Episode 78: Don’t Cross the Sales and Service Streams

When your creative practice takes off, delivering more work than you can handle, your most natural inclination will be to hire other designers to lighten your load. But this sets off a chain reaction. By the time you’ve hired one or two, you’ll find yourself consumed with managing clients and projects more than doing creative work. And, with employees now depending on you, you’ll feel the pressure to keep work coming in. Eventually, if you prefer to do creative work over business management, you’ll need to hire someone else to fill the account management and new business functions. As a young growing company you may be tempted to look for one person to fill both roles. But that’s a huge mistake—it crosses the service stream with the sales stream.

Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?

In the early growth phase of a creative practice, you’re not likely to be maximally profitable. There are some significant inefficiencies that accompany early stage growth. And so even though you may have an increasing volume of work, and in head count, you might be feeling more pressure to your bottom line than ever. Quite often a growing practice means huge increases in work, but not in revenue.

[Dobro Mash]

So when you decide to hire that first overhead role, to help you with account management or new business, the idea of economizing by hiring one person for both functions seems to make perfect sense. Unfortunately, that rarely works out.

Aside from the desire to economize, as you evaluate specific people for these overhead roles, it may also seem that many candidates have what it takes to do both. After all, both roles require strong communication and people skills. At first glance someone with these basic traits could easily function in either role—so why not hire them for both?

Well, in fact, the account management role and the account finding role are different—requiring distinct motivations, opposite orientations, and entirely incompatible uses of time. An account manager is client facing. Account managers are primarily motivated by pleasing their clients. They want to get projects done on time and on budget. A good account manager will proactively think about new ideas and strategies to advance their client’s goals. While there is a kind of revenue generating function to cultivating opportunities from existing clients, it still involves an orientation distinct from a true new business role.

If you want someone who can find new clients, you’re going to need someone who is motivated by money. Not a greedy person, but someone who will be incentivized to make you successful because it also means their success. Sales is hard. It requires overcoming a hundred “no’s” on the way to finding that one “yes.” If your new business person is not motivated by compensation, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll persevere and overcome this primary barrier to effective sales.

So, if you hire one person for both roles, you’ll soon discover that they really end up doing mostly one or the other. If they are an account manager at heart, they may give some effort to marketing, but most of their time will be soaked up with interacting with clients. They won’t do what it takes to sell, and half-hearted sales efforts are both ineffective and discouraging. They simply won’t perform in selling.

But if you hire someone who really is motivated to sell, but then bog them down with time consuming project management and client communications activity, they’ll soon resent the fact that they are being distracted from their efforts to find new clients—and the corresponding limits that imposes on their compensation.

Combining these roles in one person is a futile effort. And so you’re going to have to choose—at least until you grow enough to support two different people to fill each of these unique roles. And that also means that whichever role you do hire for, you will have to fill the other. And so one way to make this decision is to ask yourself which of the two you are more inclined toward, or most effective at, than the other—since you’ll need to own that role, until you get to the next stage of growth.

Until next week: don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.