BPM Experts are not a Commodity

Scott Francis
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As a firm that is entirely focused on BPM implementations, we get a lot of queries from staffing firms, and I’m going to take this post to speak out against the practice of using these expensive, non-value-adding, players in the marketplace. We get (each of us at BP3) about an email a day from a staffing firm looking for “a Lombardi Teamworks Administrator (or Developer or Architect) in Bentonville, Arkansas (or Bay Area or Boston or where-ever” (or other locations).  (someone should tell these guys that there is only one company in Bentonville likely to buy BPM and need to hire outside help… )  If I could convey one thing to companies deploying BPM and using staffing companies to augment their teams, it would be to understand the value chain in the BPM staffing equation, and why those firms are ill-equipped to help companies achieve their goals with BPM.  If you’re using a staffing firm, odds are you could save money and time, and achieve better results, by working directly with BP3 (or other boutique BPM firms).

Customers: Problems with Staffing Firms

From the perspective of a customer, what are the problems with using staffing firms? Problem #1:  BPM services aren’t a commodity. They specialize in commodotized staffing in areas where there are millions of developers to choose from, like vanilla Java development, PHP, SQL, HTML, etc.  They have no concept of why the going rate for BPM experts is higher than the going rate for Java experts. They are used to treating software engineers  like day-labor construction jobs. Problem #2: These staffing companies don’t understand what BPM is. No one at these firms has worked for a BPM software vendor, or a BPM consulting firm.  They’re essentially headhunters/recruiters, with no vertical domain expertise in BPM.  The staffing companies won’t provide any differentiated value add once the person is placed.  There are no skills at the staffing company to help that consultant be successful once they’re onsite.  There’s no technical support, no project management support, no lifeline to call.  There’s just a rate and a # of hours.  They don’t care if you deploy a waterfall or agile methodology, they don’t care if your project is successful – frankly, their job is to sell bodies, not to sell success.   If you are a customer, don’t ask them to help you make your project successful other than by adding or replacing personnel.  If you are a contractor through these firms, God help you if you struggle – you won’t get any help from them.  If they smell blood in the water they’ll replace you as though you were a stapler that didn’t staple straight.  But they will NOT help you. Problem #3:  Because they don’t understand BPM, they don’t understand Process Improvement.  So you are going to forgo any help identifying opportunities for process improvement, or getting someone on staff who really understands how to do that.  When you work with a firm focused on BPM, you can expect to get those skills in either the people you contact with or the people who support them. Problem #4:  They can’t get the best resources.  Because they aren’t BPM experts, they don’t know which of the folks they talk to are good and which ones aren’t.  They aren’t deploying people they have years of history working with. They aren’t deploying people they have a good basis from which to interview and judge competency.  They’re just deploying whoever will take the lowest rates and the most demanding contract terms, allowing them to maximize their profit.  There are very few really good BPM experts out there, relative to the demand – and even fewer experts who are available at any one point in time.  Some of the best BPM experts in the world work for BP3 and companies like ours, but you’ll never get to them through the staffing outfits – because boutique firms like ours are a threat to their business relationship with customers.

Independents: Problems with Staffing Firms

From the point of view of a contractor considering a staffing outfit: Problem #1:  You are a commodity to them – a stapler, or worse, a staple.  They don’t care that eventually you’ll go work for someone else, they just want to maximize profit right now.  They’ll squeeze you hard on rates and terms in the contract.  They don’t care if you’re happy, they don’t care if you’re successful, so long as they have a chance to replace you with someone else and keep getting paid.  They don’t care if you get eliminated from consideration for arbitrary or unimportant reasons (like, having the wrong accent, being unable to travel on a particular date or day of the week, or having 22 months of experience instead of 24 minimum… ) Problem #2:  Staffing companies will not “sell” you to their customers.  They are just presenting you, and not taking sides too strongly – they let the customer decide if they want to work with you, and they’re not strongly invested in the outcome for any one person, because the customer knows that the staffing firm doesn’t know you from Adam and Eve.  See point #1:  you’re a staple. There are more just like you (as far as they’re concerned). Problem #3:  Once a staffing firm has presented you to a customer (or rejected you for that customer), you have no shot of getting into that customer through another avenue.  This is a function of the contracts between the staffing companies and their customers – usually anyone they present, even if they present them with the reasons why that person isn’t a fit, is no longer available to the customer without violating some kind of contractual constraint that requires them to pay the staffing company.  As a result, they’ll never revisit these decisions.  So if you, as a contractor, put your name out through “Superior Staffing”, but also reach out to BP3 about working on a particular account – odds are that you’ll either get staffed through the staffing firm at a lower rate than what we would pay (if you’ll take it), or you’ll get rejected because the customer has already seen your name through the staffing firm and doesn’t want to run afoul of that contract.  Many independent contractors mistakenly believe they are better off reaching out to as many opportunities as possible at the same time – but if those opportunities are consulting and staffing firms, that isn’t the case.  I’ve seen embarrassing situations where the same person was proposed by three different companies to the same customer.  If you have a more valued relationship with one of those firms over the others, the customer sure won’t see it in that circumstance.  And they’ll likely see you as little more than a mercenary and not someone that they can depend on to work the duration of the contract.

