What Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO) Buyers Want

by Lamees Abourahma

Recruitment Process Outsourcing buyers telling RPO partner what they want

The most important single thing for businesses is to focus obsessively on the customer, as Jeff Bezos underscored. “Our goal is to be earth’s most customer-centric company," he said. Other successful entrepreneurs, including Elan Musk, share Bezos’ golden rule. In the talent acquisition world, what do employers want from their recruitment vendors? The answer to this question has been changing over time and has depended on different factors affecting economic conditions.

At the RPOA Annual Conference #rpoacon2023, keynote speaker and Chief Researcher of Lighthouse Research and Advisory Ben Eubanks clearly showed what RPO buyers want and don't want from their RPO partners. Eubanks presented a new RPO maturity model and aligned buyers' preferences based on where they are in their RPO maturity. He described the characteristics of firms that see a positive return on investment (ROI) from working with an RPO partner. Here is a recap of his presentation.  

Download the free 2023 RPO Trends: A Buyer’s Guide

Recruitment Process Outsourcing Buyer Maturity Model

Eubanks called attention to the fact most employers are at one of the three levels of RPO buyer maturity. RPO buyers are either at the “emerging,” “optimizing,” or “leading” level of maturing. He stressed the importance of RPO providers meeting employers at their current level of maturity. Recognizing the direct link between hiring success and business success, providers must tailor their approach to each level of maturity.

RPO Maturity Model Chart by LHRA


An employer at the emerging level is talking to an RPO provider for the first time. Their strategy is short-term and reactive. Their priorities include candidate volume and time to hire. Their expected outcome is minimal: close requisitions. 


The employer at the optimizing level has partnered with an RPO provider, reaping benefits. Their strategy is a mix of proactive and reactive planning, with priorities on candidate volume and quality of hire—expected outcomes: increased performance and predictability.


Employers at the leading level maintain a strong partnership with their RPO provider. They proactively strategize for the long term, identify critical positions and required skill sets, and employ effective processes to acquire top talent. They focus on innovation, employer branding, and market competitiveness. They strive to align hiring with business strategy, scale up or down as needed, and boost performance and talent retention.

What Recruitment Process Outsourcing Buyers Want 

Eubanks shared that RPO providers must understand clients' wants and the services that best meet their needs. He observed that this involves clarifying the cost expectations of RPO services and being upfront about any additional expenses. Despite these challenges, the demand for RPO firms to support innovative recruitment strategies increased between 2022 and 2023. The key to success for RPO providers, he said, is listening to the needs of clients and delivering results that meet or exceed their expectations.

RPO Services Offered Versus RPO Services Preferred

Eubanks addressed that what the RPO client wants often doesn't always match the services RPO providers give them. Using the chart below, he described the gap between hiring services wanted and actual services rendered. Watch the clip and use the chart below to follow along. 

Ben Eubanks 2023 RPOA Keynote Key Findings-1-36 (1)-23_page-0001-min

Support For Innovative Recruiting Strategies

Eubanks noted a change in what RPO buyers want RPO providers to support. The new research shows that the demand for innovative recruiting strategies jumped from number eight on employers' want list in 2022 to number two on their want list. The need for new strategies in recruiting increased by 57 percent in 2023. 

Ben Eubanks 2023 RPOA Keynote Key Findings-1-36 (1)-24_page-0001-min

RPO Buyers' Expectations of Cost For Those Preferred Services

The research showed that 45% of employers expect preferred services to be included in the base price, while 41% anticipate them to be additional costs. For RPO firms to meet the cost expectations of RPO buyers, it's crucial to provide clarity and help them understand the value they'll receive from an RPO provider. Consider the extra time, effort, insight, and research required for employer branding. It's essential to set expectations upfront to prevent dissatisfaction.

Factors of Dissatisfaction with RPO Partner 

Eubanks shared two factors that create dissatisfaction in an RPO partner. The first is that RPO buyers expect the services they pay for to be in the base price. If they don't receive what they expect, there may be a sense of broken trust. The second is that failure to provide consistent updates can lead to decreased customer satisfaction due to feeling out of touch with the value provided. He explained that to prevent that from happening, regular, timely updates from the RPO are essential to maintaining satisfaction levels. RPO leaders should update hiring partners weekly or monthly to meet employer expectations.

Value RPO Buyers Expect From an RPO Partner

Eurbanks brought into focus that the expected value of an RPO buyer depends on which buyer to whom an RPO company is talking. There are two RPO buyers who RPO firms talk to about service delivery. They speak to the buyer on the executive team and the buyer on the TA team. 

The research shows that the buyer on the executive team expects the hiring strategy to align with the business goals. These buyers ask themselves, is this hiring strategy enabling or hindering alignment? The other buyer from the TA team expects help with new tactics to recruit and hire talent. These tactics could be slight changes that increase the volume and quality of the talent hired. When RPO providers deliver services that marry those expected outcomes, it's easy for RPO buyers to see the value of an RPO partner.

Characteristics of RPO Buyers With High ROI 

Eubanks ended his presentation by describing the characteristics of RPO buyers with a high ROI. Some of the characteristics of RPO Buyers with Positive ROI are…

  • 88% more likely to use full talent lifecycle for all roles, not just for some skills or roles. 36 percent of RPO buyers said they're using full talent lifecycle. 
  • More likely to have had the RPO relationship in place for a more extended period of time.
  • 62% less likely to be considering a change in RPO partners (and their #1 reason for changing is for more significant/extensive support). 
  • 50% more likely to say implementation speed was a critical selection factor.


Recent data from 2023 RPO Value Study shows a few trends regarding what employers look for from their recruiting services. The demand for innovative recruitment strategies is on the rise. Clarity is key regarding cost expectations, and RPO providers must set expectations upfront to ensure both parties remain satisfied. In addition, executive team buyers focus more on business goals, while TA buyers focus on recruiting tactics. These two perspectives often need to come together to ensure maximum ROI for the employer. Finally, the study highlighted the characteristics of RPO partners with high ROI, used full talent lifecycle for all roles, received deep industry knowledge, and experienced collaboration and communication throughout their hiring process and beyond.

We encourage you to watch Ben's full presentation on demand at our 2023 RPOA Conference page so you can gain more insights from the research findings about what organizations are looking for in an RPO partner.

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