January 16, 2020

Staffing Sales Success Isn’t About Datasheets and Capabilities. Storytelling Is Selling.

Here we are at the opening day of VMSA East 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, and already the event has kicked off with a prescient theme. No, it’s not that most MSPs have renewed their focus on scouting suppliers who are skilled in filling light industrial roles, although that need definitely exists. It’s about the nature of how we in the industry sell our solutions. Transactional approaches no longer matter in a century consumed by innovation and the rediscovery of passion, meaning, and purpose in our work. As executive leadership coach Carmine Gallo noted in his keynote address, sales is predicated on persuasion—whether we’re pitching our services to MSPs or clients, making a case to investors, recruiting talent to our programs, and everything else under the sun. So what’s the secret that unleashes our power of persuasion? Storytelling.

Show, Don’t Tell. Tell, Don’t Sell.

We all love a good story, right? History itself is a system of tales—chronicles of events, parables, myths, and beliefs told to localized groups of people who then spread them through an evolving process of oral, written, and digital media. Stories capture our imaginations. And for that reason, compelling stories have great power in driving recruitment marketing success. Superb storytelling can enhance our efforts to engage and recruit the best candidates on the market.

Once Upon a Time...

As Henry DeVries wrote in Forbes of Jeremy Hsu’s intriguing Scientific American article, a good yarn holds tremendous sway and influence: “Storytelling is a human universal, and common themes appear in tales throughout history and all over the world. The greatest stories -- those retold through generations and translated into other languages -- do more than simply present a believable picture. These tales captivate their audience, whose emotions can be inextricably tied to those of the story’s characters.”

Shortly after Hsu’s piece was published, marketing researchers at Vanderbilt University discovered that test audiences in an advertising study responded more favorably to ads conveyed in a narrative format rather than just those listing the comparative benefits of a product or service. “Studies such as these,” DeVries observed, “suggest people accept ideas more readily when their minds are in story mode as opposed to when they are in an analytical mind-set.”

It’s true, data now drives the focus of organizational leaders in the staffing industry. We concentrate on metrics, key performance indicators, Big Data, and people analytics. And that information is instrumental...behind the scenes. Our recruiting strategies, however, must continue to promote and champion our client’s employment brand. It’s not enough to provide candidates with compensation figures, numbers about the company’s growth, or competitive rankings. We have to engage them, entice them, and inspire them. That means detailing culture, opportunity, vision, mission, and development. In short, our success often hinges on our ability to tell a captivating story.

Your Recruitment Marketing Story in Three Acts

Employers don’t need to head back to school and study up on the elements of fiction or the complex mechanics of literary analysis. Stories that resonate come from the heart and speak to the motivations and aspirations of an intended audience. Anyone can spin a majestic yarn by following three fundamental rules for constructing a good plot.

Joseph Campbell will always be remembered as one of the world’s most masterful and cherished mythologists. His groundbreaking 1949 work “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” introduced us to the concept of the monomyth—the hero’s journey. It’s the very template on which most great tales are based. To summarize, using Campbell’s own words, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Our stories to candidates can easily conform to these ideals. There’s a villain, a hero, and a mentor. There’s a journey that must take place across paths fraught with obstacles. There’s a wise and experienced leader to help guide the young hero. There are magnificent opportunities that await, which can better the situation of every stakeholder at the successful conclusion of the adventure. This is the employment story for candidates—their heroic journey. And because contingent talent are usually brought aboard to tackle projects or conquer specific challenges, the concept of a quest seems fitting.

The Villain

In this instance, the villain isn’t an individual or supernatural presence. It’s a situation, an obstacle, a greater problem that must be overcome. Introduce your prospective hero to the client’s villain. It could take the form of skills deficits, stalled innovation, a lack of diversity, the status quo, the need for fresh perspectives, an aggressive competitor, or other obstacles on the road to progress.

Paint a vivid portrait of the issues facing the client and the rewards to be gained by solving them. Give your talent something to champion, a shared mission they can rally behind as vital contributors who will learn new skills and refine their abilities along the way.

The Mentor

Every memorable hero’s tale involves a mentor. This role belongs to a learned and experienced veteran who will provide guidance, inspiration, training, and direction. The Hobbits had Gandalf, who himself relied on the insights of Galadriel, a mighty elven queen. King Arthur sought counsel from the wizard Merlin. Buffy the Vampire Slayer learned from Giles. Luke Skywalker became the most powerful Jedi thanks to the lessons bestowed on him by Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Exceptional recruiters and staffing leaders can be ideal mentors to candidates. They possess the tools, the acumen, the experience, and the people skills to fit top talent to highly engaging assignments. They lead with empathy. They serve as advocates, facilitators, coaches, and negotiators. They give talent a voice and lend talent an ear. Here are some ways they achieve results.

  • Take a genuine interest in the personal and professional aspirations of their people, and help steer them toward paths that lead to attaining those goals.
  • Recognize the efforts, contributions, and achievements of their candidates.
  • Schedule time to talk with candidates, explain client needs, prepare them to ace interviews, and help them understand the opportunities that come with each role.
  • Have meaningful interactions and actively listen to responses.

The Heroes

Your top candidates don’t want to battle villains alone. Show them the strength of the team members who will support them through the quest. Think of the rebels in Star Wars, Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Rings, the crew of the Starship Enterprise, and the band of friends who worked alongside Buffy to slay all those undead monsters. Victories are achieved by teams of heroes.

Also consider how diverse those teams tend to be. In the stories we relish, we often find that our valiant groups include a broad swath of society—members who represent different genders, races, ethnicities, cultures, and experiences. Together, their diversity brings greater strength and value to the mission.

The best way to highlight the exceptional workplace culture and employment brand of your candidates is to tell the stories of your clients, your experiences with them, and the testimonials of past workers you’ve placed there. Even better, encourage a social media campaign—driven by other workers—that allows them to tell their stories directly.

Telling Your Tale

When crafted well, there’s a truth being revealed in stories, one that reaches out to us in a more visceral way, without obscuring the real message. It draws us in and inspires us. Stories embody the challenges we want to overcome, the contributions we long to make, and the heroes we one day hope to be. For workforce professionals, treat your candidates and clients to a meaningful story during the recruitment process, not just a list of numbers and duties. That’s how staffing and recruitment heroes rise.

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay.

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