I’ve spent countless hours agonizing over the creation of a unique selling point (USP) for my technology staffing business and when I look back, I can honestly say that I would have been far better off putting that time into talking to and expanding my client base and providing more of my own version of recruitment training that enabled me to build a global staffing agency from my living room in South London.
I urge you to forget about trying to create and refine your USP and concentrate on your customers and the value you provide them instead.
“We live in a world more of refinement than invention,” and these were the words that resonated with me when I was watching an interview of my favorite British chef, Marco Pierre White.
I also remember another quote from him about the fact that “Mother Nature” was the true artist, when he was talking about the real star of his cooking and back in the day you had a bunch of chefs in London all competing for the coveted Michelin Star recognition and the ultimate award of three stars.
What has this got to do with recruitment training you may ask?
Well, the world of recruiting is highly competitive with a ton of agencies and consultants competing for the same business, just as the restaurants are competing for you and me to walk through their doors and enjoy their fine cuisine.
Back in the day when Pierre White and his contemporaries were cooking, you could pretty much be assured of a great meal in any of their restaurants and he was the youngest British chef to win the coveted three stars, so there is no doubt that he was competitive, but for me, he rose above the competition and simply because of who he is and what he stood for and that is why he became my favorite.
When you combine the usual qualities of a great restaurant — the chef, staff, ingredients, decor, and of course the menu, you are setting the scene for a great experience…but how do you win the war for trade and profits?
It will ultimately come down to the leadership and in the case of a restaurant, the executive and head chef.
Businesses, salespeople, and recruitment consultants agonize over trying to create a unique selling proposition (USP) in the hope of differentiating their offering from their competition, and having been down the path myself, it is almost a futile exercise, which is why I advise people to forget about it.
I am passionate about recruitment and especially concerning the training of recruitment consultants — I am also passionate about cooking and food.
I was lucky to be able to combine my passions as over my thirty-five-year recruitment career, I have been able to travel around the globe entertaining executives from some of the world’s leading companies and in some of the world’s finest restaurants.
I always let my clients choose the restaurant by the way and I would ask them why the restaurant in question was a favorite and the answer would almost always come down to the “overall experience.”
I pressed one client further and he explained that all of the best restaurants in his city served excellent food; all of them were set in nice surroundings; they all had an excellent selection of wines…but this particular restaurant had a vision and the head chef was behind that vision and along with his business partner who operated at the front of the house.
He further explained that we will have a visit from one or both of them tonight and they will communicate that vision by explaining why they chose the ingredients for this particular menu and how they are always trying to stay ahead of the game by thinking about the next menu, based on what they believe to be the finest ingredients coming into season and by offering bold and traditional wine pairings for each dish if you wanted to try it.
“I’m glad you brought up the vision word,” I explained to him.
“Now let me explain to you mine!”
What exactly is a “USP”?
When I conducted recruitment training for all of my new consultants, I explained to them that their objective was to put the right people, in the right place and at the right time…after all, it’s all the clients really care about and it doesn’t matter if you are a top headhunter, an interim specialist or a straightforward contingency recruiter.
My approach was to research the industry and clients in as much depth as possible and then engage with executives at the highest levels, delivering them the people I believed they needed and irrespective of whether they had vacancies for those people or not.
In this way, I believed I was always ahead of the game and more importantly, ahead of my competition.
You could therefore argue that it was my USP and at the time, that was exactly what I would say to clients if I was ever asked the question.
The term USP was coined by the American advertising executive Rosser Reeves, who worked for the Ted Bates advertising agency and explained the term as a “unique sales promise.”
The Ted Bates agency is still active today and operates as Bates CHI and Partners.
A USP is a benefit that enables a company to stand out from its competitors and can be defined as verifiably “unique.”
Rosser however, believed his ideas were widely misunderstood, and here are the 3 basic rules concerning a USP:
- Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer—not just words, product puffery, or show-window advertising. Each advertisement must say to each reader: “Buy this product, for this specific benefit.”
- The proposition must be one the competition cannot or does not offer. It must be unique—either in the brand or a claim the rest of that particular advertising area does not make.
- The proposition must be strong enough to move the masses, i.e., attract new customers as well as potential customers.
So my USP, if it was ever one, was created and then it came down to branding, where I would agonize over creating a simple sentence that captivated exactly what I did which proved virtually impossible because it was a collective of things that made up an overall value proposition which was in line with getting the right people, in the right place and at the right time.
Why you should abandon the creation of a USP
When in the early 2000s, I co-founded a software and services company in the telecommunications industry, we actually had a totally verifiable USP — we were the first company to come up with a working model that performed a specific type of network planning that considerably reduced the time to perform an essential but laborious task.
