David Searns, CEO of Haley Marketing, on Relationship Marketing for the Staffing Industry and the Power of Purpose

David Searns, CEO of Haley Marketing, on Relationship Marketing for the Staffing Industry and the Power of Purpose

In State of Staffing by Caitlin Delohery0 Comments

In this episode, David Folwell, President of StaffingHub, sits down with David Searns, the CEO of Hayley Marketing, to talk about the evolution of inbound marketing, the power of knowing your purpose, and how hating cold calls changed his life.

Folwell: All right, I’m here today with David Searns, who is the CEO of Haley Marketing, a Wharton MBA, and has over 20 years of experience providing consulting and marketing services to staffing firms. Welcome to the show, David.

Searns: Thanks, David. Glad to be here, and I’m glad you said that it was only 20 years.

Folwell: Well, what are you at now?

Searns: Well, let’s see. Next year, 2021, will be the 30th class reunion from my MBA.

Folwell: Oh wow. All right, so 30 years beat. So needless to say, you know staffing well and will have some insights during our conversation today.

Searns: Yeah, hopefully one or two.

Folwell: One other thing, I pulled this off of your website, and this resonated with me because it’s actually the exact same reason that I got into marketing, but it was a true or false, so I answered, I’m not sure if I got it right, but so David got into marketing because he really hates cold calling. Is that an accurate statement?

Searns: You saw the two truths and a lie on a website, and that is absolutely one of the truths. So quick side story, got out of graduate school. My background was not in marketing, my background was actually in IT, and that was my undergraduate degree. I worked for a large bank before going to get my MBA, and I was in the IT department, got out of school, you know you get your MBA, and they hand you a diploma that says, “You know how to do everything.” It’s actually in the small print on your MBA.

Folwell: Yeah, you don’t.

Searns: And so, of course, I started a software company with my wife, and as my dad liked to remind me, that’s where I got my real MBA, those couple of years, and had no marketing strategy, no ability to do sales, was making cold calls. I sucked. And yeah, so I got into marketing because I was so bad at cold calling.

Folwell: That is amazing, and ironically the same reason that I jumped into marketing. My first job out of school, I was handed a list of people to call, I studied finance but ended up in a cold calling job, and I remember thinking this is terrible, and figured out email automation got me out of the cold calls, and I was sold. So same boat, same path into the marketing world. That’s great.

Searns: Yeah, you’re just a generation later, so you had email automation. 

Folwell: Yeah, our email automation at that time was uploading CSVs to Microsoft Outlook, and doing it on a weekly basis too, and then pulling the people out manually.

Searns: I like it.

Folwell: So it was semi-automated. More so than alternates. All right, so why don’t you just tell me a little bit about your background. I know you jumped in a little bit there. We know you have almost 30 years of experience in staffing now, and then also why you started Haley Marketing.

Searns: Sure. Without getting into too much detail, I grew up in a family staffing business, so Mom and Dad ran a staffing agency from ’68 to ’98. Actually ran multiple. Did the typical entrepreneur, grow it, sell it, wait your noncompete, do it again. Got to see them do that, and so sitting round the dinner table growing up, the conversations were always the same. “How do we get our sales people to make more calls? How do we get our recruiters to do things?” Back in the day, early as my parents, there were no ATSs, there were no CRM systems, but the challenges were the same that staffing companies even face today. And so back in 1993, I happened to hear a speaker, a guy by the name of Jim Cecil, and he talked about this concept he called Nurture Marketing, and it was all about don’t sell to people, nurture them. Try to position yourself like a physician so that when the customer has a problem, a pain, they go to the doctor, the doctor recommends the drugs to take.

You don’t question the doctor and ask for three different bids on those drugs, you just go to the pharmacy and pick up your pills. Said you want to position your business like that physician, the trusted advisor. And his Nurture Marketing was all about that, and so I went to Mom and Dad and I said, “This is really cool. You got to implement this in your staffing company.” And to end a long story, they basically said, “No, you got to implement this in our staffing company.” So I shut down the failed tech startup I had coming out of graduate school, jumped in as Mom and Dad’s director of marketing in 1993, and started to take Jim Cecil’s Nurture Marketing and implement it in their little family staffing business. And after doing that for three years, we said, “Hey, we’re onto something here,” and we spun off and started a new business. My wife and I launched Haley Marketing as an offshoot of Mom and Dad’s staffing company, and that was in August of 1996, and 24 years later, here we are today.

