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Developing a Strategic Hiring Process for Your Inbound Agency

Andrew Dymski
Andrew Dymski I'm a Founder at ZenPilot where I help marketing agencies buy back time by developing the processes and systems they need to scale without reinventing the wheel for every client. I'm co-host of the Agency Journey podcast where each week we interview an agency owner, consultant, or author.

Doug Davidhoff is the founder and CEO of Imagine Business Development. In this episode, we take a look at how Doug and his team have successfully developed from a sales orientated company to an inbound agency and the holistic sales offering they provide. We also find out how Doug and his team successfully recruit the best people for their business

Stumbling into Inbound Marketing

Imagine LLC was founded in 2004 as a sales advisory company.  They focused on sales coaching and helping mid-sized organisations develop sales processes. Over time they came to see that their growth was only incremental. It seemed to Doug that someone was teaching buyers how to overcome sales techniques as quickly as they could teach their clients to use those techniques.

In 2010 Imagine decided to fix this problem for their clients. They researched companies that grew from zero to a million in record time. They discovered that these companies, regardless of what their product was, were all looking at lead generation differently. Behind these successful organizations, they found inbound marketing.

Doug had used a similar strategy in the 80’s. He bought space in a trade magazine to publish value rated content. This content would spark the interest of clients, like blogging does today.

They got on board with HubSpot and started exploring inbound marketing in more detail. By 2012, they were using inbound marketing as a core way to drive sales and this shift took them out of sales coaching almost completely.

In 2013, Imagine launched a test to see what would happen if they managed those leads for some of their clients by adding a limited outbound component to their agency. This is how they developed the sales development part of their business. They now offer a holistic service to their clients by implementing and executing sales development programs for them.

Imagine’s mantra is “It’s not inbound, it’s not outbound, it’s all-bound.”

They understand that in order to predictably create clients and customers, they have to start at the bottom of the funnel and work their way up. To create revenue they had to first create awareness and engage with customers.  

They also realized that they couldn’t wait for customers to come to them. That is where the outbound-inbound balance comes into the equation. They gave to the client before they asked. As a company they teach and provide resources by taking the thought leadership position and introducing the conversation.

Once they cultivated interest and pinpointed the right people, they realized they had to be prepared with a sales-ready lead. Under the right circumstances, the sales person will handle the rest of the sale.

Growing the Agency Team

Doug admits that if he had known how difficult it would be to hire the right people he may never have had the guts to start the business in the first place! Like the old saying goes, he has “failed his way to success”. They have more than doubled their team in the last year and intend to hire a few more people before the first quarter of 2016 is out.

Through many mistakes and trials, Imagine developed a hiring system that is well planned and highly effective.

The biggest challenge for small organizations is hiring at the last minute because they think don’t have the capacity for ongoing recruitment drives. This is a mistake.

Waiting until a resource is needed to hire puts business in a position to make poor choices. The need is too high and the talent, too difficult to find.

They start by cultivating engagement and creating awareness.

Once they have that engagement they start to communicate, build a relationship and feel out whether that person would be a good fit at the company. They build a pool of these resources and only when they are ready to hire do they go into full scale hire mode. They ensure that there are a supply of possible candidates who they know will be worthwhile interviewing when they are in a hiring position.

Part of the process is to create content for the type of people who they would want to hire. When someone downloads something from their website or shares it on LinkedIn, Imagine can see that and make contact. They start a conversation, find out what’s interesting to the lead and how they can create value for them.

This gives them a better idea of who they are dealing with. They soft interview potential candidates for fit and start to develop a relationship. The candidate starts to identify Imagine as an interesting company. When they are in a hiring position, they already have a short list of people to approach. 

Letting Go of the Hiring Process

One of the biggest breakthroughs for Imagine’s hiring process was when Doug, as CEO, learned to let go of the hiring process himself.

Instead he lets the person whose team needs building take over the hiring process. He trusts his leadership team. He trusts them to honor his and the company’s preferences and processes and he lets them hire the people they need.

