Wednesday, November 4

Disrupting Outplacement: RiseSmart

When RiseSmart first entered the recruiting industry in 2008, it set its sights on a specific niche. One year later, RiseSmart shifted its business model to include outplacement. The difference between the two places presents a case study in disruptive business.

RiseSmart is a provider of Web-enabled outplacement and job search services. The former helps laid-off employees find jobs faster. The latter helps professionals find jobs in the $100k market.

"Our initial thought was that we would need to make significant traction with a B2C offering in order to build interest in the B2B solution," says Sanjay Sathe, founder and CEO of RiseSmart. "But the moment we introduced Transition Concierge in the second half of last year ... we had an extraordinary amount of interest, and were signing up Fortune 500 companies almost immediately."

For RiseSmart, the timing couldn't be better. Layoff announcements had risen to 48 percent (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) and U.S. job cuts were on pace to exceed 1 million this year (Challenger, Gray & Christmas). At the same time, 81 percent of employers were engaging help from external outplacement providers (The Value of Outplacement, Reed Consulting).

Why was the timing right? Traditional outplacement relied heavily on psychological testing, use of personality and skills assessment tools, hands-on career counseling, and the provision of an environment where an executive could feel comfortable while making networking calls. The newer model, called the "Market Model," included market research, proactive job/tech development, hands-on campaign management and skills training.

RiseSmart, on the other hand, applied its existing technology to outplacement in order to focus on the job seeker's most pressing need: finding a job. Not only did employees appreciate faster outplacement services, but employers also realized a significant cost savings by expediting placement over counseling or skills training.

The net result was $4.6 million in additional Series A financing, including $2.8 million from Storm Ventures and $1.8 million from Norwest Venture Partners (NVP). Since last year, the company has raised $8.85 million in institutional investments.

“RiseSmart’s Transition Concierge is disrupting the cost structure for corporate outplacement providers, while leveraging technology to deliver superior value to a growing roster of Fortune 500 clients," said Sanjay Subhedar, managing director of Storm Ventures. "The company has gone the extra mile to provide an excellent customer experience to both corporate clients and transitioning workers — and that has paid off in word of mouth and new business referrals.”

According to Sathe, the model is by design. As employees recently laid off by a Fortune 500 company have a positive transition experience, they are likely to tell others about the experience. From a marketing perspective, the B2B service not only disrupts existing outplacement sources, but it also provides the company a cost-effective approach to market its B2C service.

That's not to say the strategy hasn't had some challenges. Moving from a B2C-focused business model to a B2B business model means a smaller universe of customers and competitors.

"The biggest [challenge] is that many of these big players have very entrenched relationships with corporate HR departments, which can be difficult to overcome," says Sathe. "But the biggest positive is that it enabled us to become very focused on what we needed to do to differentiate ourselves from the big players; we have brought innovation to an otherwise stodgy industry that has introduced very few new ideas over the past 20 years."

The primary differentiation is that a 2009 survey Institute for Corporate Productivity showed that employers invest an average of more than $5,000 per executive or manager to provide external outplacement support for a period of three to six months. RiseSmart has succeeded in cutting those costs in half.

At the same time, while the compelling price point has helped RiseSmart open doors, the less tangible benefits for employees and employers establishes a reputation for excellence. Ninety-two percent of respondents expressed overall satisfaction with RiseSmart Transition Concierge service and 88 percent said it was likely they would recommend the service to friends.

The results are in stark contrast to the rest of the industry. The lackluster performance is understandable, with dissatisfaction increasing exponentially with every month those employees remained unemployed. In contrast, the RiseSmart Transition Concierge service is delivering the average worker 10.6 highly relevant job leads per week.

"Many of the jobs we screen are recruiter posted," adds Sathe. "We expect to expand our relationship with recruiters to enhance Job Concierge and Transition Concierge over time."

It also serves as a reminder that not all marketing measures include advertising, public relations, or social media. While communication assists business, the right marketing model can transform an entire business overnight. And sometimes, at least in the case of RiseSmart, those changes can disrupt entire niche industries.



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