How to set up an agency sales process?

Lauri Eurén

In the early months of Operating, we met with dozens and dozens of agencies and consultancies. Often we heard an agency leader say "We're heavily focused on our existing clients, so we don't believe we need a formal sales process. Jane and I bring in new leads." This was reasonable, but sounded less than ideal. What would happen if they actually focused on sales? There's a lot of clients out there on top of the ones you're already working for. So much potential.

As in the example above it's the job of the founders or partners to run the sales until dozens or even hundreds of people appear on the payroll. The actual sales process is often not defined, so when the sales team starts growing, no explicit targets are set for the number of meetings, proposals sent out per week, and so on. Everybody's just running towards the next monthly numbers - hopefully you've read the budgeting chapter so you know how to set realistic targets.

The best companies lead their sales efforts systematically and we think this should be the case in agencies and consultancies too. We've touched upon sales in professional service companies already before in the account management chapter. One shouldn't also forget that consultants are salespeople too. The best founders start to delegate responsibilities to consultants early on according to the Trusted Advisor playbook.

A proper sales process and weekly rhythm

To succeed in sales you need to have someone accountable for the sales process. It’s the job of this person or group of people to have the finger on the pulse and ask the hard questions: are we closing enough sales and sending enough proposals? Are we able to maintain and increase our rates? Is the average deal value large enough, and do we have enough qualified new business meetings? If no one asks these questions, the process is not adequate.

In addition to having someone responsible, there should be clear expectations for everyone. Every team member should know the company-wide targets. It should also be clear what’s expected of individuals. We recommend having common targets with the team to avoid sub-optimization. Setting explicit targets for the first time might be scary, but we urge you to do it. It gets easier.

The sales team's weekly meeting should focus on the numbers. "What are the top 5 deals we’re working on this week and how big are they? Are there any blockers?" Encourage people to discuss money explicitly. If there aren't enough significant deals, you need to go search for them, and that doesn’t happen overnight. The worst thing to do is to let people be vague about describing what they’re working on. “This deal is quite big and likely to land during the next weeks” implies that the salesperson doesn’t know how large the deal is, and has no visibility to the decision-making timeline. "I have many meetings this week, so I'm quite busy" implies that the person most likely is exaggerating the amount of meetings. If you have a weekly meeting target, it's easy to say whether it'll be hit or not.

This may sound harsh, but you should simply look at it as being straightforward. Sales is a numbers game, and it's best for everyone to know what's expected and how to run the process optimally. Sales is the lifeblood of companies and it's one of the areas where the most scrutiny and structure is needed.

Once you have someone responsible for sales, clear expectation management, and well-run sales meetings, you're mostly set. Now all you need is smart people with grit and intellect - and one more thing: less talk and more action. Sales is about volume too, also in the agency world.

How to link sales and project delivery?

A key part of successful agencies is mastering the process of turning initial discussions with customers to won projects. A key part here is engaging the right people with the right projects. When selling a complex consulting project, you often need three types of roles:

  • The salesperson who drives the process forward and communicates with the client
  • A domain expert, who has experience at the particular client or industry, able to tell a compelling story with the proposal
  • A technical expert who can support in workload estimation and technical advisory during the process

To find the people with availability and the right skills from a large group of people without creating too much administrative burden is to have one place to share the big picture with the whole team: tentative projects, confirmed work, and consultants' skills and availability. (A shameless plug: This is what we do at Operating).

The lack of visibility will cause salespeople to hesitate to contact consultants, and in the worst case, they may attempt to deliver pitches by themselves, significantly lowering the chances of winning. Make sure you enable a transparent medium of communication between your delivery and sales.


Managing sales successfully is probably the most overlooked part of running an agency business. You should have a clearly defined process with new business meeting targets, amount of proposals sent per week and so on. Have someone responsible for the whole process, and talk explicitly about money, targets, and goals. On the softer side, don't forget to engage consultants and experts in the sales process. Having the right people advising and presenting the pitch significantly increases the chances of winning the deal.

This was the last chapter in the article series The playbook: how to grow an agency business successfully. Now, you should have the building blocks for creating the culture and processes that sets your agency on a path for growth. Tailor everything for your business and feel free to reach out if you'd like to discuss ideas or explore how Operating could be the backbone for all of this.

Lauri Eurén

Lauri Eurén is the CEO & Founder of Operating - a former consulting professional with experience from hands-on consulting as well as leading an agency operation.


Download our Operating Routine for Staffing

Agencies and consultancies of all sizes – from a boutique to an international powerhouse – should operate efficiently. We wrote a Staffing Routine and a solid agenda for your weekly meeting. Get the guide.

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.