Folwell: Wow, that’s amazing. And just out of curiosity, not to talk about the failed tech company, but I think we learn a lot from our failures. Are there any specific or meaningful lessons that you took with you from that experience?

Searns: Oh, some biggies. Number one is know how you’re going to market, and having a great product without a marketing strategy is a recipe for frustration and failure, and another one is we had a product that was tied to another vendor. Much the way we’re in the marketplace today for Bullhorn, but at that time our product was solely dependent on that bigger vendor. And we went in with an understanding that we’d be able to market to their customers, and we got our product developed, we got it done, we went back to this bigger company and said, “We’re ready. We got this cool product. We’re ready to talk to your customers.” And they said, “Who told you, you could talk to our customers?” I’m like, “What?” So without a not only marketing strategy, but a distribution strategy, you’re up a creek as a business startup. So those were big lessons that I learned to do my due diligence before jumping into any new product.

Folwell: Makes complete sense, and I’ve seen a lot of companies jump in with the, “Hey, this product’s the best,” and it’s like well, if you don’t have the channel to market, you don’t have the sales team that are marketing, good luck. So it’s actually kind of amazing, essentially I’m a big HubSpot proponent, have been part of their program for quite a while, and it sounds like you were doing inbound marketing starting in ’93. It’s pretty much the same concept. I mean clearly it worked for your family, so you’ve decided to roll it out to other staffing firms, but how would you describe the success? Do you call it inbound then?

Searns: No, we called it relationship marketing back then, based on a book called One to One Marketing, where they talked about relationship marketing, but it was content in inbound. And what we were doing, if you think about the timeframe, even things we take for granted today, emailing, so most companies in the mid ’90s had emailing for internal systems, but it was pretty rare to use it as a vendor trying to get into a business. It wasn’t until the late ’90s that email exploded. And so we did direct mail. We wrote really cool content, we stuffed it in an envelope, we put a personal cover letter on it to make sales reps look like they were being really good about followup, and we managed the process for them. And the business actually took off really quickly. This was the boom of the dot-com era, so we grew a ton year over year, but as you might understand from a tech company or a startup company, growth doesn’t mean profit, so we were growing, but we were spending more than we were growing every year, and we weren’t making any money.

It took us almost five years to figure out how to actually make money in the business, and that profit mattered, not just growth, but our lessons, as we’re doing the Nurture Marketing, it worked, we were listening to customers, and one of our real big jumps into technology was in 1999, and one of our clients in Chicago said, “David, this Nurture Marketing is really great. We have a marketplace with 1,000 staffing companies. We have a team with 50 outside sales people, and this consistent sharing of content is totally differentiating us. It’s making us look like an expert, it gives us more to talk about on sales calls, but David, it’s 1999. People don’t want mail, they want everything via email. Can you please deliver this via email?” And that was our jump into tech, because of course I said, “Of course, we can.” And then I went to my wife and said, “How are we going to do this via email?”

And we ended up having to build our own platform to manage the email delivery, and that’s a service we still have today, called HaleyMail, is our email marketing engine that email’s not even the big piece anymore, it’s a way to do content marketing where we can really centrally manage the distribution of content across every one of our client’s accounts using this platform, something we didn’t know we were creating that was going to be that important in 1999, it was just a way to do the email marketing. Today, it’s really a key to the way we can deliver one to many content.

Folwell: That’s incredible, and that actually leads me into the next question and topic that I want to jump into.  Looks like I’ve just triggered my Alexa here, so hopefully that’s not too loud. Talking about the digital transformation, and I think that what you’re talking about is some of the early stages of the digital transformation, and this year with the pandemic, actually the preface of this, I saw, it was on Reddit, it was a quote or a question, “Who led the digital transformation for your business, your CEO, CMO, or COVID-19?” And I think for a lot of companies recognizing the importance of shifting to digital and shifting business operations to digital, how would you define the digital transformation? What have you seen that’s been interesting this year?

Searns: Yeah, great question. The digital transformation, I love that question, who led it? So first it was our customers, going back to 1999, but this year with COVID, it made us realize how many things we were doing that were still very manual, still very labor dependent, and particularly in our back office, still very paper based. And we were in the process, it’s one of those projects, especially when you get to back office projects, they’re not revenue driving, they’re about service efficiency, so you never get to them. You’re always focused on the shiny new thing that’s for the client. Well, COVID-19 said we have to, we have to completely gut how our billing systems work, we have to gut a lot of things to background, and it has forced us to take some big strides, some of which very seamlessly, some of which tripping over our toes trying to figure out what to do in terms of that back office process automation.

