In today’s challenging selling environment, people and resources typically regarded as inside sales are driving a higher proportion of bottom-line sales results. To stay competitive, sales managers must improve training for inside sales representatives.
ES Research Group encourages sales managers to approach training for inside sales representatives just as seriously as they would approach training for their most valuable outside sales (or field sales) representatives.
Why? This is because the methods, operations and aptitudes of inside sales professionals are increasingly driving sales productivity. Today, inside sales representatives do more than find leads for others to pursue. They also qualify leads for themselves or others to pursue. Increasingly, inside sales representatives are pursuing opportunities to the negotiation and closing stages.
Yet many organizations invest far less in their inside sales training than they do in training their star field representatives. Too many sales managers regard inside sales training as “basic” training. They staff their inside sales organizations with young people fresh out of college, and they still view inside sales solely as a support structure for sales people in the field. For many companies, this is a costly mistake.
Why inside sales?
We believe that sales managers who can shift their organizations NOW to value inside sales will be able to get out ahead of the competition. It’s time to get serious about training for inside sales, for these reasons:
- The wall between inside and outside sales isn’t appropriate and is beginning to break down. Outside (or field) sales representatives are working remotely from their homes, hotels and/or shared office suites. They are using on-line demos, chat, email, web-based video, social media, and yes, phone calls, to cover more accounts in less time. Are they operating as inside sales representatives at those times? Sure. Or, more likely, the distinction between outside and inside sales is becoming less useful. Today, all sales representatives are integral to closing sales. The frequency of the classic in-person sales call has decreased. Customers everywhere increasingly prefer virtual interactions with sellers. Trend data reveal that sales organizations are shifting resources from outside to inside sales. Inside sales growth is 30 percent faster than their outside sales counterparts. The number of Inside Sales departments is projected to grow from 800,000, in 2009 to over 2 million in 2013.
- Inside sales representatives are negotiating and closing deals. Further blurring the lines, more inside representatives are working alongside outside representatives on client visits or sales presentations. Inside sales departments are closing more deals and becoming independent revenue producers for their companies. It’s becoming difficult to distinguish between inside sales and outside sales. Perhaps a better term for inside sales would be “virtual sales,” which nearly all salespeople engage in when they use technology to communicate with their customers and prospects.
- Inside sales representatives are more likely to adopt the practices of what we have been calling Sales 2.0. These include using analytical data, performance metrics, and ROI measures to drive sales decisions and activity. Inside sales people tend to have a better grasp of tools and analytics. A recent study of more than 600 companies noted that, for the first time, a majority 51 percent of firms now track the ROI of their marketing campaigns. Marketing campaigns are becoming much more closely aligned with sales objectives.
- Companies are poaching inside sales representatives. Increasingly, companies are hiring experienced inside sales representatives away from their competitors. This represents a departure from the traditional route of hiring new college graduates or entry-level sales people to fill inside sales positions. We believe this trend will continue.
What should inside sales training look like?
Like training for outside sales, training for inside sales must connect with your go-to-market strategy. Training doesn’t set that strategy. Instead, training must reinforce the specific skills needs to execute your strategy.
The first question is ask is whether or not it still relevant to distinguish between inside and outside sales. Does the wall between inside sales and outside sales help execute your go-to-market strategy? Even if the answer is yes, you will examine and redefine the role of your inside sales organization as you tailor training to the your go-t0-market strategy. For example, to what degree are you shifting revenue responsibility from field to inside sales?
This is an opportunity to capitalize on the strengths of inside sales. If you decide that leveraging data is a key component of your strategy, inside sales representatives already have an advantage in data gathering and analysis. Inside sales could mine insights from the deals you are winning and losing. Their training would sharpen not only their ability to specifically recommend new tactics based on their research, like targeting a specific industry vertical.
One warning, though. As with everything else in business, moving from a field to an inside sales approach without an comprehensive and objective assessment of your unique situation and a plan is a big mistake. We’ve seen companies, in a mad dash to reduce expenses, eliminate significant percentages of their field organizations, replacing those headcounts with inside sales reps. Unfortunately their customers needed and wanted experienced, live people representing alternatives from different providers. That’s a classic example of ready, fire, aim.
[This post was first published on Dave Stein's Commentary on Sales Effectiveness blog. Article republished with permission.]
Sales training expert Dave Stein is CEO of the ES Research Group. This post originally appeared on the ESR blog.