The Ultimate Playbook for Building a Top-Notch Sales Team for Your Digital Agency

By Jason Swenk on August 13, 2023

Are you tired of being the only one in your agency responsible for closing deals? Would you like to build a top-notch agency sales team to land the deals you’ve always wanted? In this episode, you’ll learn how to find the right salesperson, build a sales team, train, manage, and compensate them so the owner is no longer the one responsible for agency sales.

It all starts with:


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Being an agency owner can feel like being on a rollercoaster ride. One moment you have a full pipeline and the next it is as dry as the desert. I remember focusing all my attention on sales to get new business and then having to switch my focus to delivery. As soon as I was focused on delivery I noticed sales suffered. In hindsight, I think I was self-sabotaging sales because we just couldn’t deliver as fast as I was selling the services.

To fix this problem you have to find a salesperson who can do a better job at sales than you do, as the agency owner.

There are three types of salespeople:

  • Hunter:  usually has a lower salary and gets paid per appointment.
  • Closer: with a higher base salary and tiered commission, and should have a sales quota.
  • Farmer or account service: has a mid-range salary with a bonus based on client retention.

The BIGGEST MISTAKE you can make while searching for a salesperson is trying to find a unicorn that can fill all three of these roles. And, you don’t need to hire all three at once. Start by hiring for the role you’re weakest at. Are you good at getting the leads in but lacking when it comes to following up? Then hire a closer. Eventually, you can hire the rest and grow a sales team.

Pro tip: be sure to give them the right title. No one wants to meet with a “Business Development Manager” or “Salesperson.” Personally, I’ve always preferred the term Specialist, like Scale Specialist or Conversion Specialist. You need a title that makes prospects want to have a conversation.

Now where can you actually find these salespeople? You have several choices:

  1. Personal connections: I don’t suggest hiring a friend, but a mutual connection is a winner almost every time.
  2. Current and past clients: Your clients already know what you do and your process and they may love working for you.
  3. Salespeople who have sold to you in the past: They can even be from another industry. The important thing is that you had a good experience; you can teach and train them in everything else agency-related.
  4. Recruiters and job boards: This has never personally worked for me but it depends on your style and preferences.

How to Differentiate a Good Agency Sales Candidate

Once you start the interview process, how can you tell a sales candidate is right for your agency? Look at how they’re behaving during the interview. Are they talking too much? If they do, it’s probably a bad sign. A good salesperson listens more than they talk. Are they asking great questions? Have they been successful in sales in the past? As mentioned, they don’t necessarily need experience in the agency industry, as long as they understand the principles of sales.

For the candidates you do like, ask them to prepare a 90-day plan. They should be able to paint a picture of what they would do during the first 90 days at your agency. Moreover, you can use that plan later as a way to measure them.

Pro Tip: Sales are very competitive, so if you can hire two or three candidates at the same time, you can encourage competition while also testing out strengths.

How Should You Compensate Agency Sales? Commission-Only vs. Salary

This is a question I get very often. How do you compensate an agency salesperson? Commission-only or straight salary?

To be clear, each has its downsides. If you’re paying commission only, your salespeople may start to make false promises in desperation to make a sale. They also may not be 100% focused on your agency and might even sell for someone else to make ends meet.

On the other hand, if you go for 100% salary you avoid the problem of false promises but they almost certainly won’t be hungry enough to go hard on sales.

This is why I lean more toward doing a combination of both: salary plus commission. I offer a base salary that is just below their salary requirements and a commission, of maybe 5% – 10%. You need to show them there is an incentive to exceed their salary goals IF they are a rockstar at sales.

Training Your Digital Agency Sales Team

When I think about training a salesperson I think about preparing them to be able to answer the following:

  1. What’s your promise to your clients?
  2. What’s your client’s problem? And,
  3. What types of clients are a good fit and what are not?

Over the years I’ve broken down what makes agency owners such good salespeople and realized it all comes down to stories. As owners, we have all the stories for different scenarios. If you’re dealing with a prospect that’s having a hard time converting leads, you probably have a story about another client who dealt with this same struggle and overcame it.

As the owner, I recommend keeping track of and sharing those stories. The team could use some of them to attract leads, others to convert. The point is that you give them the tools to succeed. Over time, they’ll accumulate their own stories.

How to Train and Manage Your Agency Sales Team 

When it comes to managing salespeople I recommend you start doing it daily until you feel they can handle themselves. You can break it down into morning and afternoon, at least for the first couple of months. The morning should be used to share stories and prepare them to chat with clients. You’ll also want to share wins and go over objections people may be having.

On the other hand, the afternoon should be more about the progress of the day. This is better left for the afternoon because some days they’ll get a lot of no’s and you’ll have to help rebuild their confidence.

Once they get to a good place, you can change the daily check-ins to weekly. They should also start recording all their calls so you can review them. You can ask them to send their worst and best calls of the day. This way, you can see if they’re clarifying why the client got on the call. They should label the problem and establish a gap in how far away the client is from where they want to be. Also, make sure they ask for the sale, rather than just prescribe what they need to do.

Finally, make sure you’re constantly measuring them on their 90-day success plan. This way, I guarantee within 30 days you’ll know whether that salesperson is going to work out or not.

How to Qualify Agency Prospects and Stop Wasting Time with the Wrong Ones

How can you spend time with the right prospect and avoid wasting time with the wrong ones? The first conversation with a prospect is the most important because it frames how the relationship develops.

Too many agencies use that conversation to focus on themselves (showcasing capabilities and successes) when you should actually be focusing on the prospect. Often agencies start talking about their awards and their portfolio with a prospect that doesn’t care about that yet. They don’t care what the agency can do, they care what the agency can do for them.

However, I’m sure you want to stand out and present yourself as more than just another Me Too agency, and there are 10 questions you can ask to position yourself as THE CHOICE rather than a choice.

10 Steps When Talking with New Agency Prospects

It’s important to gauge the benefits and pre-qualify any new agency prospect. I call this a triage call, where you can assess the challenge the prospect is facing and determine whether you can work together to deliver the results they seek.

  1. The Welcome: This sets the tone for the meeting and establishes you as the one in control. Just make them feel comfortable and let them know you’ll be asking them some questions to determine whether or not you can help them. Explain that if you’re a good fit, there will be another meeting. If you can’t help, you’ll give them some advice and part as friends.
  2. Why now and why us? Try to understand why they’re coming to your agency at this particular moment.
  3. Tell me more about your business: Make sure you have the full picture of what they do so you can determine if you can help them.
  4. What’s your budget? This will determine their expectation and what they’re willing to pay.
  5. Where are they now and where are they trying to be? Get to know the metrics, the goals, and how they are going to measure success.
  6. What is missing or broken? Try to identify their biggest issue. Try to learn the impact that issue is having on their business and the impact of fixing it.
  7. What do they need? What are their biggest challenges and why do they think you can solve those?
  8. Establish the priority: On a scale of 1 to 10 how much of a priority is it to resolve this issue?
  9. Problem check-in: State the top problems and the impact they’re having on them.
  10. Can you actually help them and do you want to? This is a question to ask yourself, thinking not just in terms of revenue but based on the initial interaction; is this client he right fit for your agency?

After doing the triage call and walking through these 10 questions, it is time to present your foot-in-the-door offer.

A foot-in-the-door offer is a low commitment, low cost, and easy YES for the prospect. And, it’s the best way to showcase your agency’s expertise and test out a working relationship with a client before fully committing to larger projects.

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