Also, you mentioned HubSpot. We’ve been using CRM in marketing automation platform for years. We like the platform we’re on, but it doesn’t take it to the level that HubSpot would. And usually our big reservation, I think HubSpot’s the platform to be on, but the cost to have the platform for many of our clients that are small to mid-size companies, it’s prohibitive. We’ve been looking for alternatives to HubSpot for ourselves, we could afford to be on it, but since a lot of our clients, we’re trying to find something that will work for everybody, but that automation of communication, you’re seeing so much of it in the staffing industry, whether it’s Herefish and Sense, staffing referrals, automating the touchpoints, it’s big in every business. We want to get rid of the things that are necessary but not adding value that lead to more meaningful human interactions.

Folwell: Yeah, I completely agree, and I was just going to say I think that conceptually Herefish and Sense are the HubSpot of staffing. It’s kind of the tailored HubSpot of staffing, and there are a lot of firms that I think use both, but they are filling that void. And I think you guys do a lot on that front, I mean your content distribution platform, it sounds like, plays in that same arena where you’re making sure you’re getting emails out, and content out in an ongoing way as well. What actions do you think staffing firms are going to need to take? I mean I think, to your point, I’m kind of shifting from back office, people are always focused on, “We need to get more talent,” and then it’s, “All right, well now we need more clients,” and then this year’s happened and now it’s, “We need more clients”

Searns: Down, up, down, up, down.

Folwell: Yeah, now it’s, “We need more clients,” which will eventually be talent again, but in the meantime it’s also we are going to take action on the back office operations. But what actions do you think people need to take in the staffing industry or actions have you seen that are doing a great job to win the digital transformation?

Searns: So I wouldn’t start with the technology, I would start with looking at your client and candidate experience, and talking to your customers. So I would talk to my customers first. “Tell me everything you love about working with staffing companies and everything you hate. Let’s look at all the places there are friction. Placing a job order, vetting the candidates, doing the interviews.” Where’s the friction in the process for the customer? And then I do the same thing for the candidate. “Okay, you’re looking for a job. That’s kind of a crappy process. No-one likes looking for a job. So tell me about what your experience has been, not just with us, with end employers. What’s good about the job hunt? What’s bad about it?” And then I would look at how can we improve that experience. Some of it’s by having more human touch where human touch is needed.

Some of it’s more automation, whether it’s a chatbot on your website that can handle basic increase 24/7, or a live chat so I can be having conversations, particularly when you deal with the generation under 30, that they don’t want to be on email, they certainly don’t want to be on the phone, but if you don’t have an intelligent response to live chat they’re onto the next client. I need to put that in there. One of those touch points, the followup calls, and this is where the Sense and the Herefish come in, those arrival calls, the first day calls, “Is everybody happy?” Am I getting my net promoter feedback? A lot of that can be fully automated, and people are happy when that’s automated. And I saw a stat that I heard on a podcast, I’m a fan of Chad and Cheese, I don’t know if you listen to those guys.

Folwell: Yeah, of course.

Searns: If you don’t like four letter words, don’t listen. But they’re always talking about the bots and how candidates have said they prefer the automated interaction even over the human interaction, as long as it answers their questions. So I would start though with that service experience, and start to identify my points of friction, my gaps, and then any time I have a point of friction, I would say how can I make it easier? How can I make it faster? Or how can I just make it more fun? The example I use with our team here is I say we think about process. You can’t always eliminate everything that sucks about process. So think about going to Disney World. When you think about going to Disney World, you’re going to expect to do what? Wait in line. So Disney said, “We’re not just going to have people wait in the hot sun in line, we’re going to build a winding queue that you can’t really see how long the wait is because when you see how long the wait is, that increases your stress.

And we’re going to put TV screens up all over the place, and we’re going to pay a ton of money to have big name and secondary tier actors and animators entertain you while you stand in line.” Well, that’s a lot of thought to the service experience of waiting in line. And are we thinking about the same process? What’s it like when you submit a resume? What’s that black hole feel like? What’s it like when I send in a referral? What’s it like when I have to vet 50 candidates to make a hire? Or even the top five, the staffing company, how easy have you made it for me? So I think there’s so much technology that can make that experience better if we start with where are the pain points and not just with what’s the shiny new technology, because that may or may not be the answer.

