When I want to buy something out of the ordinary, something not in a “pick it up off the shelf” category, I inevitably want some market intel before I make the purchase. When I was in the market for a house in Toronto many years ago, I wanted the real estate agent to fill me in on neighbourhoods with the best schools, inform me of the relative resale merits of one property over another, plus give me input on a host of other factors that would help me make the best, most informed decision possible.
Knowing What You Don’t Know
As much as I might have been an experienced buyer, I don’t pretend to know everything there is to know about Toronto real estate. There are tons of variables and I knew that an experienced, knowledgeable real estate agent could add a lot of value to the process. What I didn’t want was someone who was just happy to have me as a buyer, determined to show me the first ten hot listings that came their way.
So when I was auditioning real estate agents back then, over and above the usual criteria one applies to real estate agents, I was looking for two essential qualities: the ability to listen and the willingness to argue with me.
The ability to listen may seem to be an obvious criteria but it’s not as common as you might think. If you replay some of the conversations you’ve had with friends, colleagues and acquaintances over the past few days you may have noticed those conversations probably fell into two major categories: people who listened to you with the intent to respond and people who listened to you with the intent to understand.
Many people, including many salespeople and service providers, aren’t listening to you because they really want to understand what information / concept / emotion you are trying to convey, they’re listening in order to give a framework or context to what they want to convey. It’s a variation of the old joke where the narcissist says: “Well, that’s enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?”
Whatever You Say, Ms. Customer
Salespeople are especially prone to listen with the intent to respond because in many cases, they’re especially trained to handle objections. If a potential customer says “A”, the salesperson should respond with “B”. If the prospects says “X”, they’re supposed to reply with “Z”.
Or the salesperson responds to everything you say with an affirmative response: “Yes, that sounds good.” “That won’t be a problem.” “I’m sure we can accommodate you there.”
Please Don’t Agree With Me When I’m Wrong
When I’m talking to a potential service provider, I don’t want someone who gives me stock answers to issues I bring up, nor do I want someone who agrees with everything I say. I want someone who truly takes in everything I say and listens to the extent that they can get past what I may be asking for and can figure out what I need (which is not always the same thing).
What’s more, if I ask for contradictory things, I want someone who’s going to argue with me. Which isn’t always easy for salespeople because a) I’m an opinionated person whose default position is that I’m right until someone proves me wrong, and b) they may be afraid that if they argue with me they’ll lose the sale.
But opinionated as I may be, I know that I don’t actually know everything and what’s more, if I make a large ticket purchase without expert advice, I’m almost certain to be stuck with a less than optimal outcome (and sometimes a disastrous outcome).
Let’s Have a Discussion
Which is why you want to engage an argumentative recruiter (btw, I’m pretty much as argumentative as they come – but in a nice way) when you’re going to the market to hire a CFO, VP Finance, Director of Finance, Controller, or any other high value finance and accounting professional.
The market for VPs of Finance, CFOs and the rest is actually a highly variegated, diverse space and there are all kinds of factors that can make the difference between a successful hire, an average hire, or heaven forbid, an outright disastrous hire. And unless you’re highly experienced, technically knowledgeable and in that market all the time, you won’t know what many of those factors happen to be.
What to Look For in a Recruiter
So the next time you’re auditioning recruiters, look for someone who:
- Listens to understand, not to respond
- Is willing to contradict you when appropriate
- Will proactively educate you on what you need to know
- Specializes in the kind of search you’re about to undertake
- Is very experienced and knowledgeable in that particular market