If we’ve learned one thing from the new normal, it’s that agility is key. Firms that are able to diversify their businesses are setting themselves up to outlast an unprecedented pandemic and prepare for the likely evolution of executive search. 

In our customer conversations, industry research, and roundtable discussions with leading executive search CEOs, we’ve found people are rejecting the notion of completely reinventing themselves. However, once taboo strategies for search firms are coming to the forefront of short-term business planning.

So what measures are firms taking today to weather this unpredictable storm? Here are five strategies we’ve observed – forewarning: they may force you to step out of your comfort zone.

1. Be even more flexible with client services (and fees)

During a crisis, we noted client service should be your main objective. Maybe you started offering a “crisis discount” to your biggest clients and dropped your standard 33% fee to 25% or so.

With a few notable exceptions, nearly every business will suffer during an economic downturn. Offering discounts and less expensive, less comprehensive service packages can allow you to retain clients that might otherwise be forced to cancel. 

Now, we propose you take what you thought was flexible 2 or 3 weeks ago, and take it a step further. 

For those clients who’ve put executive recruiting spend on hold but still have roles to fill, find more ways to compromise. Your clients know they can’t research or qualify candidates better than your firm; they’re just working with limited finances. Instead of conducting full-blown searches, get creative with how you package your services. Offer to conduct the “upfront” work, such as research and candidate lists. 

Alan Cutter, CEO of AC Lion says, “We’re not diluting our services, but dissecting them. We’re packaging them differently so we can maintain business with clients who may have initially suggested pulling the plug completely.”

They will end up spending less money than they would with a typical search, and you may receive less than the value you’re offering in the short term. In the bigger picture, though, this value add for your clients is a long-term commitment to their relationship. 

Amy Volas, founder and CEO of Avenue Talent Partners, said, “I’m confident that if I continue to do the right things for my clients now, we’ll come out of this just fine.”

2. Move into adjacent spaces

Heading into a crisis, executive search firms that already had diverse business models in place have an advantage over more niche firms. But we’re not suggesting you try to completely reinvent yourself and possibly damage your credibility. 

Without straying too far from your core competency, expand your focus to encompass adjacent industries and roles. For example, firms that cater to the manufacturing sector may be seeing a slowdown, but they could likely pick up new business by trying their hand at the related field of logistics. 

“I’m encouraging all of our franchise owners, particularly those with super specific industry focus, to think about adjacent industries they can tap into,” said FPC National President Jeff Herzog. “They need to cautiously pivot without doing a full 180 in order to diversify their business.”

3. Concede “executive” searches

We warned you in the beginning of this post – we may be asking you to step outside of your comfort zone a bit. 

The unfortunate reality is many companies simply aren’t hiring executives during a world-wide pandemic. And pre-crisis, you may have politely dismissed requests to hire more junior folks for your clients. After all, executive search is what distinguishes your firm from typical staffing agencies. 

For clients that are still hiring, offer non-exec search services to find line-level employees. Going outside of your usual pay grades will allow you to retain some business amid the overall downturn, but maintain those relationships with clients.

“Our firm has been accepting work at all levels,” says Trevor Blair, CEO of Blair Search Partners. “We just placed an executive assistant for one of our clients. Although these are obviously much lower revenue engagements, we’re happy to have the work and it keeps us close to our client. They will hopefully continue seeing us as their go-to team, as we have stuck by them.”

4. Capitalize on the talent opportunity 

Unemployment rates are devastating, to say the least, and continue to climb. While this doesn’t bode well for recruiting as a whole, many executive recruiters are seeing this as a rare opportunity. There are countless, incredibly talented executives that may have been displaced as a result of drastic company cutbacks. The executive talent pool may never be this fruitful and accessible again.

And if your clients still aren’t budging on moving forward with a new addition to their C-suite, it may be worth encouraging them to assess their current team.

The ongoing pandemic is testing a lot of leaders. In conversations with your clients, have you asked them to take a close look at the individuals who are having an underwhelming response in such a critical moment?

“We’re really encouraging some clients to evaluate their executives’ performance, especially in the current environment, and seriously consider using this time to upgrade their talent,” reports Tony Bolliger, President at CareerSMITH

So whether you’re suggesting clients reconsider that paused CFO search, or are suggesting they evaluate their existing execs, be sure to hammer home this incredible opportunity. Now, more than ever, may actually be the best time to invest in future leaders that wouldn’t be accessible under any other circumstances. 

5. Invest in your infrastructure

For many executive search firms, part of the new normal is a drop in business and an increase in downtime. This is especially true for firms that are able to take advantage of stimulus funds and keep their full staff on board. 

While this strange paradox may be unsettling for some, those that see it as an opportunity to invest in their infrastructure will be thanking themselves when the market rebounds. We know this is the worst time to possibly take on additional expenses, but not every investment needs to be cash. You’ve got time to spare, right?

Here are just a few productive projects you could be initiating now, that cost little to no money in the short term:

  • Encourage your staff to learn or even set up internal training programs
  • Evaluate and fine-tune internal processes
  • Build target company lists
  • Beef up candidate pipelines for your big focus areas
  • Audit and clean up your database
  • Evaluate, trial, and possibly even implement new recruiting software – just like your firm’s commitment to flexibility, Thrive is offering very generous extended free trials and additional services; we’re stepping out of our comfort zone, too 🙂 Request a demo today!

It’s going to be a bumpy ride

We are hyper-aware that executive search firms are making big, and once unthinkable, concessions to keep business running. However if your firm is willing and able to pivot just slightly out of your comfort zone, those concessions will seem like a drop in the long-term bucket.

And if this new normal isn’t just a temporary disruption, we should all be bracing for major evolution in executive search. By taking steps now to make your business more agile, more adaptable, and more operationally efficient, you’ll be leaps ahead of those unwilling to act now.

Stay tuned for more from Thrive. If you would like to join our community of executive search leaders and add your voice to this evolving dialogue, send an email to leadercommunity@thrivetrm.com.