Clients often tell me that their candidate or talent relationship marketing (sometimes called CRM or TRM) isn't getting the 'expected results'.

Note: In this article, and for the sake of sanity, I’m going to refer to both of these relationship marketing approaches as ‘CRM’.

As well as unhappy clients, I also hear from CRM tech vendors who say their clients aren't making the most of their software's capabilities. 

The problem is usually two-fold. The first lies in the fact that buying a CRM platform is often considered the 'silver bullet’ to making recruitment easier. The second is that the tech vendors have a software solution (some are much better than others, of course), but often don't have the strategic and creative delivery in-house to help clients make the most of their software.

It's like owning private jet but not having the first idea how to fly it (or having a pilot to fly it for you).

Attracting great talent is only going to get more difficult

Attracting 'passive talent' (a phrase debated by many as to its correct meaning) is often a high priority for employers. Add the ever-increasing skills gap to the equation, and it's going to get even more difficult to attract (and retain) quality people. So cultivating relationships with talented individuals, whether they're currently ready to move jobs or not, needs to be a key element of any talent attraction strategy. It'll be worth the effort in the long run.

Generating awareness amongst your target audience is fairly easy nowadays, given the appropriate budget and using the right targeting technology, through the likes of programmatic marketing. It's being in the consideration set of the target audience that’s the biggest challenge - gaining share of mind when it comes to making a decision to move, and helping to convince and convert them.

Few employers will convince 'passive talent' to move to their organisation by simply sharing a job announcement or writing a cold email, hoping that they’ll make the leap and apply. You might have some success with that technique, but that will probably be down to luck more than anything else.

Most passive candidates won’t even read an email or take a call, let alone seriously consider a job offer. And if you’re not a major attractive brand, which most aren’t, it will be even harder to grab and maintain the attention of this audience. 

So how can you win the heart and minds of passive talent? Well, it all comes down to building relationships. Specifically, building great relationships.

If you’re a human, then you’ll know that building a relationship is hard work. Relationships take time. They take effort. You’ll doubt yourself and probably trip up along the way.

But, if you put in the ground work in and bring something of value to the relationship, then in terms of candidate relationships, you’re much better placed for when your passive candidate decides they’re ready for a new role. You won’t have to work as hard to grab their attention. They’ll already know you and trust you, thanks to all the hard work you put in building up your employer brand all those months (maybe years?) ago. Building candidate relationships can sometimes be a slow burner, but it’s one that will pay dividends when the time is right.

The best relationships are fundamentally built on trust and loyalty. This is gained by being honest, open and understanding. 

And what’s the most common reason relationships break down?

It’s through lack of communication.

Note: Pop a note in your diary to check out this this video from Professor Jordan Peterson, who perfectly sums up the problems in most relationships when it comes to communication: 

So, how can you improve your candidate relationship strategy?

There are three core pillars to consider to improve your CRM: your strategy, your resource and the technology. Each of these has questions that you'll need answers to.

Where CRM goes wrong for most employers, is that they start with the technology, which should come after strategy and resource.

So let’s begin where we should be, with the strategy.


How are you going to segment your audiences? 

Will it be by:

  • Role type
  • Location
  • Business function
  • Seniority
  • Blends of experience
  • Career stage
  • Applicant / candidate funnel stage
  • Lead qualification
  • Unsuccessful status (good culture fit but not right for that specific vacancy)
  • All of the above?

This is critical as you cannot take a one size fits all approach.

What are the messages you need to communicate to each audience segment and what content needs to be used / created? 

Before you do anything, ask yourself:

  • What do these passive candidates want to or need to know?
  • How does that match with what you have to say and how does it match your EVP pillars?

You need to have a good understanding of your audience so that you're adding value and not just broadcasting what you want to say to people who don't want to listen.

Importantly, once you’ve hooked people in, how are you going to add the personal touch and keep them engaged? Think about sending them some (personalised) content they might find useful or a friendly email on their birthday. These small gestures can cement your brand in a candidate’s mind.

How are you going to fill the talent pool and keep it fresh / free from stagnation? 

It is imperative that you drive passive talent as well as active job seekers into your talent pool.

Also, consider adding those that are ‘silver medallists’ (those who didn’t get the job but were a good fit for the company) and those that are part of the ‘pre-assessed workforce’ into the talent pool. This can be achieved by leveraging intelligent, targeted marketing, using data to identify key touchpoints in the job seeker journey to persuade users to opt in to the talent pool.

Simply asking people to update their details and re-opt into the talent pool every six months or so is also recommended to ensure you have a relevant, up to date talent pool. When it comes to quality, there needs to be a considered approach to understanding whether they are the right cultural fit too. How will you measure and validate that? And don’t forget your internal audiences. At some point, they’ll consider moving on, so make sure you tap into them before they decide to move to another employer. 

