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December 11, 2017

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The Weakest Link

Remember the game show from a few years back called The Weakest Link? You may recall the show's host tersely dismissing contestants with her signature phrase, "You are the weakest link…good bye." So how is this relevant to your business?

Well, think about your reputation in the market. You are known by your service. You are known by the words and actions of your sales people. You are known by the ways you promote your firm and how you communicate with clients and candidates. And to an extent, you are seen as being only as good as your weakest link.

I'm just returning from the Affiliated Staffing Group's Fall meeting in Tucson. At the meeting I had the opportunity to teach a workshop on marketing planning to about 50 owners and key managers. As I discussed planning strategies with these staffing executives, I began to think back to that show The Weakest Link, and the tremendous negative impact our "weakest links" have on our businesses and the entire staffing industry.

The most common weakest link: inconsistency

Every business has a weakest link. In most small firms, the weakest link is inconsistency. A company may have terrific people and provide great service, but more often than not we see that their promotional tools don't match the image they want to portray. For example, a company may set the highest standards for quality, yet their web site looks like they spent $1.98 developing it. Or a company may develop a new corporate identity, yet send out old, outdated materials because they don't want to waste money by throwing the old stuff out.

But continuity gaps aren't limited to marketing materials. We also see inconsistencies between what the sales team says and what the service people deliver. We see inconsistencies between offices, and we even see inconsistencies between what the owner says and how the receptionist answers the phone.

So what's wrong with a little inconsistency? Everything! Think about how prospects evaluate your services. They are looking for a vendor they can trust—a firm they can count on to get their orders right, but they can't determine the quality of your service by talking to you, so they look for signals. What happens when the message your sales person delivers doesn't match the message they get from your web site, your e-mails or even the look of your stationery? The answer is the prospect begins to question the truth of your claims. They begin to doubt that you are who you say you are. They see signals that cause concern.

Take a look around your organization. Is everything you say and do consistent with the image you want to portray? Look at your people, your processes, and your marketing materials. Look at how you sell and how you service. Look at every point of contact with your customers and candidates. Are they 100% consistent?

The bottom line is that inconsistency makes it harder to close sales and recruit candidates. In the market, you will be judged by all your points of contact. People will only see you as being as strong as your weakest link.

The most expensive weakest link: positioning

While inconsistency is the most common weakest link, by far the most challenging…and costly…is positioning. What I mean is that most companies in the industry do not have a clear and distinct positioning message. As staffing executives, we don't do enough to differentiate our services from the competition, and as a result we are seeing more commoditization of our services and increasing pressure on our margins.

What makes your company better than the competition? If you said quality or service, then you're giving the same answer that 90% of the industry gives. The reality is that most staffing firms do and say the same things. It's not that every firm is identical, it's that there isn't anything specific, any unique value, that firms are offering to truly separate themselves from the crowd.

Your challenge is to proactively determine how you want your business to be seen. And then you have to find a way to clearly and concisely communicate that message to the market. Big companies focus on owning specific words. For example, Domino's Pizza owns delivery. Wal-Mart owns low prices. What do you own? What do you want to own?

Unfortunately, there is no easy or right answer to this question. However, you can find some ideas, including more than 20 ways to differentiate your services, in past issues of The Idea Club. Here are links to a two of the articles:

Become a Market Leader

Stand Out from the Crowd

The most unnecessary weakest link: communication

Here's a test for you. Send an e-mail to everyone on your staff with one simple question: How do we want to be seen by our customers? Ask people to give you their feedback without conferring with others. I think you'll be astonished at the variety of answers you receive, and how many of those answers offer vague value propositions like "quality leader" or "we're the best."

Ideally, you want everyone in your organization, from the receptionist to the CEO, to answer this question the same way. You want to have a clear and distinct company identity that completely permeates your organization.

So why don't most companies have this clear image? There are two answers to this question. First, most companies have never clearly defined their unique positioning message. While almost every staffing firm has a mission and/or vision statement, most of them are overly long and contain too many vague generalities. No one can remember a positioning message that's a paragraph long. You need to make sure that the message you want to deliver is concise, ideally like a billboard – 7 words or less.

The second problem with positioning is that it is not something companies say, it is something companies live. It all starts with the CEO. The CEO sets the vision, defines how his or her organization will be seen in the market (hopefully with input from clients and internal staff), and determines how the organization lives its identity on a daily basis.

The real answer is that it's all about constant and consistent communication. Your image is something you live. It's something that should be built into your sales and service procedures. It's something that should be regularly discussed, and when any activity or person's actions are in conflict with that image, a change must be made.

Your image is something that needs constant reinforcement…and a zero tolerance policy when it comes to anything that conflicts with the way you want to be seen.

Simply put, you need to say "Good Bye" to your weakest links.

- David Searns

David Searns is a member of the StaffingU Adjunct Faculty and is President of Haley Marketing Group, a relationship marketing services firm specializing in the staffing industry. Haley Marketing offers a unique relationship marketing process that helps staffing and search firms to stand out, stay top-of-mind, and win more business. They offer a range of services to satisfy the marketing needs (and budgets) of most types of staffing firms.

For more information about Haley Marketing, please visit www.haleymarketing.com.