Folwell: Yeah, and I do see a lot of staffing firms that chase what’s the shiny new thing. I’ve even been at fault of it many times on my own. I’m a tech guy, so it’s like this is new and exciting. Let’s spend some time on this.

Searns: Guilty.

Folwell: But if it’s not solving the real business problem, it’s not the right business problem, you’re not solving the right problem. And the Disney example’s great from a perspective of how do you improve the experience, and I do think submitting resumes, I mean I don’t know if the stat still stands, but a few years ago it was an average time spent on a resume was three seconds per resume. I mean and you’re sitting there as a candidate spending hours, thinking that you’re going to get somebody that actually spends time looking through your resume.

Searns: Agonizing over that one word.

Folwell: Yeah, and the there’s three seconds. So yeah, I think there’s a whole lot of room for improvement just in that process as it stands. Do you have any other examples that are staffing specific that you think are best in class or best practices that you’ve seen in terms of being innovative for improving the experience?

Searns: Well yeah, some of the best in class, I’m going to go back to the one example being the chatbots. I know the cost of some of the higher end bots, Amaya and Elio, can be prohibitive. You’re looking at a very significant investment. Excuse me one second. But can we look at ways to build a workflow where you have the bot answering some basic questions, and then you’re providing more information to the candidate to help them with the process? So I’m going to give one I haven’t seen an example of, but I think staffing companies should be doing, so I’ve just become a huge fan, my entire staff is completely sick of hearing me talk about a book I just read, they actually hate whenever I read a book because I love trying to apply, and the book was called They Ask You Answer. And it’s written by a guy named Marcus Sheridan. He’s talking about the basis of really good marketing is anticipating the questions people are going to ask you and answering them.

And he said that’s the foundation of SEO, it’s the foundation of really good sales, but the example that he gave that I think staffing companies could use is think about what a candidate’s like when they’re thinking about looking for a job, “How do I apply? What happens after I apply? How should I prep for this interview?” that are questions that a staffing company answers 10,000 times. And historically a recruiter gets on the phone and answers the question, or sends an email and answers the question. What staffing companies should be doing more of, and most are not yet, is using a medium like we’re doing right now, a video. Let me record a video where I answer that question, take the recording and then, through my chatbot, when someone asks a question, the bot shares the video that answers the question. It’s on my website, it’s on a YouTube channel.

So I should be using video in my service process and in my sales process to better anticipate and answer questions so that I can create a better experience where the candidate’s being shown exactly what to expect, how to prep, how to get ready for the interview, how to work with the staffing company, how to work with the end employer without the staffing company having to repeat the service over and over again. It’s that kind of automation that even the Sense and Herefish, which are mostly email and text based communication, really got to get to more video communication as a way to convey information.

Folwell: I couldn’t agree more, and I mean the performance of video on LinkedIn and Facebook, I mean for those that are following social media stats, but it is pretty wild, a 15 to 30 second video on LinkedIn is going to get five times the traction of just a normal post on average. I mean it’s pretty crazy. So not only is it the engagement you get on social media, but also on your own platform. And I love that. I’m going to have to pick that book up. That sounds like a good one.

Searns: It’s easy reading.

Folwell: So I know my team feels the same way. It’s an easy read you said?

Searns: Easy read. And if you want a version that’s completely covered in highlighter, I’ll be happy to lend you one.

Folwell: Awesome. So tell me a little bit about how does Haley Marketing help people with leading the digital transformation? What are you guys doing in terms of services you’re providing and helping people move forward through this period?

Searns: Yeah, and I’m glad you asked. It’s one of the things everybody tends to think of us as okay, you’re a marketing company, and one of the hidden things that most people don’t know is we’re about as much technology as we are marketing. And so in terms of the transformation, our first technology product was our email platform, so how do we automate email communication across an organization across multiple branches or franchise offices so that people can be doing things that are localized, but at the same time the content is centrally managed? And that’s been a general theme behind a lot of what we’ve done, is how do we take great content, centralize that procurement so that the organization, whatever office you’re in, whether it’s a big city or a remote location, everybody’s sharing really good stuff but they can customize it to their marketplace. So our email platform is easily built to be one-to-many. We’ve got franchise organizations where corporate controls all the messaging, but all the delivery is done at the branch office level, all the responses go to that specific branch.

