How to delegate sales as an agency owner: ‘Chunk’ out the sales role, to reduce your risk

How to delegate sales as an agency owner, without the risk of finding a unicorn salesperson
Written by: Karl Sakas

Buried in sales tasks, an overloaded agency owner asked me for help:

“We are struggling with scaling our sales. I’ve been the lead salesperson for years and it’s been hard to find someone who can close like I can. The problem is that I have to get out of the sales role so I can concentrate on working on the business itself.”

It’s a common challenge that many agency owners face as they strive for growth. The struggle to ‘Work Less, Earn More‘ is real when you’re deeply involved in every aspect of the agency sales process.

My advice? Don’t jump to immediately hire a six-figure salesperson. It’s hard to find competent, trustworthy agency salespeople… and the wrong people will waste your time and money before you realize they’re not the right match. That’s a high-risk approach. Candidates act like they’re a high-potential unicorn… yet too many end up wasting your time, money, and peace of mind.

Instead, start by delegating day-to-day account management. Then, gradually delegate parts of the sales role before you’re ready to delegate entirely. This strategic shift can free up your time and energy, allowing you to focus on the bigger picture of your business—and you may not need to hire a six-figure salesperson, or at least not so soon.

Let’s dig deeper on this lower-risk approach to sales, based on a key assumption: The “sales role” is actually 10 different sub-roles, which you can choose to delegate separately. If you’re not one of the owners at your agency, share this article with them—I bet they’d appreciate the help. And if your agency needs more leads in the first place, be sure to consider my Diversify Your Agency’s Lead-Gen Strategy training.

The “Sales” Role is Actually 10 Sub-Roles: ‘Chunk-Out’ the Sales Process to Delegate Better

If you’ve always handled 100% of the sales process at your agency, you don’t have to do that forever. Once you optimize the pre-qualification process, consider the other “chunks” along the way.

As I first shared here, the sales “role” is actually more like 10 sub-roles:

  1. Prospecting (connecting with prospective clients; less necessary with inbound leads)
  2. Qualifying (determining if someone is a match, whether via BANT, CRUX, or another framework)
  3. Consulting (identifying if your agency can help the client solve the real problems at hand)
  4. Scoping (determining what to charge for your help, whether starting with Paid Discovery or something else)
  5. Proposing (turning recommendations into a persuasive artifact—whether a document, a presentation, or just an email)
  6. Closing (addressing the client’s concerns and getting to “yes”… or a quick “no”)
  7. Onboarding (starting your work together, as the relationship lead shifts from sales to AM)
  8. Supporting (this is about administrative support to your agency’s sellers, including the CRM and “pings”)
  9. Managing (this is mostly AM—but if there’s a major misunderstanding, the “closer” comes back to help)
  10. Retaining (keeping the client happy, and renewing—and ideally upselling—them)

Those 10 run roughly in parallel to the steps your overall sales process—but the 10 sub-roles focus more on the work involved.

Most agency employees don’t have all those skills—or they’re expensive, or merely so-so at each one. Fortunately, you can “chunk” them out.

That is, consider “unbundling” the components of sales. When you approach the sales process as discrete “chunks,” you can delegate the workload. Sometimes, that means hiring new team members—or hiring one new salesperson who’s supported by existing team members (e.g., for your PMs to take the lead on Scoping and your AMs to take the lead on Onboarding). Depending on your profit margins and your current team’s bandwidth, you may not need to hire anyone new.

For example, if you hate creating proposals and dealing with followups… could you enlist someone to handle “sales support” so that you can focus on closing?

This also gets into your business model—around custom vs. productized services. The more custom your work, the more you need to invest in consulting, scoping, and proposing. In contrast, a more productized offer—or a productized Paid Discovery service, before later custom help—requires less sales horsepower.

What to Delegate First: Pre-Screening Prospects

Have you tried delegating the initial sales-screening process? That is, a prospect reaches out to your agency, and you sort out whether it makes sense to speak further.

This is a combination of people + automation; the right combo depends on your client base.

  • For me, it’s a 15-20 minute “pre-questionnaire” via email (usually sent by one of my team members, although some prospective clients complete it pre-emptively).
  • In contrast, some agencies have a BDR (business development representative) do the initial screening as a video or phone call. This can help if your clients are busy professionals (doctors, lawyers, CMOs) who don’t want to take the time to fill out a form.
  • Other agencies have a “full-stack” salesperson (who’s not one of the owners) who does the screening and then closes. That can work, but they’re an expensive screener.

The right approach (more or less automated) also depends on your prospects’ current motivation to buy.

  • As a Director of Client Services, one of my clients ran a cosmetic dental practice. If someone cold-contacted them, they wouldn’t likely make time. But they were strongly fixated on their oral surgeon friend having two Porches, compared to their having just one.
  • If a salesperson happened to frame that a 15-minute call would help them get that second Porsche… they’d probably take the call. Or at least complete a “pre-questionnaire.”
  • When agencies have a full-time non-owner salesperson (or several), this tends to shift over time. When the salesperson is new, and their pipeline is slow, they take calls. But as they get busier, they start getting pickier about who gets a call—less fussy than you as the owner, but more picky than “we’ll do a call with anyone.”

Here’s more about the pre-questionnaire concept, including sample questions.

Start doing a pre-questionnaire before you hire a salesperson. Otherwise, they’ll wait for you to fix the process. They likely can help you optimize things, but that’s not the primary reason you hired them.

You may not find someone who closes as well as you do—and you shouldn’t abdicate sales. But there is hope!

What If You Meet the Prospect First?

What about situations where you meet the prospect first—perhaps at a speaking engagement, or because they’re referred by someone you know personally or professionally, or you knew them from several years ago? In that case, you’ll want a process for that.

You might choose to do the screening call if there’s a prior connection. But in most cases, your job is to connect them directly to your salesperson. For example:

“Pat, great to meet you at the conference, and I’m glad my talk resonated. Here’s Devon on my team; they’ll help sort out how we can help.”

Delegate Even More

Want to get even more off your plate? Consider the six types of Agency Roles (AM, PM, SME, Client Strategist, BizDev, and Support).

  • As the owner, you might choose to focus on Strategist, or the Leadership side within Support. But there are other things to delegate, too—especially as you grow.
  • For instance, BizDev includes Marketing, Sales, and Partnerships. Can you delegate Marketing and Partnerships in the meantime? Or perhaps you handle initiating and maintaining partner relationships, but someone on your team leads day-to-day fulfillment?

If you want to really dial up your sales process and structure—to go beyond what makes sense for most independent agencies—consider this article about the sales process at Acquia.

Need to attract more leads in the first place? Check out my new “Diversify Your Agency’s Lead-Gen” training.

Question: What’s your next step to change how you approach sales at your agency?

Diversify Your Lead-Gen Strategy

Diversify Your Lead-Gen Strategy Workshop

Want to grow your agency? You’ll need to attract new business and grow current accounts. In today’s business environment, that requires new ideas and pivots on classic techniques.

This July 2024 workshop—by seasoned agency advisor Karl Sakas and leading agency owner Gabriel Marguglio—will give you tools to grow your agency today. You’ll still need to do the work, but everything’s easier when you know where to focus.