Every 6 months or so I get together with my friend Martyn.

Martyn’s a recruiter. A good one. He started before the tech boom years ago. Built a serious firm. Saw it implode. Started over. Now very successful. Savvy. He’s seen a lot. Been through a lot. Not a lot surprises him anymore.

As a consultant/CEO, I’ve used Martyn over and over to find me great people. He says his sweet spot is tech sales, tech sales management. Good for him. Having a positioning is good. However, I’ve used him to find marketing people, CFO’s, customer service managers, you name it – in everything from not-for-profit through financial services.

Ultimately, the competitive advantage in recruiting is understanding what your client is looking for – a product of listening and client knowledge – and being fearless about reaching out to potential candidates. Martyn is the listener. His staff are the fearless ones, and they’re good.

Every time Martyn and I get together, he ultimately regales me with his ugly client stories. Getting stiffed. Clients stealing candidates. Clients lying about what’s happening in the business.

In every story, there are underlying themes about some clients and some client mentalities around recruiting – and business in general.

First, there’s the notion some clients have that recruiting is some sort of commodity type business that is practiced equally by any/all firms in the business.

Second, that the universe is large and unconnected. That burning bridges and being an asshole doesn’t have consequences.

Third, that negotiation is win-lose exercise, where the win-lose on fee is disconnected from the quality of the search.

Finally, that being funded by a VC means you’re generally smarter than people with 3x the experience.

My perspective on any/all of these won’t be a surprise. They’re just dumb. Having a strong relationship with a recruiter is potentially one of the most important business relationships a growth manager can have. These relationships take time to nurture. A few searches. Getting to know how manager and recruiter come to see the same candidates in the same light.

Treating recruiters – and candidates – like commodities will backfire. The search community may seem large, but it’s not. Sure there will always be a new firm to take an asshole client, but if you’re the Board, do you really want your CEO building the future and sinking your investment on a new supplier every time there’s a new search?

Some thoughts on working effectively with a recruiter.

> Have lunch, regularly. Get to know his/her business. Let him/her get to know you/your business. Get to know each other.

> Err on the side of loyalty. Forcing the recruiter to compete on every search will not lead to better quality candidates. It will lead to a semi-disengaged recruiter.

> Don’t blow the relationship up over a search that goes wrong. There’s valuable learning when mistakes happen. Early on working with Martyn I learned that when I provided the wrong specs, he hired me the wrong person. Good for him. Sucks to be me. Martyn helped me work it out and it’s never happened again.

> Tap their expertise. Experienced recruiters like Martyn have seen everything. Negotiating techniques. Employment contracts. Salary levels. Tapping into that during and outside searches can be invaluable.

> Negotiate fee when it makes sense. Like when you’re hiring multiple senior positions. But don’t grind it every time. Yes, you can leap to a new recruiter who may do something dumb to get your business. Other than that, the recruiting fee model is pretty standard – and your choice needs to be on the quality of the recruiter, not winning a price negotiation.

> Finally, come to terms with how you feel about people/employees, and their impact on your business. My philosophy is simple. It’s all about the people. No compromises. Does Google compromise? GE? Microsoft? Measure your recruiter on the basis of one thing – quality of the people you ultimately hire. As long as Martyn keeps delivering people who teach me how to get the job done, we’ll be working together for a long time.

Oh, and here’s the link to Martyn’s site. http://www.mbassett.com/