Inside selling was once the step child of a sales organization. It was associated with telemarketing and selling from scripts. In more complex B2B situations, inside salespeople aspired to be promoted to the elysian field of the outside sales force.
Today the role of the inside salesperson has radically changed, and so has its stature and what it takes to succeed in that role. Inside sellers must be equipped with the same skills as the face to face sales force. They must be able to engage a client, whether in inbound or outbound calls, within the first 60 seconds with an insight that says to clients "this person is worth my time." Aberdeen Group reports that best-in-class companies are using inside sales to increase the quality and flow of leads to their closers, to increase performance across the board, and to lower the cost of sales and, in certain situations, to take the sale to closing. Accomplishing these goals takes a higher level of skill.
A well trained, well supported, and well structured insides sales team not only can filter the top of the funnel of complex sales to hand off qualified opportunities to the outside sales team, but it can also complete the full sales cycle from lead to closing. An Aberdeen study of 400+ best in class companies that provided their inside sales teams with the right training and tools, achieved 87% of quota.
Inside salespeople talk to the same level of client that outside sales professionals sell to. Therefore, their skill must be the same whether they are only involved in the early stages of the sale or if they sell to closing. This may sound radical, but if they cannot engage today’s highly self-informed client, they won’t be effective in moving the sale to the next stage. They must be read to demonstrate they know the client’s world and be prepared to engage the client at the level the client demands.
One of my clients has maximized the power of inside sales. 100% of its sales force is inside and structured in two teams: “prospectors” who mostly focus on inbound calls and “closers.” Both are career tracks and receive the same training, utilize the same tools and technology, and are viewed as equals in contribution and earning power. Both use a consultative approach to selling, and both are prepared to share insights and industry knowledge with prospects and clients.
This is not to suggest in any way that inside selling should replace face-to-face selling entirely. Of course, it is possible to build strong relationships online, but it takes longer. Nevertheless, especially at critical stages of complex or high ticket sales, nothing replaces the connection of the physical presence of a handshake and the effort of being there. For example, a sales team that opts to present online not because the client required it, but for its own convenience, is competing with a team that as Woody Allen says shows up, but puts itself at a significant disadvantage.
To build a high performing inside sales team:
Provide consultative selling with an overlay of insight selling training that parallels the level designed for top performing outside sellers.
Manage knowledge by giving easy access to research, industry knowledge, insights, customized data, and success stories.
If the inside sales team members are also the closers, pay as much attention to phase six (sell results and expand) of the sales process as they do to phase one (qualify).
Coordinate closely with Marketing so it feeds the team relevant insights and data.
Provide tools and technology and track performance.
Debrief salespeople and share best practices.
Make sales coaching an essential for the team.
There are compelling reasons to raise the skill level of inside sellers or to experiment with the development of an inside sales team. A highly skilled inside sales team means a better quality of leads to your outside sellers and improved forecasting. It increases productivity. It allows for better response time and helps manage the good problem of having too many prospects. It enables closers to spend their time closing.
Inside selling has a new voice. And that voice must be more knowledgeable and more skilled. Scripts, never my preference, have no place in this new world. Tear up the scripts and raise the bar for your inside sellers.
Originally published Aug 21, 2014 6:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017