How can sales teams succeed in the new landscape for staffing firms? How are successful firms adapting in an industry that has been radically disrupted by COVID-19? Bullhorn’s Rob Goguen talked to Jason Leverant, President and COO of AtWork Group to learn how they’ve managed to grow since the pandemic.
Rob Goguen (RIX): I l know your team is seeing some really great year-over-year growth. How are you seeing things change on the sales side since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis?
Jason Leverant: When we looked at the year and obviously everything that was happening with COVID-19; there was a tremendous amount of uncertainty that was present in every sector of the economy and every market. Nobody really knew what the future was going to hold because this is truly unprecedented.
But one thing we realized in our strategy meetings and planning is that, at the end of the day, uncertainty drives demand for staffing services.
That’s the nature of our service that we bring to our customers. When they’re unsure about what might be going on, what better place to determine when they have a hiring need than to a staffing agency. And so with that in mind, you know, we kept the gas pedal on sales activities and growth and development activities, knowing that while everybody is pulling back, that it was going to turn and change for the better.
“At the end of the day, uncertainty drives demand for staffing services.” — Jason Leverant, AtWork Group
When we looked at what was happening throughout the country with the shutdown of the economy, it was not an event that was tied to any one specific industry that was over-inflated. The demand for talent didn’t change; there wasn’t an industry that bust.
There wasn’t a situation where we had to reach a population of employees that were repositioning. To an extent, you could say that in hospitality, but at the end of the day, we knew that there was going to be an end in sight. So we kept pushing from a sales perspective. It’s hard because you’re dealing with unprecedented times and people are examining everything that’s going on and really being discouraged by it. That’s an area that we’ve found as an opportunity area. How do we, you know, keep the momentum going?
RIX: Can you share anything you did to keep your sales teams motivated, especially, long-tenured team members who are used to doing things a certain way?
Jason Leverant: That was the challenge. When we looked in that mirror, we’ve always attempted to position AtWork as a more service-focused approach to staffing, as many other staffing firms do. But part of that was the human interaction and personal touch we provided.
That true local ownership that we brought to the table helped differentiate us. By taking out some of that personal aspect, at least temporarily, we’ve had to suspend our outbound door-to-door and face-to-face engagements and pivot to more virtual engagements.
It was challenging because a lot of our salespeople felt that they sold best when they were face to face. But we adapted. We are really fortunate because we were in the midst of shifting over to a virtual engagement platform for all of our email communications with Microsoft Teams and we’ve embraced them for years.
“We wanted to make sure we gave the people that were charged with making these outbound interactions the tools and resources that they needed.” — Jason Leverant, AtWork Group
Having a platform that was natively baked into our core infrastructure was very helpful. So the timing couldn’t have been better on that front. We focused on communication and we focused on providing tools and resources, scripting, and templating to give our sales teams and our franchise owners. We wanted to make sure we gave the people that were charged with making these outbound interactions the tools and resources that they needed. We had to quickly fill those gaps.
All of our strategy was based on going into a market knocking on doors and talking with people face to face that had to stop and change. So communication was critical. We underwent very fast-paced training and development and prioritized getting those resources to our key people. While it’s not any kind of secret sauce, the key is always execution. We executed very well and the results have spoken for themselves.
RIX: That’s a challenge that we’ve seen a lot: getting people the right resources. It sounds straightforward to give people tools, but it never is that easy, especially when you’ve established a way of doing something. So that’s great.
Can you tell me about any unexpected positive developments you’ve seen in the new remote world of work?
Jason Leverant: It’s funny because everybody was shifting to this idea of working from home, even pre-COVID-19, it was seen as a big potential advantage. It was a selling point for recruiting as the economy continued to remain hot in that unprecedented 10 years of positive momentum.
Recruiting was challenging because our unemployment levels were unbelievably low. People were starting to pitch the work-from-home concept as a big positive.
This event, which has forced organizations to modernize and forced them to build their technology infrastructure will only help the staffing industry and the economy in the future.
You’re taking down these physical geographic barriers of where employees and the workforce need to be and you’re opening it up so you can be more comfortable with leveraging talent.
Our corporate team is based here in Knoxville, Tennessee. We used to be very adamant that you have to be in Knoxville, Tennessee. Now we can take that down; we feel a lot more comfortable with how we manage and how we gauge the technologies we have to open those boundaries. A lot of firms are starting to see that, realizing, “Wow, this is a nice component.’
We’ll see in the long term how that impacts employee morale, employee engagement, employee retention culture, and more. Those are all big question marks that have to be determined.
RIX: Your teams have been experiencing tremendous growth and have been able to traverse these crazy times pretty well. Any advice for sales teams trying to achieve this?
Jason Leverant: Remain resilient. There’s a lot of negative things going on right now in the US and in the world, but keep focusing on elevating your brand and elevating the industry. A rising tide lifts all ships. So we always try to engage and act in a way that elevates the staffing industry. I know how we perform in the industry, but it takes resilience. It takes commitment to get out there and continue. if you’re in a sales role, keep selling, keep pushing. You may get a lot of rejections but keep pushing.
And on the recruiting side, it may be difficult. You may be a desk full of open requisitions and you can’t get them filled, but keep recruiting. The pendulum swings both ways. It will start swinging your way. Keep your nose on the grindstone and provide good service.
“We look in the mirror and Identify with the fact that we are a service provider to our customers and to our talent.” — Jason Leverant, AtWork Group
The industry continues to maintain a pretty negative reputation because there are some players out there that aren’t focused on service. We look in the mirror and Identify with the fact that we are a service provider to our customers and to our talent. Have a firm commitment to service and that will elevate the perception of the industry and your brand.
RIX: Final question: Those relationships seem to have been key to being successful in this landscape. Staying on top of them and keeping them now as strong as possible has gone a long way. On the management side of things, Is there anything you’re instructing your leadership to do differently?
Jason Leverant: We want to keep our teams motivated and that’s really key. We can talk about resilience, but if you’re out in the market and hitting it hard, and it can be challenging at times and people can get discouraged. We want to do everything we can to retain the talent that we have in branch. How do we keep them positive?
It’s so important to not forget that fact and they’re the ones who are executing out in the marketplace. So how do we keep these players motivated? How do we keep them focused on the positive and keep them happy and in their roles? That’s been the top priority for management.
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