Selling People What They Want, Not What They Need

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Last year (in fall of 2019) I took almost 4 months off work to do an experiment. I decided to start a business solving a problem I thought that a lot of people had and wasn’t being addressed.

I made a video course to teach recruiters how to talk to software engineers.

I knew for a fact (as an engineer who gets contacted by recruiters nearly every day) that this was a real problem and the majority recruiters have very little understanding of what the industry they are recruiting for and the people they are contacting.

But, it was a hard sell. Many recruiters didn’t want to learn this stuff. They didn’t see this as valuable and how it translated into more money for them.

I didn’t understand the recruiting industry at first.

I should first explain, the recruiting industry is special in many ways:

  1. The turnover rate is high. Many recruiters wash out of the industry in less than a year.
  2. The customer is the hiring manager, not the candidate.
  3. Much of the industry is made of large firms that are based on hitting numbers and metrics.

They didn’t want it.

The fact was, I was trying to sell people something they need but not what they want. Recruiters wanted more leads. They wanted more replies to their emails.

But, what they actually needed was to understand the industry so they didn’t waste their time contacting the wrong people. Unfortunately, I had to educate my prospective customers about this before I could make a sale.

I tried to create a body of evidence and data using surveys to prove this. I had to do this because I had to convince people.

If you sell a customer a thing they already want, there is no hurdle of convincing them and changing their mind. They know they want it, now it just comes down to product and price. But I tried to do something that requires an argument first.

I couldn’t even figure out how to do advertisements for my course because the google search traffic for the keywords was so low. Recruiters were not searching for the thing I was making!

The big recruiting firms

Just didn’t care. They have training courses and what I was doing was redundant to them. Anyway they didn’t seem to care a whole lot about building relationships. From my perspective (having interacted with these folks a lot as a candidate) they just seemed to care about placing a whole of people really quickly and if that meant emailing and calling a hundred people a day, well that is how it would be done.

To be fair, I’ve spoken to some really nice folks working at the big firms. But I certainly never made any sales, even if I pointed out that they contacted me about a C# job when I clearly had a Java background 🤣.

I was trying to sell to recruiters, but I needed to sell to managers.

Because I didn’t realize the focus on hitting numbers and high wash out rate I started off trying to sell courses directly to individual recruiters.

I realized if I tried to sell to individual recruiters I would have to price the course cheaply and do a huge amount of volume. And I would have to convince every single person that they wanted this thing. I just couldn’t see a way to make it work.

After I understood this I decided to make the price higher and sell to more experienced managers at small recruiting firms. The managers knew that this information would make a difference and help recruiters form better relationships with candidates. The pain point for them was providing this training ad-hoc to every new hire.

These recruiting managers and owners of search firms already understood the need and wanted this because it would save them time in training their new recruiters.

This is how I found the want in the market. I finally started to gain traction.

Then the pandemic hit and hiring and spending slowed! But that’s a story for another time…

Written on June 14, 2020