candidate relationship management

Q&A With Susan Collins of Talbots: How to Build a Talent CRM Program From the Ground Up

Q&A With Susan Collins of Talbots: How to Build a Talent CRM Program From the Ground Up

Recruiting teams are eager to leverage candidate relationship management software for better talent engagement but many don’t know where to begin. Susan Collins, director of talent acquisition at Talbots, shares how her team improved the candidate experience by using CRM technology to build a candidate relationship management program from the ground up. Read more about their approach, lessons learned along the way and where they plan to go to next as it relates to ongoing engagement and candidate relationship management.

What drove your overall approach to the creation of a candidate relationship management program for Talbots?

There were numerous considerations but two things rose to the top immediately. First, it was clear from all the recruitment marketing work that we had been doing on social media that we achieved the highest engagement whenever we highlighted our people. So, we knew that talking about how our people make working at Talbots great would be one of our strategies for the program.

We also recognized that the most effective and efficient way to get the word out would be through our talent CRM technology, which was in place at Talbots because having a CRM that was fully integrated into our ATS was a main priority when we purchased the GR8 People platform. If you think about launching and maintaining an effective CRM initiative manually—and trying to measure results—it’s just impossible to do well at scale. You need the right technology that can support the automation and efficiency required to deliver meaningful candidate communications as you work to convert your CRM community members into applicants.

Talbots is one among retail’s most recognizable brands. How has that influenced your employer branding efforts, including CRM program development?

When you’ve been around since 1947, people absolutely have an idea in their mind about who you are. Many people are quite familiar with who Talbots serves, but they don’t always realize that we’re an innovative company. We’re very focused on developing technology that brings us closer to our customers.

In terms of our employer brand, we’re known for nice and we’re proud of that. But we want people to understand how smart and inventive our workforce is, and that every single decision we make is with the customer in mind. At the same time, the outside world needs to see not only how much our customers matter to us but also how important employees are at Talbots. We really do care about our people. That’s why in developing the CRM program, we wanted to uncover the stories about our people that would be most effective in conveying how much they matter and what it’s like to work here.

So, you have your CRM technology and a clear vision for the messages you want to convey. What did Talbots do next?

We determined that, while audience segmentation was our ultimate goal, we needed to move the process forward by speaking with a larger audience first and leveraging what we learned before expanding our efforts to distinct target audiences. Our team decided that we would develop a general e-newsletter to highlight different areas of Talbots through stories and information about the team.

To identify content for the e-newsletter, talent acquisition worked with our customer analytics department to develop questions that we could then send to associates via SurveyMonkey in order to gather potential stories. The questions were driven by thinking through what people on the outside of those red doors would be most curious about.

Once we had our stories, we were able to develop our first e-newsletter, which is named Career Conversations. Content areas include the teams behind the scenes, from real estate and planning to visual and the design studio, along with perspectives of our employees regarding topics like the best qualities to have in a boss. Career Conversations also provides insights regarding career journeys—for example, our vice president of corporate visual merchandising began her Talbots career as a store associate—as well as calls to action to follow us on social and learn more about featured roles, as well as to apply. We also wove in messaging from a prior employer branding campaign, I AM TALBOTS, as it had resonated well with both current and prospective employees because it showcases how diverse the individuals who work here are.

Can you share some of the results you’ve realized through your CRM efforts?

It’s been truly amazing. We achieved a 25% open rate with the first e-newsletter, and we’ve gone from zero to tens of thousands of profiles created in the CRM in the first few months. Our opt-out rate has been extremely low, too, usually below 1%. This is because we built our database using an opt-in approach to make sure we reach people who want to receive our employment messaging.

And while there are specific metrics that we’re monitoring, we also consider other measures of success as we evaluate results and fine-tune the strategy and messaging. This includes everything from the spikes we see in social followers after our e-newsletters to positive feedback from store and field managers.

What’s next for Career Conversations?

We’re focusing our efforts on audience segmentation. A recent two-week campaign with targeted messaging resulted in a 30% to 40% increase in traffic to our career site for the month. And that was just from one campaign for one specific audience segment. So, that tells us there’s tremendous opportunity to speak to these groups individually.

And, in terms of lessons learned, what are your three biggest takeaways?

First, get buy-in from the top. Before we did anything, we went to our executive team and explained to them what we wanted to do and the value it would bring to the business. Our CEO, Lizanne Kindler, even agreed to be featured in the first e-newsletter, which helped us communicate the culture and the leadership voice at Talbots.

The second takeaway is that if you wait for everything to be perfect you’ll never get your program off the ground. We knew our ultimate goal was to create segmented communications for different audiences but if we didn’t start more broadly, we wouldn’t have been able to move the CRM effort forward or to apply what we learned from the initial e-newsletters to our segmented communications.

Finally, I keep coming back to our people because they really have been the key to our success. When you talk about your people, that’s what makes others curious to learn more. Plus, highlighting your people and the important role they play supports retention because you’re celebrating them in an authentic way. It reminds them why they feel good about their jobs, good about their colleagues and, therefore, good about Talbots.


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