Why Can’t MSPs Hire Better MSP Sales Talent?

MSP Sales Webinar Picture of Tim McNeil and Carrie Simpson

The Five Most Common Reasons MSP Business Owners Struggle with Hiring MSP Sales Talent:

  1. Hiring People Who Want a Job Other Than the Job You’re Hiring for Now
  2. Recruiting Your Competitors Castaways
  3. Putting the Cart Before the Horse
  4. Volatile Leadership
  5. Money

Here’s the on-demand version of the webinar:

I’ve spoken with hundreds of MSP business owners over the last year about their sales challenges.  The MSPs that are struggling with their sales pipelines right now have two real big glaring issues:  they didn’t proactively plan for a time when their referrals might dry up and then they panicked and made poor sales hires that they keep believing will perform eventually.   Some challenging questions for MSP business owners:

Why do you believe that “at least something is better than nothing?

Carrying ineffective and expensive headcount isn’t just hurting your business today, it’s hurting your retirement.  That ineffective sales rep is adding to the problem, while his salary is lowering the value of your business.  Yet, you are content after several quarters of non-performance, with no noticeable improvements, to“wait and see what happens next quarter”.  Why?

Keeping inexpensive and ineffective sales headcount with the attitude of “well, it doesn’t cost me much so we’ll just wait and see what happens” is short sighted.  Sales isn’t just about what your sales rep didn’t achieve today.  For every quarter you keep a poor sales rep, you lose a years’ worth of new pipeline.  Sure, your sales rep may only cost 15/hour but what are they costing you in missed opportunities and future deals?

Hiring great sales talent is a struggle for companies with billion dollar budgets and masters-educated HR teams.  If they’re struggling, it stands to reason your MSP will also struggle.  You can make it a little easier by avoiding these common, costly and time consuming errors.

Hiring People Who Want a Job Other Than the Job You’re Hiring for Now

Oh, The number of fights I’ve had about the “bench theory” with business owners.  You need a great sales development agent, but the candidate you’re interviewing wants to be golfing with big logo clients and going to networking events.  You like this candidate so you promise them that if they do the first job well, they’ll be first in line for the one they really want.

The candidate you’re hiring doesn’t want the job.

And you need someone who wants to do the job you’re actually hiring for.

First you figure out what sales job you need filled.  Then you find the candidate that wants that job, understands that job, and has the capacity to succeed at that job.  Hiring people who are settling doesn’t help the candidate and it doesn’t help your business.

Recruiting Your Competitors Castaways

You’re not going to love all of your competitors, but operationally mature businesses have a healthy respect for most of the companies they would consider to be equals or peers, and should have an even healthier respect for the companies that are consistently out-performing them in the market.  Most businesses know where they are stack-ranked in terms of operational maturity, revenue and headcount.

Career sales reps don’t make vertical moves after three years with a competitor.  If they’re making money, they stay where they are until a better opportunity comes along.  If they’re killing it for a company that hasn’t figured out that their pricing is unsustainable, they won’t succeed at a firm that isn’t selling on price.  If they’re working for a well-oiled operationally mature MSP they’re going to struggle without the same level of skilled leadership.  Sales reps don’t create plans.  Sales reps follow plans.

You can’t assume that someone who thrived at one MSP will thrive at another.

Your competitors are selling against you, and they know where you fall down.  Their sales reps will know this better than anyone.  They’re not going to risk their career progression on a company they consistently win business from.  Why should they?  Any sales rep that is looking for the exact same job in the exact same industry at the exact same rate of pay isn’t a sales rep you want to hire.

And please:  If you’re going to ignore the above advice, at least ask for proof of income for the last three years and references.  Great sales reps aren’t usually wanting for work.

Putting the Cart Before the Horse When Hiring MSP Sales Talent

If you’re hiring a sales leader to build a sales process and then a sales team – good for you – you’re doing it right.  If you’re hiring a sales rep, or a sales development rep, or a telemarketer and expecting them to build their own process, you’re setting everyone up to fail.

