Lucas Hamon Nov 11, 2020 10:54:00 AM 15 min read

How Staffing Agency Sales Teams Should Work the Most Challenging MSAs

Tired of procurement and HR blocking your ability to do your job?

When I was an Account Executive at an IT staffing agency, I landed an MSA (Master Service Agreement) with one of the world's largest tech companies in relatively short order. It wasn't easy (not even remotely so), but through a lot of careful and clever positioning, I was able to get it done.

When it comes to sales, staffing agencies, for the most part, are stuck in the 90s... and these MSAs tend to be some of the more challenging and frustrating landscapes to navigate.

This is how, against all odds (and the wagers upper management placed against me), I was able to turn that MSA into a cash-cow for my agency in less than a month... It's also how Orange Pegs has helped numerous other staffing agencies achieve the same exact results.


I thought the hard part was over after the MSA was signed... But if you're reading this, you're probably laughing at me right now for saying that, because MSAs typically don't mean squat without pre-existing relationships with decision-makers.

Despite procurement telling me that the next step was to wait for them to call me, the phones weren't ringing! They had THOUSANDS of job openings, sometimes posting hundreds of new ones in a single day, but that didn't seem to matter...

It was this exact same problem I encountered with one of our staffing agency clients last year that primarily works with Fortune 50 companies. It's also something I here almost daily from all of you!

So, what is the secret to converting on MSAs? I have a few, actually... 

Rules are for losers

This is hard for me to say, let alone write, edit, read, and dwell on... Because I am a FIRM believer that rules are inherently good and necessary for a sales process to be successful and scalable. I also believe in respecting my prospects' wishes.

But in this case, following the rules is what will often lead you down a deep, dark path of dispair when it comes to pulling job orders from your MSAs, and in most instances where they exist, there are enough hiring managers pulling their hair out because of the constraints placed by the rules, that following them could be the only thing standing in the way of your sales success.

The reason is simple... The rules are there to prevent hiring managers from being bombarded with phone calls from recruiters and salespeople. HR and procurement went to a lot of effort to establish their protocols, and in order for them to feel in control, they're always going to order you to fall in line.

At the end of the day, however, it will typically land on the shoulders of individual hiring managers. THEY are the ones in pain. THEY are the ones who ultimately call the shots, because if the protocols prevent them from being successful, they fail. Period. Failure is not an option, and when the rules intuitively lead to failure, those who truly care about being successful in their roles will break them - actively.

So, when procurement tells you not to call anybody, and a month goes by along with a multitude of job openings, it's time to deviate. You may also see warning signs during the vetting process, when they elude (or flat out tell you) about infighting between them and department heads over this very issue.

Now, the question is how?

1. Find out who, specifically, is hiring

Talk to your recruiters. They know what's going on, because they're interviewing candidates who are exposed to hiring managers every single day. Your recruiters can start asking helpful questions for you, like "who do you report to" or "who did you interview with?"

You can also do some digging on LinkedIn. Find Managers who seem like they would oversee a slew of job postings you're interested in. Make a list.

Selling on LinkedIn isn't hard... unless you do this

With these big companies, the jobs get posted online, so there are no secrets about the openings. All you have to do is connect the dots, and you'll be one of the few salespeople swimming in this lane. Most just blast calls every day with little regard to planning or strategy, because they have activity quotas to hit (I hope you're making note of this, business owners).

2. Connect in other ways before calling

While you're on LinkedIn checking out their profile, make a connection request. Check out which groups they're apart of, and see if you can become visible to them in a manner where you're providing useful information or advice. If you find a post they're commenting on, get involved yourself!

See if they're on Twitter, or if they are apart of any organizations or events that you also attend.

Now, I know the first instinct for a lot of salespeople these days is to immediately slam a new LinkedIn connection with their best pitch, but doing this puts you in the same lane as everybody else, so let me help you soften it up a bit.

Try something more like,

"Hi Jim, thanks for accepting my connection request. I was hoping you could help me find the person in charge of hiring 'ABC position.' I had a candidate tell one of my recruiters about the role, and it sounds like they are having some trouble finding the right people with the resumes being submitted.

We have an MSA with you, and have a pretty deep bench of talent that fits the description, although, I don't exactly why it has been so difficult. Your name has come up on a few different occasions, so I thought you might know somebody responsible for filling it. Would you mind pointing me in the right direction, so we can help identify some quick-wins?"

3. "I was referred to you"

This is where the line gets fuzzy for many. I'm not suggesting that you outright lie, but there are nuances that will help you here, especially if you're like me, and cringe at the idea of building relationships on a lie.

When you do finally pick up the phone, the gatekeeper (if they don't have a dial by name directory, which would be my first stop) is going to do everything they can to prevent you from connecting with your prospect. So, say that you were referred to them. If they press, name drop. It doesn't have to be a name the gatekeeper knows, because how on earth can they keep track of information like that? Use your recruiter's name.

The point is, don't lead with your pitch.

4. Leverage content

Your marketing department may have some really helpful assets for this. Articles, white papers, salary guides, or Excel formulas can go a long way in establishing value and trust.

In addition, you're bringing in a team that is there to make your life easier.

Ideally, your content should be gated. Gating content means that you're sending a link where a form must be submitted before they can have access to it, rather than sending the file directly over. This may not sound intuitive to you, but hear me out...

  1. It keeps your email size smaller, so it's less likely to bounce
  2. It puts your prospect in your marketing team's pool, which means you'll have content coming their way, helping push them through their buyer's journey in addition to your own efforts
  3. It's an act of engagement - filling out a form means that they're not blowing you off with false expectations, and are more likely to remember you and feel confident in your agency

When I was in the sales seat, I unfortunately found myself in a position where our marketing materials didn't reflect the needs of the sales teams. The quality of what they were producing was fantastic, but nobody was asking what we thought prior to producing them, and they didn't bring the value we really, truly needed.

So, I ended up making my own. During the height of the recession, I built out Excel calculators that pinpointed when overtime pay became more costly than bringing in a temporary workforce.

This went a long way with hiring managers, and it also helped them justify spending money on my services when budget was so scarce.

Now, in highly niche staffing, salary guides go a LONG way, as do planning resources or interview scripts & guides for hiring managers who don't pride themselves on their interviewing abilities.

4. Find a single champion, and leverage the hell out of them

When you finally land on somebody who is willing to talk because they're desperate (which will happen more than you may realize), kick some major ass with your placement. Find your best recruiter and make sure they're willing to go the distance to fill it.

But don't wait until it's filled before you ask for a referral. That may never happen. Simply providing high quality service early on will likely get them to make some introductions. But don't be too broad. Ask about specific roles they are likely to know about. Get their juices flowing on the subject, and they will dish.

NOW when you say, "I was referred to you," you have a name that means something. And don't be afraid to ask for direct lines or extensions. Avoid that gatekeeper dance if you can.

CONCLUSION:

MSAs are YUGE business if you can find a way to plug into the framework, but like "experience," you have to have some before you can get any, and that's a paradox that will drive the best salespeople mad.

Interested in learning how we can help your sales teams with challenges like this? Check out our sales enablement services today!

Learn more about our sales alignment and enablement services

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Lucas Hamon

Over 10 years of B2B sales experience in staffing, software, consulting, & tax advisory. Today, as CEO, Lucas obsesses over inbound, helping businesses grow! Husband. Father. Beachgoer. Wearer of plunging v-necks.

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