Protect my agency exclusivity

Hi Dem,

We have worked with a South African division of a very large international company and up to now we have been the only agency this company has called when they needed sales positions. Our relationship has been with the Sales Director, the two Sales managers, and the Group HR Manager. We have filled every position they have asked us to fill. Recently, the parent company has decided to increase the size of the national sales force. They have made us aware of a number of additional positions and the priority with which these positions are to be filled. One of the Sales Managers told us that another recruiter who knew the Sales Director at a former company had been asked to help recruit. We have tried to get the Sales Director to call us back and he has not returned the calls. The Sales Managers are telling us that they are busy with a lot of projects. We have told the Sales Managers and the HR Director that having another recruiter trying to fill the same positions is wasted effort. Since we work in a very specialised market we will all be chasing the same candidate pool. In addition, many of these positions are low level with a reduced fee of 15%. We would like to try get better control of the situation. Obviously we would not like to have the other agency involved. However, we have suggested to the Sales Managers since the Sales Director won't return our calls, that they should assign each vacancy to a specific agency so we are not competing for the same talent pool. Right now we need the business, but we don't like the way we are being treated. What strategy would you suggest?

DEMsays...

Let's adjust your attitude before we adjust your strategy. Both need work.

You are coming across as feeling threatened by this competitor in your email to me. I can only imagine how much worse it is coming across to your Sales Director (which is why he is not calling you back). Here are the facts. This is NOT a reflection on your work or their loyalty. They are expanding fast, and they are hedging their bets in case you cannot handle the workload. So they are giving another agency a shot. They are doing exactly the right thing, and if it were happening to me, rather than what you've tried ("you don't need another agency, we can do it"; "you're going to make it all complicated for your managers"; and the weakest of all, "We're all going to be calling the same candidates"), ouch. If that is your value proposition, then guess what? It makes sense for the company to use the agency who charges the least, since you are essentially saying anyone with market knowledge is as good as anyone else. Your response should be:

"FANTASTIC!! Good choice. We will work hard on this expanding piece of business but we can't promise to cover every candidate in a timely way, and in our experience, competition makes everyone sharper. You are doing the right thing! Now, having said that, if I'm going to compete, let's make sure you understand what exactly I do for you..."

And now comes my NEW value proposition: "We might all call the same people, but the bottom line is, who do they call back? Who knows how to sell a compelling opportunity? Who knows how to qualify whether someone is good or posing, whether someone is serious or shopping? You're not paying for the call, you're paying for what is SAID on the call."

In return for welcoming the competition, I would suggest something. Since your process, training and salesmanship are all proven based on your track record, you would like to ask for the critical positions for a period of three weeks before they are given to your competitor. The lower level ones release to both of you, but you feel you have earned the right to have first dibs on the positions that matter most.

This oozes strength and confidence. Stop feeling like you wish this wasn't happening and negotiate with the reality while you still have leverage.

Dem