Inside sales is growing in both scale and importance as companies realise its power to access global markets, drive productivity and bring innovation to their customer engagements. Companies failing to recognise this trend – and plan for it – risk missing out on major growth opportunities. Jonathan Fitchew, CEO of sales training and recruitment specialist Pareto Law, examines the issues involved and looks at the steps companies need to take to embrace this new reality.
Why the growth of inside sales?
With the rise of global markets, business leaders have seen an increased demand for remote selling to access new opportunities and remain competitive. National boundaries are less relevant and, with technology, the demand for a physical presence in all territories is no longer essential. With mobile communications, video calling, screen-share platforms, email and social media business professionals can connect, develop and maximise profitable relationships without ever needing to step outside the office door.
What’s more, there are measurable shifts in customer buying behaviour. The digital generation is now more comfortable than ever before with remote selling: not only doing their homework and researching your business at the start of the selling cycle, but increasingly collaborating and purchasing remotely.
Internal selling processes are also more time and cost efficient. When the 2008 financial crisis saw a tightening on budgets across all industries, business leaders began looking for a higher velocity model of selling that would increase volume and reduce cost. By expanding internal capacity and bringing field-based professionals back in-house, business organisations were able to cut down on expenses costs and protect profit margins, while getting the most out of their skilled salespeople. There is also a CSR agenda at work whereby organisations are questioning sustainability issues like the carbon footprint of people on the road, when they can be as effective, or more so, from the office.
Why do we need to raise the status of inside sales?
To ensure this shift towards inside sales is managed successfully we need to resource highly skilled people into those seats. However inside sales, since its inception in the 1980s, was always compared to general telephone sales positions. People understood that it worked at a more strategic level with a need for higher level skills but it still retained this association with telesales and slotted into a middle tier of the sales career ladder rather than the top tier associated with field sales.
After three decades of being a stepping stone en-route to the higher profile field sales role, inside sales needs re-branding. In order to retain existing quality inside sales talent organisations need to establish routes to higher rewards and career advancement that don’t automatically point to field sales. By increasing motivation and recognition, inside sales can be future-proofed.
What’s more, there’s a need to attract experienced and expert field sales people into inside sales where they can have more impact as part of a long-term career choice: without the perception of ‘demoting’ those individuals ‘back’ to an internal role.
What steps can we take to raise the perceived value of inside sales?
Selling inside sales needs to begin at the recruitment stage. By positioning the role at the same level as its external counterpart in terms of salary and responsibility, as well as citing the need for experience and expertise, out-of-date perceptions of the position will be challenged: helping to build the value and reputation of inside sales.
Business leaders need to communicate the value of inside sales to the whole team, highlighting success stories of internal people who have progressed to senior level and reinforcing the idea that inside sales processes and techniques underpin the growth of the business and the individual. By recognising and celebrating inside sales success and its status at the highest level, people will see it as positive career move and will want to stick around.
When considering the role profile of modern-day field salespeople, there is already a shift in balance, with two-fifths of customer conversations now completed over the phone or via email. By highlighting this natural convergence of sales roles and the value it brings, managers and decision-makers can increase buy-in and build on the reputation of inside sales.
For individuals considering an internal sales career, value can be added from the new-age style of working that inside sales offers. Explaining benefits such as a greater work life balance, increased capacity to win more business and the ability to earn greater rewards will drive positive perceptions. When contrasted with long hours spent on the road or juggling prospecting calls with travel between meetings, insides sales becomes an easier sell.
What can experienced field sales people learn from inside sales?
As a sales model, inside sales offers improved processes and techniques that can support existing sales professionals in building relationships and serving customers more effectively. If we can help our people recognise this and adopt an inside sales approach, we can increase efficiency, account retention, sales conversions and overall profit.
Reclaiming time normally lost to travelling supports effective account management, while internally-based professionals consistently demonstrate the ability to take on more accounts, generate more leads, pitch to more prospects and build their own knowledge. More time and resource to do research means more professional proposals and pitches that lead to increased conversion rates – and higher commission for the individual.
For those who were previously confined to set territories or market segments, insides sales also presents the opportunity to diversify. With access to global accounts or previously inaccessible markets, sales professionals can develop impressive portfolios that will raise their experience levels and their earnings.
Perhaps the answer is a blended approach: strategically combining internal processes with face-to-face engagement to maximise selling effectiveness and earning power. If field sales people can adapt and change to embrace the practices and processes of internal sales, while business managers continue to promote and grow inside sales teams, the future of sales won’t be a question of segregation. Instead, we can welcome a 360-degree sales profession that takes the best parts of each and results in a more effective and relevant approach to selling.