One of the most frequent questions I’m asked in my work with the owners of IT Solution Providers and Managed Service Provider (MSP) businesses is “When should I hire a salesperson?”.
The answer isn’t a simple one. Most IT businesses want to grow -- to acquire new clients and win new business -- and believe that hiring a salesperson is a way to accelerate this process of growth.
But quite often hiring a salesperson is not the quick-fix solution that business owners believe it to be. Very often, the act of hiring a salesperson is the business owners way of abdicating responsibility for sales.
For most IT business owners, technical in nature, sales is something uncomfortable. The act of selling is associated with persuading a client to give you money -- overcoming their objections and talking them into a deal.
For this reason many small IT business owners look at sales as a necessary evil in their day-to-day business activities and it’s not something they enjoy. Typically, when we don’t enjoy things, we tend to procrastinate over them -- finding excuses not to make the cold call, not to follow-up with prospects, not to write that sales proposal, or not to do any of the activities associated with sales. The most often cited excuse is that we don’t undertake these sales activities because we are “busy” serving clients.
As a former MSP business owner myself, I understand these objections. The needs of existing clients do need to be balanced against sales activities, but this is where many IT business owners make the decision to hire a salesperson. They know sales activities need to be undertaken, but those activities aren’t currently being taken consistently -- and anyway, they don’t enjoy doing it themselves, so why not hire somebody else to do this?
This is the wrong reason to hire a salesperson -- to make the perceived pain of sales go away. It’s essentially abdicating responsibility for your MSP’s sales.
I speak from experience when I say that while it would be nice to wave a magic wand and make the sales problem disappear, hiring a salesperson to do this opens up a whole set of new problems for the business owner to deal with.
Often, salespeople can be difficult to manage. They need continuous motivation, typically financial motivation, to achieve targets.
They need to be chivied to undertake the boring tasks like cold calling. They often find excuses as to why they can’t make the sales you want -- “The list of prospects isn’t strong” and “We need to lower our prices to be competitive” are two of the most common.
In short, hiring a salesperson can be swapping one set of problems -- lack of sales activity -- for another, managing a salesperson!
I may be being unfair in my sweeping generalization about salespeople, but my experience in working with small MSP’s tells me that hiring a salesperson when it’s really the business owner that should be selling is a mistake.
Instead, the solution to the sales challenge in many small MSP’s is simply for the business owner to delegate his other responsibilities and focus on becoming a better salesperson.
Hiring people to do administration, HR and technical work is a lot easier than hiring a good quality salesperson. Making these hires will free up the business owners time to hone their sales skills and become more comfortable in a selling situation -- and this comfort lowers the resistance to undertaking sales activities.
The owner of most MSP’s is typically the best person to represent their business in sales meetings. You are the most passionate about your business. You can convey that passion and understanding of the clients needs better than anyone else -- certainly at this stage of your business growth.
While hiring a salesperson for your small MSP business may seem like the logical step to remove the pain of undertaking sales activities and kick-starting business growth, it’s often the wrong decision for an MSP to make.
Ensure that as a business owner, you’re hiring a salesperson for the right reasons. These reasons should not be because you’re too busy doing administration, technical work or because you’re uncomfortable in a sales situation.
Rather than hire a salesperson, consider hiring administrative and technical resources to free up your time. Spend this free time in training to become more comfortable in a sales situation.
When the time is right, by all means hire a salesperson for your growing IT business. In the meantime, make sure you don’t abdicate responsibility for sales based on your own lack of selling confidence.