Now, we’re looking at skill marketing. And skill marketing is something historically people said, “Let’s pick up the phone, and get on the line, and skill market available talent.” Well, we built a product called a Talent Showcase. Why do we make it just on the phone? Why don’t we turn great candidates into content on your website? It does several things for you. One, it helps you place people faster who are available. Two, it demonstrates to somebody visiting your website these are the kinds of people we can place and the level of talent we have. And three, it’s great for recruiting because it shows candidates, “Hey, everybody else is going to throw you into a database where you’re just a number. We actually work with you to build a profile to market you, and we put you on our website, and we feature you. And then we use that to show employers this is the caliber of candidates that we have.” So that’s another way we’re helping to use some automation.

And then most recently, our latest technology product, it’s called NetSocial. And what we’ve learned is that when individuals share content on social media, the distribution of that content is going to be far greater than when a company does it. And when you can get everybody in your organization sharing the company content, the data says that it’s about eight times more reach and, the big one, seven times more conversions than when just you’re sharing from your company page. But for most of our clients, getting everybody in the organization to share the company content has been painful. It’s a matter of, “All right, I email it out, I beg, plead, I put it on my website, just click the LinkedIn button. That’s all you have to do, and we can’t get people to do it.”

And then so we built NetSocial saying we can have that content centrally curated by the marketing department, so they pick and choose, and they can set up channels, sort of like Netflix. We can set up different channels, and then everybody in the organization can subscribe to channels and then automate the distribution so they’re only sending out what they want to send out to their social networks, and they pick and choose which social networks, and they can use email or text to approve what goes out, or they can just set it on autopilot. But the next one for us is how we can automate that social media so that we can be doing more with whether it’s jobs, or featured talent, or this month’s blog posts, we can make it easier for people to automate that team based social sharing, or that employee advocacy.

Folwell: That sounds like a really cool product, and also something that’s very meaningful. And my experience working more on the software side of businesses, but look at their sales teams, trying to get them to share content, I feel your pain, and that product is something that I think everybody could use. One thing that you said that was super interesting, I didn’t know you were doing this, and conceptually I think it’s a cool concept, and the fact that you’re trying to get it so people are marketing the actual talent and the skills from the actual talent pool. So I always think what is a staffing firm’s product? And I’m like well, it’s a couple different things. One would be the recruiters. People buy the recruiter, they buy the job. The talent’s buying either the job or the recruiter, depending how that’s positioned, and a lot of times it’s the relationship that’s actually causing the purchase on that front. And I’ve always been amazed at how many staffing firms don’t have recruiters on the site, because I’m like that’s your product. It’s like going to a car website-

Searns: No, they might get recruited away. That’s what we always hear. “Don’t show my team, they’ll get recruited away.” It’s like no. You’re right, that is exactly part of your product. It’s what their experience.

Folwell: Yeah, I’m going to go to toyota.com and not see the car I’m going to buy because the competitors might build the same car. So same concept, but now you’re actually taking it even a step further than I thought about, which is because the client’s side, the product is actually the talent or the skillset they’re purchasing, so you’re actually moving it down that path. I’m interested to learn more. So are you building these profiles out? Is this a product that you’ve rolled out across many companies? How does that work?

Searns: So it’s a product that it’s almost like a reverse job board. So the staffing company can build a profile of the candidate the same way they build a profile of a job. They can do it in our software. We do have an integration with Bullhorn, so we can pull the candidate data directly out of Bullhorn.

Folwell: Okay, cool.

Searns: Now, we don’t have photos of the candidates in Bullhorn, we actually allow our clients to upload a picture of the candidate. We show them best practices for doing it. There’s actually even a feature they can add to the Talent Showcase, they can ask candidates to fill in the blanks to build their own profiles, and it walks them through questions to help market themselves. Like, “Tell us about your three biggest accomplishments in your career?” And, “Where did you work last?” And we gather all the information. Now, it’s not all publicly available, but it gives the recruiter a great background on the candidate, and then the recruiter approves what they want to go on the Showcase, and that becomes the bio that somebody sees on the website. Then an employer can come to the website and they can search by skill, by date posted, by geographic location to find the right potential candidates in their market.

Folwell: Very cool. I love that. That is a product. What other examples do you have, or I guess what other trends are you seeing in the staffing industry right now? I mean I personally have seen the shift towards, which I think you talked about earlier, the dip from, “We need more talent. We need more clients. We need more talent. We need more clients,” but are there any trends related to that and how people are approaching those challenges uniquely, or other trends that you think … Yeah.