This also came about by accident at a time when the company urgently needed to make an appointment and Doug was not available. He took a leap of faith and allowed his team to hire the person they needed. It was a huge success.

The Three Types of Hires

Doug and his team have come up with a system for deciding who and when to hire. They have three types of appointments that they make: client delivery positions, capability positions and tactical hires.

Hire Type 1: Client Delivery Positions 

These are people who are directly involved in delivering their product to clients, inbound marketing and sales. The team consists of a senior inbound marketing strategist, two or three associate strategists and an entry level market associates. The hires here are almost always young and inexpensive because they believe in growing their own people. They help these people to develop a career track and grow into more senior positions.

The hiring plan for client delivery positions is tied to capacity and revenue. These people are hired based on objectives which are updated monthly. By the time they hire these junior people, they already have 30% of their work capacity waiting for them, making it a low-risk hire. This capacity is shouldered by the senior team member until a hire is made. In some cases they also use outside resources.

Effectively when new client delivery people are hired it allows the senior levels to shift some of the work load downwards and focus more on strategic planning again.

Hire Type 2: Capability Positions 

These are the toughest positions to fill. They are the people who don’t have a direct influence on revenue creation, but rather who allow the company to offer a better service providing. Examples for them would be a full-time marketing director, a dedicated sales development rep and a front end web developer.

These people let the company enhance their offering.

They are the highest risk hire. They are tied to a strategic plan which is reviewed every quarter. They will always be on the table from the previous quarter before the hire is made, because they sometimes find that the person they thought they needed they actually don’t. If they get to the end of the quarter and find they do still need that resource then they hire. This also gives them time to create revenue before they hire.

They make the appointment if they feel the hire can handle financial risk, if they have the revenue to hire and if they are ready to take advantage of the skill being brought in. Doug warns that companies should be careful of hiring a person to fix a problem when what they actually need is to fix a process. When they come on board to a problematic system, it doesn’t solve the problem; it only makes it more chaotic.

Hire Type 3: Tactical Hire

This is often the easiest hire to make. With tactical hires, the company will take on a full-time employee where they are already employing the services of a freelancer. Basically when they are almost paying a full-time salary but don’t have full time access to the resource, it’s time to make an offer. A major advantage to this is that they already have a working relationship.

For example, they are busy bringing in a writer who has been working with them for some time. Although they may still use specialized writers for other work, they know what they are taking on someone whose services are valuable to them and who fits well with the company.  The need is there, the money is already being spent and it’s a good fit.

Developing a Formula to Repeat the Hiring Process

One of the greatest things they have achieved as a company is developing a list of attributes they need a candidate to have for each position. By doing this they can make appointments more confidently and know that they are looking at the right people.

A good case study is a recent hire Imagine made.

They were looking for a client service person who could take ownership of accounts and make clients feel comfortable. When interviewing the new recruit he asked her “What do you see yourself doing in five years’ time”  She answered, “running my own company”.

This was exactly the mind-set Doug was looking for. An ownership mind-set. Within a month of joining the team, she was achieving goals they had hoped she would reach at the end of three months. She has the right personality for the job.

Doug goes on to tell us that clients feel comfortable dealing with customer service people who are not only capable, but who also take command of the situation.

The reason that Doug was able to make this appointment so successfully, he tells us, is because the position he wanted to fill was clearly crafted. They knew what personality traits, skills, strengths and weaknesses they were looking for in a candidate.

They had the relationship with her already because of their on-going soft interview system.

When the time came to make a hire they didn’t have to interview five people. They knew they were making the right decision.

Where there is constant growth, it is critical to have a formula to replicate the hiring process.

Processes, Documentation and Structure

The last point in developing a team and ultimately a business is to have your processes sorted out. By having well documented, functional processes you allow your employees to work within a solid framework: building a business rather than people.

Doug’s other tip for rapid growth is to run your company as if a week was month, a month was a quarter and 12 weeks were a year. Communicate constantly with your team members and assess the company’s needs and developments frequently.

Contact Doug at or @dougdavidhoff on Twitter.

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