuum, it is likely not going to make sense to work with these types of arrangements. And many of your direct competitors have given up on those large accounts - with mandates coming from corporate to focus on the lower-hanging fruit. Meanwhile, others are focusing solely on those large accounts, and getting themselves into a situation where there is MAJOR diversity lacking in their sales portfolio.
Some of our clients built their entire agencies around landing single MSAs with Fortune 50 companies, and they came to me because their once-stable cash cows were making changes to their vendor management systems that made them nervous (and rightly so). It had always been in the back of their minds that they were building a house of cards, but it was becoming increasingly impossible to ignore.
The reality is that it's never good to be in a position like that. What happens when the client decides to "clean up" their vendor list, and your agency happens to be one of those that gets cut?
Another glaring issue is that your recruiters' number 1 strength (building relationships) goes out the window when following the rules, because many places don't allow contact with hiring managers. When job orders DO come through, your agency is a number... and even when hiring managers see your logo or contact information on the resume, your branding power is minimized to nothing without that relationship.
So, after moving mountains to get that signed MSA, procurement will tell them to wait by the phone for jobs to come, but they never come... We had a client that was sitting on a signed MSA for 4 years before we arrived, and they hadn't received a SINGLE job order.
For folks like that, we have some pointed advice that we have helped many utilize through our sales enablement services (read more about that here). But, of course, today, we're talking about ways marketing can help.
How Marketing Can Help
1. Go Niche
If you're still trying to get a piece of every opportunity ever in existence, your messaging is likely not resonating with many. And it's not even good business for you... We like niches because we share resources from placement to placement, AND we get to prove that we are experts in a specific area. Prospects love that... in fact, they often expect it.
Most agencies I talk to have a very niche set of clients, but as they grow and expand, they make the mistake of acting like they can do anything just as well or better than anybody else.
That simply isn't true though, and most of your prospective customers are savvy enough to know this... and because of that, Google, Yahoo, and Bing are also savvy enough to know it as well, and we want those guys on our side (we'll talk more about why later in this post).
2. Arm your sales team with relevant collateral
Once you are niche in your messaging, another great thing you can do to help is provide sales collateral that actually helps your sales team get in front of and stay in front of hiring managers.
The thing is, if they're following the rules of NOT contacting department heads, they're never going to win. So, we have come up with ways to get in front of the right people by bending those rules (sorry mom - and kids, don't even think about throwing this in my face), and when they get somebody's attention, they have a very small window to prove value.
Pitching that your agency has the best candidates or process is not going to cut it. It's a guaranteed flop, actually, and it could put their entire MSA at risk. Pitching at all is likely to fail, particularly when faced with the question, "what makes you different?"
But if you provide them with the right tools, they don't need to pitch at all.
What kind of collateral will help? Let me start with what won't:
- Brochure-esq flyers - These hiring managers do not care about your agency. It's nothing personal, because they really don't care about anybody's agency. They only care about their job and filling their needs. Period. A brochure explaining why your agency is different, spouting off cliche value propositions isn't going to cut the mustard.
- Philanthropic flyers - I get that you have a mission, and that mission extends well beyond your staffing services. And I personally LOVE that about you. And, these big company hiring managers probably also care about doing good in the world as well, but if it's work related, and it doesn't immediately address their pain, it's gobbeldy gook.
So, what kind of collateral does move the needle?
- Salary or rate guides - This is especially true if your agency is super niche. If you're placing HR or admins, they can get that kind of information from Robert Half. But if you're placing something that requires a super-specialized skill-set, it's quite likely that yours could be the only one out there. I know we have certainly created guides that had zero competition, which has led to some pretty awesome engagement and organic leads.
- Calculators - This was big for me when I was running a branch for an accounting & finance staffing agency (plus IT when they finally came around), because I was able to show a formula to department heads that surfaced critical mass for bringing in temporary relief from overtime hours. At some point, it was actually cheaper to use our services than push mandatory OT, and I provided the tool to pinpoint that moment in time.
- Strategy planning guides - Hiring contractors is not always the first thing that pops into mind to a hiring manager when faced with a challenge that you and I know are the best solutions. Again, this is helpful when working in niches, because the more obscure the challenges are, the more valuable your resources become.
We've followed a strong 1-2 punch solution, where our first offer is a "guide to getting started," and the second is a "playbook." We address topical views in the first, and when they are convinced that they know where to begin, we offer the next step of their buyer's journey with a resource that helps them compare your solution with other competing factors.
We do this with Orange Pegs as well (because we love the taste of our kool-aide), and you can see living examples by clicking those links above.
3. Gate EVERYTHING
Don't just give away the milk for free. I know the desire is to get people's eyes on your content, and the easiest way to do this is by simply sending it to them. But let me make the case for putting a form in front of them:
- The minute they convert on one of your forms, they become part of your marketing program. Now, your blog posts can go out to them automatically (with much higher open and click-through rates than if you're blasting them cold), and you can even help nurture them with emails and other offers that pull them through the sales funnel.
- With the right tools in place, you can then track their movements to help your sales people identify engagement (such as visiting a pricing or about us page), and your team identify bottlenecks and successes in the marketing funnel.
- They can track how effective they actually were on that call. An engaged prospect won't have any issues inputting their contact information on a form as long as your form isn't overbearing.
This is one of your best opportunities to engage prospects at the corporate level, and to strip away barriers that inhibit deeper connections.
If you blog about things that your audience cares about, and you plant links to gated offers throughout, your sales people will be able to provide value above and beyond any of their competitors.
But this means going beyond the typical threshold that your competitors are hitting... meaning, go deep. Create content that provides solutions or answers to questions they have. Don't use it as a soapbox to promote your staffing agency. If they like you're content, the natural progression is to download your content to learn more, then use your firm if and when the time is right.
For example, if you're working with Microsoft, blog about things Microsoft is going through, specifically focusing on the departments your agency can staff up. Help them see themselves in your solutions.
5. Get truly social
I love it when I see staffing agencies on LinkedIn and Google Plus... It makes my skin crawl when they just blast advertisements or philanthropic promotions all day though. Again, I have no issues with your mission if it's to make the world a better place... but if the goal is to generate leads and engagement with prospects, then those things aren't going to move the needle.
However, I WILL say that there is a great deal of value in those types of posts when it involves your staff. It engages them, and makes them love being part of your team.
6. Generate leads for them
You can get really targeted when using PPC campaigns on LinkedIn. You can also attract targeted visitors with a niche SEO strategy. Once traffic arrives, I'll go back to a previous point I made about creating blogs and gated content, so you can get people to divulge their contact information in exchange for it.
Don't let your sales team drown in the impossible requirements set forth by procurement when it comes to those holy grail MSAs. If these tips are useful, but you don't have the bandwidth to carry them out, let us see if we can be an extension to your team. Generating inbound lead generation and engagement engines is all we do!