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!

What do you think? Have your comment below, please.


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About Greg Savage

Over a career spanning thirty years, Greg Savage has established himself as a global recruitment leader. Greg is a regular keynote speaker at staffing and recruitment conferences around the world.

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20 Responses to In recruitment, everybody sells, baby!

  1. Andrew McGregpr November 18, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    Agree whole heartedly Greg, how can a manager really understand what consultants are going through if you are not experiencing it yourself. I manage a full time desk and budget, have my champagne and razor blade moments, but how I approach and manage my desk and day is how consultants around you learn also.

    In addition to the above I attend a minimum of 2 visits per week with the consultants to ensure our clients see who the manager is behind the consultant.

    Stay in the trenches and the consultants will respect you more.

    • Steve Bianchini November 18, 2014 at 11:29 am #

      Totally agree Greg,

      Lead by example and support the troops in the trenches with plenty of ammunition and targets!

  2. Freyja White November 18, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    Yes, yes, yes, I also agree. One of the most frustrating positions I’ve ever held in “the biz” was with a manager who had never made a placement Except for perhaps newbies – we all set our goals and manage our budgets as if it was our own bottom dollar – which of course it is!

    And thank you Andrew for the “champagne and razor blades” expression – haven’t heard it put quite like that before – the truth in it made me laugh out loud.

  3. Julie November 18, 2014 at 11:12 am #

    I agree totally Greg.
    Our industry has changed and it can be tough out there.
    Managers or Leaders in the trenches set a good example.

  4. Paulette Steele November 18, 2014 at 11:59 am #

    Well said Greg. I get the impression you have quite strong views on this too. It’s true though, recruitment is about selling, pure and simple!

  5. Hamish November 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    Could agree more Greg. Reminds me of a previous company I worked for with layers of management (at least 2) and no-one could work out what they actually did all day while the rest of us slogged our guts out!

  6. Tessa Strydom November 18, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

    Walk the talk!

    • Trish Robinson November 18, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

      Well said Greg – it is a fine line that managers walk – mentoring their consultants and allowing them to bill successfully while still being able to put some figures on the board. Also so important to be in on visits to the consultants clients as ultimately these are actually agency clients and should your consultant leave you can easily step into the relationship and the client does not feel abandoned.
      In recruitment if you are not talking to and seeing clients and candidates you will not be making money!

  7. Babs Khanduja November 18, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    Spot on once again Greg! I even set incentives to my consultants quarterly and yearly if they can out bill me! It has cost me a bottle of Vodka, $100 & numerous lunches & vouchers so far! Lead from the front always.

  8. Steve Ward November 18, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

    Fundamentally I agree with this, but I am conscious that as a business grows, you need strategic layer – however these are often positioned as non sales roles, whereas they should be directly aligned to financial results from their actions.
    Same applies to the potential addition of a Social Media Manager – these shouldn’t be just fluffy marketing roles – they should be billers – almost like modern day resourcers, through digital channels but with the extra prowess of being natural and enigmatic social media communicators.

  9. Mark November 18, 2014 at 8:11 pm #

    Mixed opinions on this. I totally agree that a manager should always be selling. Where and how is the bigger issue.

    What the so called recruitment “Guru’s” are saying (and I’ve sat a few courses saying this), is the manager needs to be focused on managing a business though ongoing coaching/development and encouragement. The reason they say this, the training and coaching in a lot of business slides away. And becomes stale – and the manager of said team is the top biller. I took on a team about the time I sat a course saying this, and I did exactly that – let the team bill, me as a manager, I attended meetings (Client), coached, developed – but got on the phones during BD sessions, and sold the business. Didn’t bill, but build through the team.

    Great experiment – that actually increased the teams billings, and not one person left the me in that time. We got to look at it form a sport analogy – there isn’t many player managers left in the world in a professional sport. So no managers are scoring goals on a Saturday. If we apply that thought process into the sales/recruitment world – we get non-billing managers – but with my twist of them being “business developers”.

    I do agree with the Middle management – the area managers, or divisional managers or even the operations managers. Positions of bureaucracy that mean nothing, other than an old boys (or girls) club of semi retired recruiters (of all ages) that show the badge of been there done that, made a few million in billings – look at my house in the nice part of town.. I drive an merc, and holiday twice a year on Richard Bransons island… I don’t have to BD or make money any more – but you do what I say… you know them, there’s a lot of recruitment companies World wide which have a few of these people, companies have had to promote them, or they’ve some how climbed the ranks without a personality or proof of ability. But these people are not the owners, the owners can do what they want. The employee middle to senior managers, where they earn money from looking at spread sheets, pointing a lot and generally being a see you next Tuesday to people for not doing their jobs – but their jobs are blocked by backward, out of date measures that don’t work today.

    And thats where the non-billing manager comes in.. to realign the business, set the targets and KPIs and lead form the front in business development… Brings in business and hands it to the people that can do it (or leg ups a new starter…). A leader that truly knows the methodology of recruitment, and can move with the times. Manages individually to their strengths and weaknesses – never shouts or get angry – or makes people fear their jobs. These people will over time take that old method of management style away. Leaving a business with Business Managers (team managers) then maybe 1 middle manager to take the slack whilst the MD is playing golf. Not 20 middle managers, and 3 senior managers (that must be nearly a million in salaries?).

    That to me is the modern Non-Billing manager. And every company needs one. In my humble opinion. You will save money – not lose it.

  10. John November 19, 2014 at 8:59 am #

    Years ago I worked as a newbie recruiter for a Firm with 51 staff – big by your comments Greg – previously I had always been an accountant and ‘knew’ a bit about figures and profits. At the Xmas party I counted 26 recruiters and 25 ‘hangers on’ – or managers as they were called !! In my inebriated state I mentioned to a couple of non accounting recruiters that the business could not survive. Two years after I left it failed – not because I left, although I was consistently one of the top 3 fee producers – due to the non producers they employed, and paid.
    I love the “Champagne /Razor Blade” comment, which I also had not heard before, so this month Greg I think Andrew gets the gong !

  11. Scott Small November 19, 2014 at 9:08 am #

    Amen Brother Greg. Just glad you used such a nice word so calmly…

  12. Toby Reece December 28, 2014 at 4:21 am #

    Well said Greg. I completely agree

  13. Matt January 2, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

    Totally agree with you on this Greg – Practice what you preach, roll your sleeves up, do what you believe in, paint the picture and go there.

    People will follow.

    If they don’t….well as they say “you can only lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink”

  14. Judy Hofer January 13, 2015 at 8:37 pm #

    I totally agree. You need some back office people to free up the consultants / recruiters to SELL. We have a cost of desk per recruiter and the managers and back office staff need to be “paid” by those who do not sell. This way, everyone wins.

  15. Yuriy Shevchenko March 28, 2015 at 2:29 am #

    So if good recruiters make atrocious managers …….. who should manage?

    • Greg Savage March 28, 2015 at 9:35 am #

      Who said “good recruiters make atrocious managers”…? Where does it suggest that in this blog?

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