Inside Sales–Why is It So Different? (Part 1)

By David Szen on Aug 28, 2014

Since the 1990’s, inside sales has continued to experience a roller coaster of acceptance levels within organizations. It comes, it goes, it gets deployed in new ways, it comes in fashion, it goes out of fashion, it gets outsourced, and it gets measured, usually more than any other sales effort.

Some companies are highly sophisticated and established in inside sales, as the group is a key source of revenue and core to the business model (ADT Home Security, DISH, DirecTV, etc.). Other companies put forth smaller efforts with inside sales or use it as a niche part of the business. And then some organizations only experiment with inside sales and use it inconsistently across the business. For the purposes of this discussion, we will not look at the highly sophisticated models in depth, but we will apply the lessons these companies have learned to those who are struggling today.

Let’s start with a couple of simple questions: Why is inside sales so different? Can we assume the sales skill set is roughly the same? Let’s put the facts on the table right now.

  1. It is different, because the prospect/customer has all the power. Huh? They do, because they always have the option of hanging up on the seller. A face-to-face salesperson does not deal with this issue. The chances of a prospect/customer kicking out a face-to-face seller are really slim. On the other hand, inside sales reps live in constant fear of being hung-up on.
  2. The skill-set is wildly different, and if you try to assume that “sales is sales,” you will quickly find out that you are wrong. Inside sales is NOT outside sales, and the skills are not the same.

Companies get tripped-up with inside sales for a variety of reasons, and each situation requires careful inspection. In this first blog, we will boil the challenges down to a few and then look more closely at what to do in order to increase the effectiveness of a company’s inside sales efforts in Part 2.

Common Challenges:

Inside sales typically calls on smaller accounts – no formal training program is in place.
This happens often. Companies take a group of marginal accounts and decide that some revenue is better than no revenue and then throw the newest or least successful sales reps they can find at them. Often these sellers are managed by a region or a very junior sales leader with no experience managing an inside sales team at all. These inside reps are left to their own devices and not mentored properly in how to succeed in this style of a role.

Inside sales handles inbound calls from leads/clients and supports outside sales efforts – lack of role clarity.
The structure seems to make sense, but the problems emerge very quickly. These sellers trip over outside sales efforts all of the time, don’t know who they really should call on, and often get used by outside sales as an admin person who takes orders and does their paperwork. Even further, they get measured like real quota-carrying sellers but may not actually control their own destiny.

Inside sales is a very small team, and they have an unreasonable amount of clients to handle – the sales reps will cherry pick and focus only on the accounts that usually buy.
Accounts get moved all of the time, and the default place to put accounts where the outside sales rep has churned is with inside sales. The books get bigger, and there are no more hours in the day for a small inside sales team. This causes reps to be very opportunistic, only focus on the accounts that make a difference, and conduct very routine maintenance on most customers, while leaving the team feeling overwhelmed and over-worked 24/7.

Inside sales is being managed by someone with no relatable experience at all, or it is “part” of their role – no full-time focus may mean less than desired results.
“Just hand inside sales to ________ he/she will be fine.” Guess what? They won’t succeed at this role. The skills required to lead an outside sales team are really not that same skills needed to drive results from an inside sales team. This leader will likely only measure the revenue and not consider the key metrics, such as phone time, contacts made, win/loss rates, connected phone time, outbound dials/inbound calls, and closing ratio. The great news about inside sales is that it is measurable; the bad news is if the leader does not know how to use the information, it is pointless.

Inside sales lacks the tools and training to be successful – loss of good leadership talent that knows it takes more.
Data and tools are the magic to making inside sales work well. Measuring progress is easy, if the right tools are in place. Highly sophisticated companies have them all in place, but companies who dabble with inside sales don’t make the investments and struggle all of the time. Yes, you need to know how many calls per day your people are making and whom they are calling, AND simple, manual tick sheets from the sellers are NOT acceptable. Yes, you need to be able to spot-monitor calls so that you can hear your people interacting with clients and prospects. Yes, you need a training program 100% focused on inside sales vs. sending them as observers to your outside sales training program. You are either in it 100%, or you should plan to struggle.

Inside sales reps are “trained,” but too many of them fail in the role… just not fast enough – constant turnover leads to the wrong environment.
It seems that some companies may have part of the problem solved – at least they train people fairly well. Once the sales reps hit the ground, they have a limited amount of time before some degree of ongoing training and development must take place. They start to learn shortcuts, deviate from the recommended process, and then move forward, get stuck, or slip. Without a formal onboarding and development path, the churn continues, and companies are always forced to reinvest in training new people… over and over.

Ok – So you might be thinking, “What is the point?” The point is that inside sales can’t be addressed by a generalist. It requires significantly different approaches, depending upon many different possible inputs. But there is ONE UNDENIABLE fact – Inside sales is different from traditional outside sales and requires a different approach, which we will explore in Part 2…

Topics: inside sales

David Szen

Written by David Szen

David Szen is a master facilitator and leadership development expert. As a Principal Consultant at Symmetrics Group, David has designed and delivered custom sales and leadership content for countless clients. He is most comfortable in front of groups or in keynote settings where his high-energy delivery style connects with people and brings content to life. David’s specialties include sales training design, leadership development, coaching performance management, workshop facilitation and strategic account planning. He recently co-authored the book The Multigenerational Sales Team with Symmetrics Group's founder Warren Shiver.

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