Why Work for BP3?

Against this backdrop, we’re being approached every week by people who want to work with BP3.  And our colleagues refer additional people our way every week.  In fact, we just hired another great asset for our team last week. In a previous post we made the case for why customers work with BP3:  we’re in the business of selling success. But why do BPM experts and people interested in BPM want to work for BP3? So why do these highly skilled professionals want to work with BP3?
  1. We live eat and breathe BPM.  This isn’t a fad or hobby for us, this is our livelihood and our career.  We understand why BPM expertise is differentiated.  Prospective employees and contractors understand that if they work with us it will improve their own brand in the industry by association.
  2. We’re invested in the success of our team.  We want our staff to be successful.  We’re working on long-term relationships with our clients, and as a result – when we put someone on our project, we continue to provide technical and project management support, not to mention support through managing the customer relationship.
  3. We don’t squeeze our folks on salaries and rates just because the economy is challenged.  We want to be working with our staff for a long time, and we know BPM is going to be in demand for years to come.  We’re not so short-sighted as to put the squeeze on people at the first sign of trouble.
  4. We represent our colleagues well to the customer.  We help our customers understand the strengths and fit of our consultants.  We help work out a travel schedule that works for both parties.  We provide video conferencing capabilities from our home office to help enable effective remote work.
  5. When the going gets tough, we help.  We’re BPM experts.  We can help with the technical lifting, and we can help with process improvement consulting.  We can help get a project that is off the rails, back on track.  And our customers know that we’re there to help.  Its part of why they keep coming back to work with us.
  6. We have a good reputation.  I believe we have a good reputation for fair dealing, for being good to work with and for.  We also have a good reputation in the BPM market as experts in our field.  It isn’t our first time to the rodeo.
  7. Our business is growing.  Despite the economy, we’re growing in the face of it and staying focused on our key value driver:  making customers successful with their BPM projects.
If you’re a BPM practitioner, BP3 is a great firm to work for.  If you’re a BPM customer, BP3 is a great firm to work with.  We’re not your only option, but we’re trying hard to be your best option.
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  • Well, start an office in The Netherlands!

    :-)

  • Well, start an office in The Netherlands!

    :-)

  • Roeland –
    Careful what you wish for – we might! :)
    I worked in the Netherlands for a couple of months about 10 years ago and loved it. And it wasn’t because of the weather because it was November-December :)

    We do know a few good people in Europe if you need a recommendation/referral – and of course if someone is paying for the travel, we can make guest appearances from stateside :)

    Admittedly, no plans to start an office there, currently, but most of our offices are started based on where our best people live, rather than where we intend to put an office. Bottom-up, if you will.
    Scott

  • Roeland –
    Careful what you wish for – we might! :)
    I worked in the Netherlands for a couple of months about 10 years ago and loved it. And it wasn’t because of the weather because it was November-December :)

    We do know a few good people in Europe if you need a recommendation/referral – and of course if someone is paying for the travel, we can make guest appearances from stateside :)

    Admittedly, no plans to start an office there, currently, but most of our offices are started based on where our best people live, rather than where we intend to put an office. Bottom-up, if you will.
    Scott

  • Jason Webb01

    Great post and ideas! I’m going to share this with the rest of my team as we work more with enterprise-level clients.

    Thanks and Regards/-
    Jason Webb

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