How We Digitized It!
Lessons from our breakthrough year of automating the selling and delivery of a professional service.
Hire an Esquire’s mission is and was to transform the $21B contingent legal labor market. A painful brick and mortar exercise that wasn’t scaling to modern demands would become an efficient, seamless, more accessible, technology-based marketplace experience. The 21st-century legal industry crisis, an opportunity. Law practices facing intense cost pressure could have just-in-time efficiencies. Attorneys could have alternatives to the ailing, soul-crushing partner track.
Attorneys saw this brave new world just beyond their screens and signed up immediately. Law firms. . . not so much.
2017 was a breakthrough year in converting our users from a high-touch, service-heavy experience to a software service. Our revenue from digitally acquired self-serve clients grew 500 and 40% of our placements are now machine made. Here’s how we did it:
1. Early Employees = Early Users:
We initially had to build trust and relationships offline while making our product user worthy. Upon launching our MVP we learned:
Small law firms who were economically unviable for brick and mortar staffing agencies were risk- averse and preferred DIY methods to an unknown software product.
Large law firm and corporate legal departments accustomed to a full- service experience have no patience or excitement for a minimum viable self-service product.
Our early user research came from our internal team (some of whom were associates tasked with staffing before they joined our team)
using our product on behalf of clients. The feedback loop was short and strong. Our product team began to think like recruiters and account managers trying to attract users to the platform; our sales and recruiting team thought like engineers as they collected and structured information to best automate processes involved with collecting, screening, and submitting candidates and to flatten speed bumps in the matchmaking process.
The average fulfillment rate for brick and mortar agencies (with teams of recruiters) is 44%. In 2015 with 1 full-time recruiter and primarily internal users our fulfillment rate was 48%. As the product improved, customer use increased, and we launched automated candidate matching, our fulfillment rate rose to 73%.
2. Hire an Expert — to Translate Intangibles and Nuance into Quantifiable Data
Professional Services have many intangibles and nuances. Our clients prefer recruiters who can quickly assess and match key personality traits, competencies, and work styles to specific positions and cultures. In late 2016, a selection and assessment specialist with a background in Industrial and Organizational Psychology joined our team.
Key traits desired by our clients —such as conscientiousness, diligence, self-efficacy, sense of urgency, learning agility, and organization— were proven to correlate to successful outcomes in law and were measurable. We began testing these traits and turning them into data to better match candidates with jobs. Our “incident rate” defined as any technical, work product, client, attitude, verification, or billing issue caused by a candidate and impacting a client relationship dropped from 3 per 100 submissions to less than .52 per 100 submissions.
3. The Consultative Sales Process is Part of the Product
As we built trust and brand credibility via client referrals, industry publicity, and an investment from the world’s largest law firm, the digital signups increased— and needed to be converted to billing clients.
Professional service providers must establish credibility before converting clients. Lawyers and accountants will provide initial basic free advice, patients considering serious medical treatment get multiple opinions. The consultative pre-sales process is key to engaging and converting a professional services client and can be standardized.
In late 2016, we launched our digital sales infrastructure and focused on automating key pre-sales interactions in client preferred formats (e.g. interacting with the platform via e-mail actions) and collecting structured information in palatable bites to provide a preview of our service: candidates. The “hooks” were instant, precise candidate matches and—as stated with polite irony on follow up calls— not having to engage with a recruiter or salesperson.
Iterating our digital sales infrastructure with attention to the pre-sales process allowed us to grow our revenue from self-serve digitally acquired clients by 500% in 2017 from Q1 through the first month of Q4 with an average 38% compound monthly growth rate.
Now is an opportune time for automating this process. Like other Enterprise SaaS companies, we’re seeing the strength of the “Product Qualified Lead” as enterprise buyers increasingly prefer a low-touch, user-driven sales process.
Building brand credibility for an automated service where trust and relationships have governed requires extreme patience, endurance, resilience, and determination.
To the tech world, this opportunity can be “overly complex” and unglamorous in comparison to simpler, more obvious “startup world problems.” Professional services veterans can be uncomfortable reducing their craft to constantly measured, tested, and iterated mini-steps.
Building the right team with the right mindset is the most important and difficult part. Once this magic is in place, automation happens gradually, then suddenly.