I talk to a lot of agency owners who are handling both sales and client services for their agencies. They might have a couple of marketing consultants who are also working with clients but when it comes to the client engagement, the owners are still very much involved.
The question they ask me is, “Do I need a salesperson?” Or sometimes, “When should I hire a salesperson?”
It’s a good question for growing agencies. But my answer is almost always the same. I ask them, “Do you like sales or taking care of the clients?” This answer usually requires some soul searching. What I mean is, that you can’t do both. You have to pick either selling your services to new clients or taking care of current clients.”
The answer is important if you're planning on hiring a salesperson.
When agency owners start talking about hiring a salesperson, this is my first question because it might not be a salesperson you need. It might be a head of client services.
If you love sales, why wouldn’t you do sales and find someone to lead client services? Of course, if you love taking care of the clients and hate sales, then yes, you need someone who loves sales, who will do it better than you and yes, let’s hire that person.
For the sake of this article, let’s talk about hiring that salesperson. We’ll cover hiring the client service lead at another time.
Here’s how you know if you need a salesperson or not.
The Number Of Leads
A lot of agencies live off their referrals. In most cases this means a handful of new client opportunities trickle in each month and as the owner you handle those on your own. If this is the case, I’m not sure hiring a salesperson makes sense.
Even if you’d rather be working with clients, having a dedicated sales person to handle a trickle of referral leads doesn’t make good sense to me. Plus, as referrals, they’re likely to want to talk to you, the owner anyway.
On the other hand, if you’re getting more incoming leads then you can handle, it’s usually a good signal that you need help dealing with that amount of leads.
I think it’s reasonable a new salesperson could handle two to four new leads a day, plus their other follow up, presentation, and general administrative duties. That means your agency has to be generating roughly 10 to 20 new sales qualified leads a week and 40 to 80 a month.
That means you’re getting roughly 10,000 visitors a month to your website, driving around 100 to 200 marketing qualified leads or more a month and of those people about 60 or so are asking to speak with a sales rep because they’re at that point in their buyer journey. They are serious enough to speak with an agency and qualified enough to be a good fit for your shop.
I don’t see many $1 million to $2 million shops with this kind of activity. But if you do, it might be time to hire a sales rep.
There are two other ways you could consider adding a sales rep if you had less inbound sales activity.
First, if you’ve decided to be aggressive and go outbound in addition to inbound. If you have a desire to do cold outreach, ABM or other more traditional sales stuff, then it would make sense to add a sales person to your team mix.
Next, I have always loved the idea of including client services consultants or strategists in the sales process. The prospect wants to meet who she’ll be working with and they have the best stories anyway. If you have a partially allocated consultant, involving them in the sales process might be an interesting way to see if you have a consultant with sales chops and fully utilize your expensive resources.
The Experience Prospects Receive
Another reason to consider hiring a salesperson is if your prospects (regardless of whether they are referrals or inbound leads) are having a mediocre to poor experience with your agency.
The latest research we did at Square 2 included surveying our new clients on why they chose our agency over the others they were considering. Eighty percent said it was the sales process. If this tracks to your agency, then the experience you give prospects when they first meet you is critical to getting them to be new clients.
If that experience isn’t amazing, you might be losing more deals than you should. If you’re having a hard time getting back to people quickly, moving the engagement along, answering their questions, delivering highly engaging content in context to their challenges or if you’re slow getting them their proposal in a timely manner, then this might mean you need help.
This could be attributed to you having to spend more time working with clients or you could simply have too many opportunities to be handling them all effectively. Either way, you need help.
Your Agency Growth Goals
There are a couple of other reasons to hire a salesperson. You might have aggressive growth goals and the only way you think you can get there is to add a salesperson to your team. It’s sound thinking but I would go slowly if you think your newly minted sales rep is going to mine their existing network and drive your business without the support of you and the rest of the agency.
If you think they’re going to cold call your entire geography, head off to networking events, tap their LinkedIn network, or maybe tap yours, you are likely going to be very disappointed.
Inbound Or Outbound
You can probably tell I’m more in the inbound camp than the outbound camp and that is especially true when it comes to working with other agencies.
Not only do I think you have to be great at inbound to drive your own lead generation efforts, but you have to be great at inbound for your clients too. I’ve written and spoken numerous times about the importance of having your own agency inbound marketing program producing enough leads to grow your business to your desired goals.
I know there are people out there training you and recommending that you NOT wait for inbound to work and get proactive about finding new business. That’s fine and I agree, but that should be supplemental, not instead of your own inbound leads.
Your Sales Process
Finally, don’t hire a sales rep without a battle-tested sales process. That means you’ve used it and it works. That means you’ve been iterating on it for months. That means you’re closing at least 50% of the proposals you do. It means it’s documented, visual and built into your CRM.
You’re literally going to hand it to your new sales rep and say, “Here, do this, and after you do this exactly as I have it here, we can talk about how you might want to change it, but not until you execute it this way 20 times.”
That means you need to have emails created, content lined up, supporting documentation, references ready to go, and all the assets you need to execute that sales process is in play.
If you hire someone without this, you’re going to be very disappointed.
Hiring a salesperson isn’t a secret weapon to growth no matter what the most successful CEOs tell you. You can’t scale up an agency simply by throwing sales bodies on the problem. Remember too, you are competing against other agencies. What is this new salesperson going to say when a prospect asks them, “What makes your agency better than the other six I’m talking to?” If you don’t have that answer, you’re not ready to hire either.
Take this opportunity to practice what you preach and get alignment between your marketing and your sales, even if that’s one or two people. Create an amazing, remarkable, highly educational, and prospect focused experience, then put your experienced salesperson on the field with the right bat, ball and glove. This is going to produce much better results, in much less time.
Start Today Tip – Take a few hours to assess your current situation. First, ask yourself the question. “Do I want to do sales or customer service?” If the answer is sales, you might need to shift gears and NOT hire that sales rep. If the answer is taking care of clients, you have work ahead of you before you make that hire. Get your process down, create all the sales assets you need, and make sure your marketing message, especially the differentiation one is down cold. Once you have that, you might be ready to hire your first sales rep. But keep in mind you still have to work out compensation and the role you want to play in the sales process. Don’t hesitate. Move forward. Change is good.
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