Sales reps need a process, leadership, coaching, accountability, key performance indicators you can review to guage improvement, realistic targets, and an understanding of how they succeed.

If you don’t have a proven sales process, historical sales data that shows your goals area attainable, and a continuing education process to support your new sales hire, don’t make a new sales hire.  You hire a person to follow a process.  You don’t hire a person and then build a process around them.

Building a sales process around a person means when that person leaves your process no longer works.  When you build a sales process around one person’s particular interests and skills, and your new hire may not match them.

Reinventing your sales process to suit the preferences and whims of your new sales hires creates an unscalable, unrepeatable, unmeasurable mess.

You create the process.

Your sales rep follows it.

If they don’t follow it once, it’s a conversation.  If they don’t follow it twice, it’s a warning.  If they don’t follow it three times, it’s a write up. If they don’t follow it after that, you terminate them.

You owe your team every chance to succeed.  Plan the work, then work the plan, and the plan will work.

(Learn how Kevin Damghani, CEO of ITPartners+ went from one part time telemarketer to eight full time sales reps!)

Volatile Leadership

Before you blame your inability to hire great talent on the market or the applicants, stop and take a good long look in the mirror.

Are you consistently finding fault with all of your employees?

Is your turnover significantly higher than that of your peers?

It’s hard for a business owner to admit they don’t lead people well.  I know this, because I was a volatile leader.

I solved this problem by creating a buffer between myself and my team members while I worked on some of my personal shortcomings. I wasn’t able to change as fast as my business was able to grow. I had to lose some great team members before I could admit that the common denominator in my failed attempts at hiring excellent talent was the person who was hiring them.

Our industry isn’t that big and neither is your community – if you’re known for being volatile, you’re going to struggle to attract the best MSP sales talent.

Money and MSP Sales Talent

This is last on the list for a reason.  If you’ve got a solid sales process and historical data that clearly demonstrates that the results you want are achieveable, you can offer a lower base salary, as your new hire will be confident they can make what they are worth with their variable compensation plan.  If you’re disorganized and have never managed a sales rep before, haven’t tracked your sales cycle or close ratios, and have no process for your new rep to follow, you’re going to have to offere signficantly higher base salaries.  Nobody’s coming to work for you on 100% commission, nor should you expect any professional to work for free.   Your small MSP isn’t a big win for a sales rep looking to grow their career – it’s a big risk.

If your comp plan is so complicated it requires a table to figure it out, go back to the drawing board.

If your base salary is so low that it would require a two-income household to support a family, go back to the drawing board – you want someone to bleed for you?  Make sure their kids can eat, and their partner can pick up the slack on family obligations – sales is a never-off job.

If the idea of having to pay a sales rep a higher salary than you pay yourself makes you uncomfortable, consider if what you really want is a lead generator, or sales development agent or telemarketer.  If you want to hire a talented, proven, full sales cycle opener-closer-hunter-farmer you’re going to have to pay them handsomely and be committed to helping them succeed – the wrong hire can damage your business for years to come.  Hiring isn’t like gambling.  You don’t roll the dice and hope it works out.  You make informed choices and invite the right people to fill the right seats at the right times.  Hiring an elite sales agent is like hiring an elite athlete – you choose the one that will compliment your current team and needs.

You Can Avoid The Pain of Bad Sales Hires

A little education goes a long way.  Before you write up that help wanted ad, come spend a little time with two of the industries leading MSP Sales experts.  Join Carrie Simpson from Managed Sales Pros, and Tim McNeil from OSR on June 29th to learn more about hiring MSP sales talent.  We’ll talk a lot about Traction and The Entrepreneurial Operating System.  We’ll talk about writing job ads and managing people who seem at times to be unmanageable.  And we’ll definitely talk about why you shouldn’t take a “wait and see” attitude if your sales rep isn’t performing.  Register here to join us live or watch on demand:


Contact hello@managedsalespros.com to discuss sales appointment setting, sales consulting or sales training for your MSP!