And to add to the mix we were able to predict potential problems that could have a disastrous effect on the overall performance of the cellular network either in specific geographical areas or as a whole.
You really couldn’t have a better value proposition for our sector of the industry at that time…but…
Nobody believed it.
The “uniqueness” of our value or sales proposition did not have any market comparisons, so in effect, there was no market for our services and we struggled to sell the software at that time and in my opinion, simply because we were ahead of our time and it was an uphill struggle.
But that is just something that happened to me personally, which is why I am sharing it with you and there are other good reasons:
USP’s are old hat
In my opinion anyway.
Buying decisions are made on multiple factors and unless you have re-invented the wheel, then you are looking to refine and improve an existing product or service by putting your own spin on it and if you have really created something unique, as I did with the co-founders of my software company, you will have a different set of problems such as having a market to compare to your offering and also the fact that if it is unique, it will have to stand the test of time to be fully trusted.
And you also have to factor in the prospect of your “uniqueness” being copied and therefore no longer remaining unique.
Many textbook marketers love the challenge of creating a USP and it will cost you time and money — then when the product and/or service is no longer unique, they have to go back to the drawing board and start again!
More time and money!
Many recruitment companies are obsessed with providing a difference…in their marketing speak whereas, in reality, they would be far better off communicating exactly what they do and how they do it to their customers and in line with their customer’s overall commercial commitments, or their deliverables.
You can delay going to market
The more time you are agonizing over creating your USP, the less time you are spending communicating what you have to your customers as I have outlined above — in my software example it would have been better to simply get the tool into the hands of our customers and let them see what it does and today as a coach and mentor, I have sat with many tech entrepreneurs who are hell-bent on creating the perfect package before they go to the market and of course, generating the all-important USP, at least in their eyes.
Needless to say, I try my best to talk them out of it.
Let’s go back to our chefs for a moment and their attitude in the main is to get the doors open as fast as possible and let the food, service, and ambiance do the talking.
These chefs will have spent hours and days creating and testing their menus and service, so they are more than prepared, so I’m not suggesting you rush the process, just that you don’t need an all-encapsulating set of words to do so.
In the recruitment industry, you would get a much better return on your time as a consultant, manager, or owner if you invested that time in becoming as commercially aware as possible.
You may be providing people, but you are operating in the world of business.
What to do instead
When I used to get asked the question concerning my USP in my staffing business or the difference between myself and my competitors, I would answer that on the face of things, we are no different.
We all have access to the same people, we all offer the same services and we all charge pretty much the same prices…but it’s my vision that’s different.
I would then explain how I constantly research the global economic situation, the technology industry, and my clients in order to align and deliver services primarily for the future — if you can focus on the future, you will be able to avert problems and by default, you will also be more than capable of coping with the “now.”
I created more than a few talking points and of course, I had to have a solid vision and opinion for the industry as a whole, but that was the purpose of my research — then I needed to make sure my whole company was bought into my vision and philosophy, which is why we had great success with the approach.
If you are a recruitment agency owner, manager, or consultant then you must realize that the only unique selling point you have is YOU.
And it is important that you communicate who you are to your clients alongside your service and/or product offerings.
It may make all the difference.
I spent a huge amount of time going through sales and recruitment training as well as training hundreds of recruitment consultants around the globe and today, I have the luxury of looking at the industry as an outsider rather than as an owner/operator who cannot always separate the wood from the trees.
I see so many adverts and posts on social media claiming to help recruiters earn six-figure incomes through the latest programs and systems to gain and secure clients within a few short weeks or months.
These programs come with their own labels or USP’s that lure the participants into their respective programs.
Any experienced recruiter, manager, company owner, or a veteran such as myself, will tell you that there are no real secrets to success, only hard work, and dedication.
I am passionate about training recruitment consultants as I know that the industry provides an extremely valuable service to businesses and also provides a great career to those who dedicate themselves to it.
My advice to anyone working in the industry is to forget about focusing on trying to differentiate from your competitors and focus on providing real value to your clients.
Just like the great chefs — let the component parts of your business come together to deliver a great customer experience and let the service you provide do the talking.
If owners, sales managers, and consultants spent their time learning more about commerce and the commercial commitments of their customers, they would be much better for it.
And never forget the objective of getting the right people, in the right place and at the right time.
Here are some other articles that may help you:
“Recruitment Training — The Best Guide To Help You Dominate Your Market.”
Please get in touch if you want to talk more about this subject and share if you think it will help others:
Last modified: November 22, 2020