Searns: Absolutely. I think there’s two. On the client side, I’m going to go old school here, I think people are being too reliant on digital marketing, and I’m all in favor of digital marketing as part of the mix, it should be, but being 100% dependent on digital marketing because you assume no-one’s going to the office, or you assume that I look outdated if I’m doing anything that’s not digital, it’s a mistake because old school marketing, mail, in some cases, probably not right now, but when we get back to face-to-face, drop-offs, things that people did 20 years ago, to me, that’s become the express lane at the supermarket. No-one’s in that line, so it’s easy to stand out. The digital then supports it and adds depth. We recently acquired a company called Mamu Media, they do branded print and digital content, and the guys, Mike and Rob, who run that, fantastic, but one of the things they’ve been saying is look at something like a QR code. It was a dead technology until we came to I can’t hand you a menu. Now, everyone knows how to use a QR code.

Well, when you want to take print content and then lead to rich digital followup, more depth, those QR codes are awesome, whether it’s on a resume, or a postcard you drop off, or on the top of the donut box that you dropped off at the office, there’s so many things we can do to integrate those two. So on the selling side, I want to see people doing more, not just about digital transformation, but more digital engagement by mixing the old school and the new school. Now, in the recruiting side, this is probably the strangest time. David, if you had asked me to forecast in March what staffing would look like in August, I would be like, “Man, our clients are going to be desperate for a job order. And they’re going to have 10,000 candidates knocking on their doors.” And then what’s the reality? Most of our clients are saying, “We have record numbers of job orders.” I just talked to a client last week who said, “We had, in the month of July, the most new job orders in our company’s history.”

“Wow, in a pandemic where unemployment is 30 million, you had the most job orders.” “Yeah, we’re seeing them, but we can’t fill the job orders because we can’t get people to go to work,” either because at that point their unemployment paycheck was too high so they wouldn’t take a job, now they’re not getting the same unemployment check, but they’re still reticent to take the jobs, and the no-show rate on interviews is off the charts, higher than any you’ve ever seen. And so we’re looking at, I’m sure you’re familiar with programmatic advertising. So how can we get better analytics, better data around job advertising so that we’re getting more response.

And the days of, “Well, here’s our annual contract with Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Monster, CareerBuilder, those days are gone. It’s now, “I need to have a flexible month-to-month budget, I need to be adjusting where I spend, I need to be analyzing which source is producing the highest quality candidates, I need to be managing my spend so that I’m not overspending on jobs that are easy to fill and having no budget left for the jobs that really needed them,” and that’s where programmatic comes in. We partnered with Appcast, their Clickcast software, to help our clients to better manage that spend because getting the most return on that investment is more critical than ever, and more confusing than ever because there’s so many job sites, and basically no one staffing company can be trying to manage all of it across every office unless you have the software and full-time people to run the software.

Folwell: Yeah, and I think, just going back to your earlier point, looking at the experience as well, there’s companies that’s like, “Oh, well we’re willing to spend on the programmatic marketing,” but it’s like are you bringing that person to schedule an interview? Where are you leaving that? Are you tracking, if you’re automating that process? And how are you making sure that they’re getting all the way through, and that you’re measuring it deeper in the funnel? Something that I feel, pretty common in startups in Silicon Valley, is measuring the customer acquisition cost by channel is something that is still quite rare in staffing, which is actually looking at what is my cost per placement by channel and then optimizing on that front. And I think that sounds like you’re helping move people down that path.

Searns: We’re trying to. I mean we’re getting to the point now, we can get to the cost per application, the cost per candidate from pretty much any job site, or even doing it on social media, we can track back to that. The last mile to placement is actually where it gets really hard, and I’m preaching to the choir here, you know the challenge of getting inside the ATS for that data, so some of them is really easy, some of them not so easy, and the more we can get inside the ATS to get to the placement data, the more we’ll be able to provide better analytics on the actual result of the investment, whether it’s recruiting or the lead generation marketing, because I totally agree with you, I think the industry’s headed there. We just had a company today saying, “Hey, we really need you to take this to the last mile,” and we’re like, “Okay, they are on Bullhorn, we can get to the data there, but are you ready for the coding project?” Because nobody’s doing it yet.

Folwell: Yeah, even when it’s like, “Oh, we’ve got that data in Bullhorn,” it’s like well who updates that source when the placement happens? Is that a recruiter? Is it reliable? Because I find that frequently it’s not maybe as accurate as some would like, and it doesn’t get updated. We find that a lot on the referral side where it’s like yeah, we know that we have the referral as a source, but we’re not sure how often that’s actually being accurately updated, because we know that we occasionally hear we’re not paying out at the right time, so same concept.

