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3 Common Sales Hiring Mistakes Made by Creative Agencies

Posted by Mark Duval on Jan 28, 2016 8:59:51 AM
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Whether to hire, when to hire, and who to hire for sales are questions constantly posed by creative agencies. When asked 33 marketing and ad agency executives about the single biggest mistake or challenge ad agencies face as they scale, nearly one-third of them identified hiring. Hiring for sales, in particular, brings its own set of obstacles.



The Pros and Cons of Hiring a Salesperson for Your Agency

The idea of having someone exclusively dedicated to new business generation is compelling, often because it’s not something a creative agency owner necessarily enjoys doing, and they don’t have time to do it.  However, it’s challenging to find a good salesperson who really “gets” the creative side and can speak the language of marketing and agencies. That disconnect can undermine their effectiveness.

Sales hiring mistakes are a huge issue across industries; both prevalent and costly. The costs of hiring mistakes include time, money, and potential damage to employee productivity, morale, and the agency’s reputation. Hubspot has pegged their actual cost per mis-hire at $84,000. As with hires in any industry, agencies can make mis-hires due to poor cultural fit, failing to use an assessment tool, and failing to verify the candidate’s resume, references, and experience, among other things. But beyond that, here are some reasons why agencies go wrong with their sales hires specifically.

Mistakes Creative Agencies Make When Hiring Salespeople


1. Failing to do the right math.

Mostly, this is about doing the math on compensation that will incentivize your salesperson and still leave sufficient profit margins -- in the best case and worst case scenarios, in long sales cycles, and despite shifting business priorities. But it’s also about doing the math to know at what point you will need to hire additional team members to fulfill the work brought on by a new salesperson.


Most salespeople will expect to be paid a base salary that covers their basic needs, combined with the opportunity to earn a certain amount of commission. If you have presented your salesperson with a defined earning potential through commissions, you should be sure that you would have the resources to deliver work on the number of accounts required for them to meet their ceiling. What is the maximum sustainable number of clients for your agency? Are your margins going to be sustainable after paying sales commission and factoring in any additional new resources you might have to take on to support a larger client roster? Slack off on your math and you will be unlikely to retain your salesperson.

2. Not providing the salesperson with what they need to succeed.

When hiring your first salesperson, the odds are somewhat stacked against a successful outcome for either of you. In a way, they are the first person on the moon, a sales pioneer in a marketing world. They will be guinea pigs for your compensation package, it’s all but guaranteed there will be no sales onboarding program or sales budget for them, and they may face greater obstacles to cultural integration than your creative team hires. Nevertheless, those are the ingredients generally considered necessary for sales success and employee retention, so it is in your interest to provide them to the best of your abilities.

It’s also up to you to provide your new salesperson with the information they need to be successful both for the agency and in terms of reaching their own goals. That may be arming them with case studies and stories, and it may be helping them understand what kinds of clients you don’t want to close. It also means they need to be know how far they can go in the negotiation process, and at what price point the team will be spread too thin. Problems start to arise when salespeople bent on chasing commissions start to use hard-sell tactics, over-promise and cut prices. That leaves the creative team holding the bag, working hours beyond what the client has paid, and breeds resentment of the salesperson. And when the salesperson is not accepted as part of the team, company culture and employee morale will suffer.


3. Hiring a salesperson when you would be better served by hiring for another role or function.

In considering why you want to hire a salesperson, you may find that you don’t need to. Perhaps what you really need is to develop or hire account managers. A great account manager who is able to generate organic business and referrals may have an edge over a salesperson as they have an ongoing relationship with the client. An account manager has the advantage of continuity over a salesperson who may nurture a relationship over a long sales cycle but then has to pass it off after closing. Or, perhaps you should hire someone to whom the CEO can delegate non-essential tasks, giving them more time to devote to relationship-building and business development.

Here’s another example. Are you hiring a salesperson because you need someone to hunt for new business, cold call, negotiate and close leads? Or do you want to hire a salesperson to actually generate new leads and identify prospective clients? If the latter, what you may really need is message refinement and improved user experience on your website.

Marketing agencies are constant victims of “Cobbler’s children” syndrome. Agencies put clients before their own business, which stays on the back burner at the expense of lost revenue. It could be more cost-effective to hire someone on a part-time or project basis to refine your positioning, and overhaul your online marketing efforts. Hubspot recently published research from The Agency Management Institute, that 85% of decision-makers are finding the agencies they want to work with, not the other way around. Which is consistent with broader trends in the sales process and is why having an informative, user-friendly website and educational content is so critical. If your marketing has room for improvement, you may not need a salesperson at all.

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If you are interested in agency sales, you may want to read these:

Image credits: © racorn / 123RF Stock Photo; © wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo; © stockbroker / 123RF Stock Photo, all modified by resizing and text overlay.

Topics: Hiring an Agency New Business Person

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