What is the communication strategy?

How will you provide a personalised, best-in-class experience for those in your talent pool? Understanding how you will make people feel is very important, whether that’s communication via email, social media, face to face, video call, etc.

Emotion is an incredible force in relationships (sometimes for good, sometimes for worse). So make sure your communications are personalised and not sounding like they’re from a robot. 

How will you measure efficacy?

Understanding what's working and what's not is crucial.

How are you effectively moving candidates through the funnel? Are you building relationships with the right people? Ensuring cultural fit may be more important than technical skills nowadays, so how are you going to measure that in your CRM platform?


Now this is bound to be a sensitive subject as it’s one of the reasons that CRM strategies fail.


  • There isn't enough time to dedicate to the nurturing of prospective talent by growing the relationship, or
  • There aren't enough people to do it.

Understanding who’s going to do what in each part of the process is critical, but recruiters have conflicting priorities of the urgent needs of the business, combined with growing and nurturing a pool of talented prospects. 

The urgent need will always win. So before moving any further, make sure you have the resource and they have the time to dedicated to CRM.


As I said earlier, this is where most people start and is therefore the reason most CRM strategies fail.

Technology is certainly an enabler, but don’t hand over your money unless you’ve done your research first.

These five key considerations should be at the front of your mind when choosing a CRM technology partner best placed to meet your needs and those of your candidates.

ATS integration

Ask your prospective provider:

  • How deep is the connection between the CRM platform and your specific ATS? (Each one will be different).
  • How long will the integration take? (ATS integration is an important component as you’ll need to know what status certain individuals are flagged up before you send marketing communications to them. The last thing you want to do is send an email to someone encouraging them to consider or apply for a role when they’ve already applied and been hired, or worse, rejected). 

Marketing Capability

The look and feel of the marketing can make or break your attraction campaign. Find out:

  • How flexible the system is in terms of templates and layouts of emails and landing pages. (For example, can you produce newsletters, blog post and event promotions. And can you do this yourself through CMS? How flexible is that CMS?)
  • What coding skills do you and your team need, or is it easy to use? 
  • Can you be creative with the designs?
  • Does the vendor have creative capability in-house, or do you need to use a third party to provide the designs / assets?

Remember, it’s not unreasonable to ask to see some examples of their creativity if they offer to do this in-house. 

Tracking & Analytics

Ensuring you have robust tracking and analytics is essential if you’re going to prove that the CRM strategy worked and the investment in the platform was worthwhile. This starts with understanding what you want to get out of it. 

SEE ALSO: The 70 Year Old Approach to Data That You Need to Use Today

Candidate Experience

Relationships always boil down to feelings. So make sure your candidates are experiencing the feelings you want them to have by providing a seamless and consistently branded experience for the following:

  • Job alert / talent pool registration
  • Email communications
  • Application process / ATS
  • Content alerts

Don’t forget to ask to see examples of how this works with third party sites and integrations to check that the candidate will feel like it’s the same system. And naturally, ensure that everything is mobile responsive.

Recruiter interface

Ask the people who are going to be using the system to test it out – your recruiters / recruitment communications team(s). Not only will you need their buy-in to ensure adoption, but they will all use CRM platforms differently, so it’s important to get their view on which is best for them before you choose. Nobody likes to be handed a system without being consulted first. 

As I said at the start of this article, building candidate relationships isn’t easy. You’ll wonder if you’re saying the right things at the right time through the right avenues.

But the good news is that these types of relationships are entirely measurable, if you’ve got the right CRM system / metrics in place. The best CRM systems will be flexible, with reports that show you what’s working, what’s not and most importantly, what your next move should be. After all, some relationships need entirely different approaches to others.

What matters is that you’re out there making an effort with passive candidates. You’re catching their attention and building brand loyalty so that eventually, you become their number one. And of course, when it comes to relationships, that’s the best spot to be in.

I’d love to hear how you manage your CRM. Do you find some areas more difficult to manage than others? Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss your CRM challenges or have any further questions.

Director of Digital Strategy

Nathan helps organisations optimise their recruitment marketing strategies by leveraging technology, creativity and data. In his role at employer marketing agency AIA Worldwide, Nathan has played pivotal roles in developing content marketing and social media strategies for large multinational corporations, as well as being a driving force behind a number of careers website projects and hiring strategies powered by the agency’s proprietary automated recruitment marketing software, TalentBrew. Catch him on Twitter, where he tweets all things digital marketing, branding and tech.