Searns: Yeah, it’s funny. Quick side story there, we had a client who they said, “Guys, I’m sorry. We love you, but we’re going to have to terminate services. It’s not working. No-one’s calling us because of our marketing.” And we said, “Really? Why? We’re seeing a lot of traffic on your website. I’m surprised nothing’s happening. Hey, can we do an experiment where we’re going to build a Google form and we’re just going to ask the receptionist, just ask people where you’re calling from, what’d you look at last, and then record the result in the Google form.” And the owner of the company was convinced that it was all due to the outbound sales and recruiting efforts that they were getting the result.

Folwell: Oh, this is my favorite story.

Searns: And over one month, we tracked it, and 87% of the leads coming in were coming because someone saw something, went to the website, picked up the phone and called. And so they were really undervaluing measuring what’s happening post website.

Folwell: I think that’s an amazing experiment and that’s my favorite story I’ve heard in a while because I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had about, “Well, this is where the data’s we’ve got. This is the fact. This is our reality.” And I’m like, “Well, how accurate is that?” And I think it’s very frequently not as accurate as we would like it to be, and I think when that’s not automated, you leave it open to opportunity for human error, and also when it’s your job to outbound or you still have 50 calls or 100 cold calls on your daily task list, you definitely want to show that the outcomes of those are good. You don’t want to show it’s all coming in from marketing. So you brought up QR codes, and I’ve thought about this quite a bit as well, and I’ve always been a believer in the combination of print and digital.

And I definitely think that you’re onto something with the fact that it is the blue ocean of marketing, maybe not blue ocean, but there’s not many people doing it at the moment and it is something where you’re not as crowded out. But the QR codes, I thought they were for sure done. When I was at GE in 2010, I was at GE Lighting, we were looking at doing QR codes on all of the products and I remember it was honestly $20,000 implementation, there was going to be this expensive project, and I was like well, nobody’s really using them. You had to download an app. And just two years ago I had some friend ask about a QR code, I think I just said, “Don’t worry about them, they’re dead.” And now wow. And now we’re all accustomed to it, trained to it, it’s behavior we’re used to, and it’s something that I think that that with print is going to be something we see moving forward throughout.

Searns: I think there’s another lesson there too, is QR codes really didn’t become enabled because you mentioned you had to download an app. That step, but once a feature becomes native on the smartphone, when podcast went native on the smartphone and podcasts exploded. You didn’t have to search them and know where to find them, now it’s just an app on your phone. Now I just open my camera and it reads the QR code. I think those kinds of things are going to really change every industry. I saw that Facebook has made a massive investment in developing AR, VR. So I don’t know where it’s going to go, how it’s going to impact staffing, but you can bet in a few years, Facebook’s augmented reality is going to completely change probably how we interview, how we present candidates, the data we know about people just because, “Oh, I’ve got your resume. Oh look, there’s every digital thing about you just queued up for me right there.” I’m excited about what’s going to happen, but really curious to see where it will take our industry.

Folwell: More Pokemon Go.

Searns: Exactly. Candidate Hunter.

Folwell: Candidate Hunter, there’s people searching around, wandering around the streets. Yeah, the AR is also another area. I don’t know how to predict what’s going to happen on that front in the staffing industry, but I think there’s going to be a lot of movement. I was listening to a audiobook on AR and AI, and it was talking about the savings and training that they’re getting when it comes to the industrial space. And it’s just absolutely astounding how much AR is helping in that front, and I think it’ll be interesting to see how it’s applied for the staffing and recruiting industry, for sure.

Searns: Yeah. Hamilton-Ryker, they have a really cool VR based forklift driver training program. They’ve been doing it for a couple years now, and very, very effective way to get drivers up to speed to be ready to go perform in the plant, and also to give them feedback on is this somebody we can send out. Great program.

Folwell: That’s very cool. And so I’ve got a couple questions left for you.

Searns: Sure.

Folwell: More on the personal background side. You’ve already answered the book one, so we’ve covered that one, but in the last five years what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

Searns: What new belief or behavior has most improved my life? I can’t think back past March. I can’t remember anything that goes further back.

Folwell: I mean I think the last few months might be the equivalent of five years, so we can count it. Well, any major changes, yeah.

