In recruitment, everybody sells, baby!

I read recently some ‘recruitment expert’ advising owners of recruitment companies to phase out ‘billing managers’ and to allow a team of ‘dedicated managers’ to simply ‘run’ the business’.

Now, how should I put this as calmly as I can? OK, this will have to do.


In Australia, New Zealand and the UK, 90% of recruitment companies have less than 10 staff. Yes, read that again. Less than 10 staff. It is almost certainly the same worldwide. So what I am going to tell you now most likely applies to you, and indeed I think it applies to much bigger organisations too.

In recruitment, everybody sells. Everybody.

The average billings productivity of (ANZ) recruiters has dropped for 5 consecutive years. (RIB Report – See chart). Do you think the industry, your company in fact, can carry non-billing managers?

 Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 3.59.53 pm

With productivity declining, the last thing you want are ‘administration managers’ poring over spreadsheets, number-crunching, tweaking budgets, checking KPIs all day, planning, strategising, reviewing, assessing and, (God help us!) calling meetings. Of course, most of those things are important. But it’s not a full time job. Except perhaps in the largest of organisations. And even then I doubt it. Why else is it that these roles get cut the moment the market dips? They provide the least value, and everyone knows it.

Everybody sells baby!

The actual ‘selling’ will vary… but everybody sells. CEO included. And when I say ‘sell’, do not automatically think cold calling or relentless ‘hard sell’. Indeed it’s often likely to be sophisticated, and sometimes digital, but the point is, everybody bills, or  directly engages in activity that leads to billing.

The ‘Team Leader’, supervising 1 or 2 people must hold a full personal $ budget. The Manager, running a team of up to 8 consultants, will still bill, but will increasingly farm work out to consultants in support. But that ‘Billing Manager’ still sells, even if s/he is handling just a couple of jobs. The placements dwindle, but they still rain-make, and account manage, and see clients, and front networking events. So, as the team grows, billing drops, but selling does not.

Everybody sells, baby!

In the Global Financial Crisis, this took care of itself, because recruitment companies cut out middle management, and everyone went back on the desk. My advice to you, is do not allow non-billing managers to emerge as things improve.

There are only three things recruitment managers should focus on. They should take up 80% of their time;

Selling (That could be billing. Or rainmaking. Or account management)
Coaching recruiters to greater success.
Performance management, ensuring no long-term mediocrity.

If you have one, your CFO should see clients. So should your HR manager. Why not? They need to be as connected as possible to the ultimate customer surely? Admin staff should be brought into sales meetings. Your senior management should have sales responsibilities, which might include a goal for client meetings, or running key accounts.

When I was CEO of Firebrand, a company with 10 offices in 8 countries, I did my share of selling. In fact I did 100 client visits in 2012, and I also sold via my ‘ambassadorial’ role, speaking at conferences and events where clients and candidates where amongst the audience, and creating PR and branding opportunities.

This very blog was born as I grappled with ‘social selling’ in the early days.

It’s a skill to handle selling and leading people. It’s not easy to find people who can manage both. But who ever told you it was going to be easy to run a great recruitment company that makes lots of money and provides real careers?

It’s difficult. But it can be done. And it must be done unless you want a fat layer around your middle.

I am not talking about your physique. ( How could I? Look at me). I am talking about your business; bogged down by overpaid middle management who do not really impact profitability, except in as much that they reduce it.

Everybody sells, baby!

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