How different are staffing companies, really? In such a saturated and competitive industry, any differentiator today, whether it is a technology or certain strategy, will be replicated or adopted by someone else tomorrow. Cost and efficiency are required for all. The ability to place the right skill set is basics. Building good relationships, following the rules, responding to requests in a timely manner — these are all the must-haves. With the numerous staffing firms potentially vying for your business, what critical question can you ask a staffing firm to identify those that would make good partners for your program?

Should you ask about diversity certifications? Certainly, that’s an area many programs are likely to focus on. What about innovation? Skill categories? It’s all information that’s good to know.

Still, there’s one question that is critical to ask potential partners when considering whether to add them to your program: What value do you bring to my organization?

Put simply: Suppliers need to have experience in your specific industry, filling the types of roles you need, in the locations you need them and how you need them. If these things align with your organization, then it’s likely they will be a good fit for your program, according to Bill Calhoun, co-founder and CEO of AdvantEdge. And if they don’t align, none of the other answers matter.

Industry like yours. The value in knowing the industry is the ability to speak your language with candidates, understanding your regulatory requirements, and being able to discuss trends, challenges and innovations that matter to your industry. A supplier who has other clients like you means they can impact your organization from day one.

Roles like yours. Suppliers that have staffed roles like yours at other clients brings value to the program because the pipeline of candidates is already in place. Taking a chance on a supplier who thinks they can support you isn’t a strategy. When a supplier has already worked on similar roles, the value for you is seen in higher-quality candidates; you get candidates who have the right experience, and in turn, you get a faster time to fill.

Locations like yours. When suppliers have placed candidates in locations like yours, the value is in knowing the landscape. Being familiar with an industry and a skill is great, but if the supplier hasn’t placed candidates in California, for example, it’s going to be a challenge. Legislation by state is difficult enough, but finding candidates in a new location is like starting from scratch — not impossible, but certainly easier if the supplier has already filled positions in the geographic area. This is especially important when placing candidates globally.

How You Need Resources

Total talent management means contingent may not always be the right route for sourcing the talent. The ability to supply resources — whether through direct hire, independent contractors, gig workers, payroll, SOW or direct sourcing — is valuable to the process. Suppliers who can help support your labor needs in a variety of ways reduces the need to have supplier “buckets” for the non-FTE roles. In addition, it alleviates issues that can arise once a manager selects a candidate, only to find out they want to work under a different type of contract.

I worked for an MSP years ago, and I remember giving the same advice to our potential suppliers: Don’t ask to join a program unless you can tell me the “why.” Getting added to the list should not be their only goal. Suppliers should explain the value they plan to bring to any program.

Here are two good examples of what you should look for in a staffing firm’s value statement:

We would like to work with you [telecom client]. We have four of the top communications companies as clients and know we can make an immediate impact in your program. We place radio frequency engineers and have the maximum insurance for tower climbers. We also place these types of roles in all 50 states. Can we help you too?

Hello healthcare client. We are JCAHO-certified and specialize in locum tenens and travel nurses. We know the pandemic burned out so many healthcare professionals, but we have a program in place to support our candidates and their mental health. We have clients just like you in the Northeast and are ready to share our available resources with you immediately. And if you are interested in hearing about our mental health program, we would be happy to elaborate more!

Instead of asking what a supplier’s differentiator is, ask them what value they can bring to you. The essence of what you need to know: Is there alignment between the needs and offerings of my program to what this supplier can provide?

One final thought. It is still important to focus on diversity. As you look for value from your suppliers, remember that diversity certifications can also provide value. Whether it’s to increase diversity spend, to help a diverse category or to find diverse talent, bringing different types of thinking into the program is never a bad idea.