Searns: I would say the biggest one is so my wife and I joined an organization called EO, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, two years ago. And one of the guys there who’s a very well-known speaker, leader, his name is Warren Rustand. And Warren talks about living a life of intent. And he literally talks about, he goes, “When you wake up in the morning, don’t roll over and pick up your phone.” He said, “Before your feet hit the ground, sit up on the side of the bed and you think about what’s the most important thing I want to do today towards my life’s goals? And what is my intent for the day?” And I don’t do this every day, but every day I do it, it’s a better day. If I can live that life by intent. And I’m still a working progress, I’m consistently doing it and not reaching for the phone, but that is probably the best habit that I’ve developed is trying to think with more intent about where I want to go, why I want to go, and longterm, what’s the value that I can add to the world?

For 24 years it was about how do you think about starting and building a business. I’m in my middle 50s now, and thinking about not winding down, but more thinking about what’s next, and what more can I do for the staffing industry? What more can I do for others? And that life of intent is probably the best lesson that I’ve learned, if I can stick with it.

Folwell: That’s great. And you recommend the organization as well? Has it been valuable for you?

Searns: EO’s been phenomenal, so it’s been one of the best things you’ve ever done in terms of just meeting really cool people, having amazing experiences, and great educational content. Lot of staffing companies are EO members as well.

Folwell: Very cool. And what is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? Could be money, time, or energy.

Searns: Well, I’m a horrible investor. Anything I would invest in, you’d be a millionaire if you did the opposite of what I do. Best investments that I’ve made, though. I would say the best investment I made, and it was for my wife’s 50th birthday, and we weren’t really much travelers. Traveler meant going to Florida, maybe going to the Caribbean for vacation. And thanks to actually a recommendation of somebody in the staffing industry, we needed to get a new car, so we did a European car delivery, and then we had an experience of driving around Europe. And I was such an idiot American prior to that.

And just the experience of starting to see the rest of the world opened my eyes and perspective to so much more, made me realize both how big and how small our planet is, and I’ve been doing a lot more global travel since, and trying to do even more just to experience other places. My daughter has spent the last 18 months pre COVID traveling the world, and getting to see that experience of travel and seeing other cultures is definitely the best investment I made in the last five years.

Folwell: I could not agree more. Travel is probably my number one passion and something I’m missing very much these days. We’re locked in. Do you have your post COVID, post pandemic trip planned out yet? Have you thought about it?

Searns: No, I actually had my first on where I had a friend whose daughter got married last weekend in Florida, and so went from Buffalo, New York down to Sarasota, Florida for the wedding. Had a great time. I wasn’t really uncomfortable, but we did try to avoid everybody as much as we could because of it, and it was just a strange experience. So post pandemic, it’s probably going to be getting back to Italy.

Folwell: Yeah, Italy’s great. That’s fantastic. Well, it’s been really great talking with you, David. Is there anything else that you would like to share with our audience? Any other insights or anything else you’d like to cover on this call?

Searns: Yeah, the last thing is probably one that I think everybody’s going to know, but I feel like I have to say it, is people have said and I’ve read so many books that say the same thing, what’s the secret to success and how do you build a successful business. And there’s two things I would say, and they go back to a book that I read long ago called Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It’s 100 year old book, but it’s the power of having purpose, knowing what you’re trying to accomplish and clearly defining those goals in your mind, and then the power of persistence. This is a tough time that we’re all facing. We’ve got new challenges, whether you’re a mom and dad who’s trying to figure out what to do with your kids in homeschool, whether you’re starting out in your career, thinking has my entire career been derailed because I now have to try and find a remote job and I wasn’t planning on that, or has my retirement savings been wiped out? What am I going to do? We’re all facing challenges that are unprecedented.

But by getting refocused on where we want to go and having the persistence, we’ll get through it. We’ll get through it successfully, we’ll get through it better, and at the end we’ll look back on this and say it was probably the most painful but best thing that happened to me in my life was surviving this time period. And at least the majority of us are going to survive it. So I want to just wish everybody all the best getting through this and getting through this as successfully as possible.

Folwell: I actually love that for a closing note, and I feel the exact same, so I’ll second you on that one, and I hope we’re all stronger on the other side of this one, stronger, better, and moving forward in life. So thanks again so much for being on, David. Really appreciate it. And I appreciate what you’re doing to help move the staffing industry forward.

Searns: Thanks, David. This is absolutely my pleasure, and thanks for having me on.

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