You want to hire a sales search agency. You need to recruit for an exceptional leader, the ideal player/coach or an outstanding individual contributor who will drive revenue. But, you don’t think you should pay a cent until that candidate is found and hired. It seems logical that this type of contingency fee agreement is the sweetest deal. Right?

Then why do so many companies invest in retaining executive recruiters to fill a critical role? Simply put, it’s smarter business. You get the best ROI.

Let’s first define what we mean by retainer. It consists of three payments:

  • The first third of the estimated fee to begin
  • Second third after a set time period or after specific deliverables
  • The balance at the time of hire


Companies that pay a portion of the placement fee upfront gain a competitive advantage. They hire the best candidates to move business forward, faster. Here’s why:

1. Committing to the search means a better process and outcome.

Paying a portion of the fee to kick-off a search means a fully committed relationship. Companies demonstrate they are serious about filling an open role. And, serious about leveraging the expertise of a specialized recruiter who will invest time and resources to find the right hire. By accepting an upfront payment, the recruiter commits to delivering every step of the way – bringing grit and determination, keen insights, continuous communication and real-time feedback. With the upfront investment the pressure is on for the recruiter to perform.

2. A critical role can be filled from a small pool of qualified people.

These searches take time and round-the-clock effort, and you are relying on experienced headhunters to find the ideal personality and experiential profile tailored to your needs. Add an exponential level of difficulty to find a candidate with the background, skills, and unique qualities you want, and the pool of possible candidates shrinks considerably. The recruiter expertly identifies and evaluates the right person for the role. The alternative? You pour over and work through a ton of resumes (or too few!). Read, screen, meet, rinse, repeat.

3. You are assured of getting the most highly qualified candidates.

Let’s face it, it’s an unfortunate truth that recruiters who work on both contingency and retainer will probably send their best candidates to those clients with skin in the game. It seems only natural to first reward a company that has committed to services upfront versus the one that might pay down the road. Retainer-based relationships ensure dedicated and experienced recruiters will do whatever it takes to identify and fill an open position, making those hires a top priority over contingency searches.

4. You avoid wasting time with candidates who are not appropriate for your role.

Lastly, contingency recruiters typically like to send the same candidates on interviews for all their open positions, just to see what sticks. There’s lots of activity. But chances are they have not developed a customized process specific to your critical hiring needs. Consistent and dedicated resources may be in short supply. With a contingency arrangement, it is more than likely that most candidate screenings will fall directly on you. Did you sign up for that? The result is a bigger burden than you anticipated.

High-growth organizations who want to find the best candidates know the upfront investment will pay dividends immediately and for years to come. They hire experts for their search and hiring needs, from start to finish.

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