How to Hire, Train, and Pay a Successful Agency Sales Team

By Jason Swenk on July 24, 2019

Do you want to hire the right salespeople? Not sure what measures to take to set them up for success? Curious about the best way to compensate your sales team? Sales is a critical part of your agency’s success. Sales drives conversions, captures clients, and helps relieve some major the burden from the owner. Hiring an amazing sales team and setting them up for success if the key to longterm agency growth.

In today’s episode, we’ll cover:

  • #1 way to set up a successful agency sales team.
  • 2 things every salesperson needs to do.
  • How do you separate your services from a commodity?
  • Should you pay based on commission or salary?

Today, I talked with Alex Chernyak, Director of Business Development* at Flynn Agency, a digital agency in New York. Alex has over 15 years of sales and digital marketing experience, and he’s owned his own agency, too. With a start in radio, Alex was drawn into the agency space by the allure of freedom. And, since then he’s been helping agencies build killer sales teams and sales systems. Over the years, he’s learned how to find, hire, and train salespeople that accelerate agency growth.

#1 Way to Set Your Sales Team Up for Success

Are you thinking about hiring for sales? Hiring isn’t easy. But, hiring sales is one of the trickiest in the agency space.

Sure, hiring for core values and culture is important. And, you should always have a vetting process in place to weed out poor applicants. But, that’s only going to get the right person in the door. How do you set them up to win accounts?

The answer:  agencies must have an existing sales system in place to facilitate sales success.

Salespeople aren’t plug-and-play. And even if your sales hire has experience in another agency, there are nuances to every agency business that just can’t be handed off. You can’t give your new salesperson a phone and expect them to start setting appointments or landing deals. It doesn’t matter how great of a salesperson they are or what agency they worked at before; they need support and an existing sales system.

Sales rockstars are built — not born.

2 Things Every Salesperson Needs to Do

1. Build a sales list. List out 200 – 300 prospects. These are the prospects your sales team is going to target with drip campaigns, paid content, etc. And, they should be constantly rotating this list based on interest. Here’s a great tip from Alex — keep a separate list of your top 10 – 20 prospects. The sales team should have extra resources (e.g., audits, outreach support, etc.) for these prospects.

2. Find ways to communicate value. Your agency sales team can help you break free of being viewed as a commodity. Sales needs to diagnose problems, build rapport, and justify the price with value. Always sell solutions (not features) and talk value over cost… always!

How Do You Separate Your Services from a Commodity?

Here’s the hard truth. There are people who are offering the same services as your agency for a fraction of the price. Where some prospects are concerned, if price is all that matters, you already lost.

So, flip the script. It’s not about price — it’s about quantifying value. Sure, that web developer in another country can build a site for $500. But how good is it at converting leads? This is where your sales team comes into play. When a prospect starts talking price, change the subject to value. Here’s an analogy:

A prospect comes to you and asks you to build a killer WordPress site. You quote them $25k. They come back the next day and say, “This freelancer overseas said he can do it for $2,000. Why should I pick you?”

If you’ve given your sales team the right playbook, this one should be easy… Why is it only $2,000? Can they build it as fast as you can? Do they have the level of experience you have? Do you offer a unique branding style that no one can mimic? Don’t sell them a service. Sell them a key to unlock the treasure chest with solutions to their greatest challenge.

This isn’t always easy! A lot of the work we do is invisible to clients. And an effective Account Manager can continue to communicate results so your agency is never viewed as a commodity. However, if you hired the right salesperson, they can communicate it with confidence and head it off early and communicate value before it becomes a question with the prospect.

Should You Pay Based on Commission or Salary?

In short – both!

Straight commission sales compensation isn’t low-risk high-reward — it’s low-risk low-reward. It leads to higher turnover. Plus, your salespeople don’t have any incentives to be an evangelist for your brand. They don’t care how good the prospect is or how well they fit with your culture. They need to make ends meet, so they can’t afford to be selective with who they sell to and why.

On the flip side, straight salary is for marketers. Salespeople need incentives to go above and beyond in order to land the bigger, better clients. They are driven by the challenge of earning their commission and need you to dangle the carrot.

Salespeople should wear a marketers hat and a sales bandana. Give them a commission and a base salary. I always suggest the base be something they can just barely live on. But the commission structure should help them live the lifestyle they choose. That’s why a tiered commission approach works well. Ask your salesperson how much they want to earn for a year, and then help them develop a plan using your base salary + commission structure in order to earn that level.

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  • UPDATE:  Alex is now the Director of Digital Channels at Butler Till

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