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Should Managed Service Providers Hire Sales First or Marketing First?

There’s a 10-person MSP deep in our sales process, struggling with a common dilemma: Should you hire sales to help first? Or does marketing help first?

Newbies Constantly Get the Order Wrong

The root of this problem is quite simple. An astonishing number of small business owners simply don’t understand the difference between sales and marketing – so they just lump it all together.

“What does Mary do again?”

“Oh, she does sales and marketing for that insurance agency downtown.”

In other words, in much the same way those outside of IT would have a hard time differentiating between a website designer and a website developer, those unfamiliar with a sales funnel lump together anyone who brings in new business to their organization.

Two Completely Different Disciplines and Skillsets

The prospect that inspired this post clearly understands that sales and marketing are two entirely different roles that require two different career paths and skill sets.

However, like many MSPs, the owner of this company wants to believe that all sales reps can consistently generate their own high-quality leads.

And this is where the issue really starts to unravel.

MSP Sales People No Longer Hold All of the Keys

5 years ago, if you were in the market for managed services, most of your research came from talking with salespeople at different managed services providers.

Today, it’s a completely different ballgame!

57% of the typical B2B sales cycle is now over before most decision-makers contact any vendor.


Mobile computing. Social media. And “in Google, we trust!”

Nearly every single one of your potential clients is walking around with an iPhone or Android smartphone in their pocket that has the answer to any possible question that comes to mind:

  • “Why is my network printer so slow today?”

  • “How can I tell if our Wi-Fi network is secure?

  • “What are the best alternatives to Microsoft SharePoint?”

  • “What’s the best managed services company in the area?”

These conversations are going on every day. The only question for your MSP business: Will potential clients with these questions find your company? Or will they find your competitors?

Your salespeople need these leads. If your salespeople aren’t getting leads generated from inbound marketing, your potential clients will go elsewhere. Period.

Let’s Elope and Then We’ll Start Dating

So back to the protagonist that inspired this post.

The MSP business owner was thinking that he should hire one or two sales reps. Then in about 6 weeks, talk about what to do with lead generation.

Unless this business owner has the budget to hire one or more highly-experienced B2B tech sales reps with their own book of business (extremely doubtful, as these would be $125K+/year hires in this region), most sales reps need leads to supplement their own prospecting.

Without these leads, most entry-level sales reps will fall flat on their faces and end up getting fired within 3 to 6 months.

What about more mid-level experienced sales reps ($100K+/year hires in this region)? They’ll be smart enough to demand that their employer have some kind of lead generation program in place.

So given that inbound marketing typically takes three to six months before lead generation volume hits critical mass (unless an aggressive PPC program supplements), it’s a huge fallacy to hire sales reps first, then worry about inbound marketing and lead generation.

Imagine this dating scenario.

A couple goes out on their first date. They instantly fall head over heels for each other and decide to fly to Las Vegas to elope.

On the way from the airport to the chapel, there’s a brief moment of clarity. “Are you sure this is a good idea? We just met a few hours ago.”

“Don’t worry. After we get married tonight, we’ll fly back home on Monday and can start really dating this coming weekend.”


To succeed, sales reps at managed service providers need a consistent flow of high-quality leads.

Yes, there is a certain class of super-star sales rep that can generate his or her own leads, largely because he or she is bringing their own book of business.

But for budgets that most MSPs can typically afford – for entry-level to mid-level experienced B2B sales reps – nearly all sales professionals will need a lead generation program to support their efforts.

Without this, you’ll almost certainly be firing your newly hired sales rep within 6 months and blaming him or her for your own failure to plan ahead.

Don’t elope today with a plan to start dating later. Get the order right!


What’s been your experience with hiring managed services sales reps? Do they have a snowball’s chance in heck of succeeding without leads? Do you hand them the phone book and a copy of Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) and tell them to scrape up some new clients from the early 1990s? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments box below.

And to follow through on developing a culture within your MSP business that supports long-term, sustainable sales success, be sure to enroll now in our free 7-day eCourse: Go-to-Market Strategy 101 for B2B SaaS Startups and Scaleups.

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