In 2018, the procurement department at Northwestern Mutual oversaw the entire process of managing the independent talent pipeline — from handling SOWs to vetting the contractors. As part of our refocused strategic initiatives, we chose a technology partner that enables us to manage, build out and maximize our existing talent pool. However, our independent talent pipeline cannot meet all our needs, so our staffing suppliers are still vital to our program.

My staffing suppliers are among my best sources of market intelligence. They have several recruiters talking to the people we need. They have a good understanding of the ebbs and flows of the different talent pools and what is needed to tap into them. Staffing suppliers that focus their attention on specific talent pools are the most valued. They know where the talent is, what it will take to get them and who I am competing with in the marketplace. In fact, they should be the first ones to tell buyers when they need to tap into other areas of the ecosystem to fulfill special needs or hard-to-find talent.

In my experience, not all staffing suppliers are equipped to provide that level of service. There are three types of staffing suppliers: “Yessers,” “hedgers” and “focused.” Here are the differences and how they can be used in the ecosystem.

Yessers. If the buyer asks these suppliers for an astronaut, they will say, “Yes, I can get you one,” without even thinking it through. They will say yes to anything to get a foot in the door with the buyer. Every once in a while, they will actually provide a great resource, but usually they will spin their wheels looking for the next client or big deal. These are the suppliers we will turn to just for the easy-to-find roles, if any, because they cannot be counted on to strategically think through how to best to serve us or help us understand our place in the market.

The hedgers. Can you get me an astronaut? “I probably can, but it will take some time and the rate might be high. Let me see what we can do. Give me a couple of days?” These suppliers just want to be a part of the conversation and have a chance at everything. They probably remember one time a few years ago they recruited an astronaut for an obscure company, and they could potentially find out how they did that in the past and use it here. They know they cannot fill everything, but they want the first crack at everything before you consider other suppliers. Typically, the hedgers are just going to cost us time because they are more concerned about getting their chance rather than being our partner.

Focused. Can you get me an astronaut? “I’m sorry, but no, I cannot. We focus on filling developers and QA positions in your geographic area. You may want to look at your online staffing suppliers for something that specialized.” With suppliers like this, we know where they stand, what we can count on them for and that they have a firm grasp of my marketplace and my needs. These are partners, not just suppliers. They have a firm place in my program.

I am not saying there isn’t a place for all three types of suppliers, but yessers and hedgers shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t have a seat at my table. Also, we can’t work or partner with everyone; frankly, the fewer suppliers we have, the better position we are in to partner with them.

Especially within our market today, time is of the essence. We need partners that are up-front about their capabilities and current bench of employees. Trying to maintain a bench of employees that spans all industries and skill sets seems untenable, and frankly, impossible. It really comes down to what Jerry Maguire said to Rod Tidwell, “Help me … help you!” Helping us fill our roles will help your partnership with us. I am unsure of yessers’ and hedgers’ ability to deliver long-term as a partner and am more comfortable counting on a focused supplier to meet my specific needs. Which one do you want to be?