In an industry where communication is everything, it's ironic that sales is full of confusing terminology. You have your acronyms - from AIDA to BANT to the ridiculous GPCTBA. Even job titles can be misleading - account manager, biz dev, demand generation, marketing advisor, inside sales, etc.
While we don't have the time nor the patience to explain all of these, we are going to take a look at exactly what is inside sales.
Ed Lateef, chairman at sales software company Intelliverse, has a simple yet effective definition of inside sales:
"Inside sales is essentially a technology-driven selling practice, carried out mainly through remote communication," he says. "It is different from the traditional face-to-face sales model, i.e., the outside sales, as it does not require sales personnel to visit the client's location to make the deal."
However, while you may think you now completely understand inside sales and can explain it to your colleagues/children/anyone that will listen, the proliferation of sales and CRM technology has sparked changes.
"Inside sales means something much different today than it did 20 years ago," says Jason McDonald, founder and CEO of sales consultancy Boostsalesconsulting.com. "With the advent of technology like GoToMeeting, Join.Me, and Uber Conference, sales reps can now do a lot of their selling from an office; sharing your monitor with a remote prospect means they can see your software or your slide deck, something that in the past required face-to-face selling."
To further complicate matters, with these communication and collaboration solutions becoming the norm in industries from sales to marketing and beyond, the line between inside and outside sales is becoming blurry.
Bryan Miller, SVP of Sales at Caliper, a talent management company, explains: "While I would define inside sales as selling via a remote sales process that involves identifying new sales opportunities, qualifying and nurturing leads, and closing sales using technology such as CRM software, email, and communication services, it's becoming increasingly true that more outside sales people are sitting in front of their computers, working in an office. The major difference is usually the size of the deals they work on and the fact that outside sales professionals will still go and see customers."
While GetApp primarily caters for the small business market, we also understand that different sales teams selling different products have varying needs. So - while there are clear benefits that we'll cover below, focusing on inside sales may not be right for your business.
McDonald explains: "Inside sales is highly productive and has a very good cost/revenue ratio. In other words, for every dollar you invest in inside sales, you have a much higher ROI than you would using outside sales. However, there are some enterprise sales with very high costs that require outside selling. Thus, I always consult my customers to first start by building an inside sales model, and then when the time is right, start adding outside sales territories. This is all with the assumption that the product can actually be sold using inside sales."
At a glance, here are some of the main benefits of inside sales according to Miller (we'll look at some benefits in more depth below):
Effectiveness at penetrating SMB and mid-sized markets
Increased activity levels (call volumes, selling time, etc.)
Increased sales productivity - no drive or travel time is required to get from meeting to meeting
Flexibility to quickly and affordably scale up or down the size of the sales team based on changes in market conditions or business strategy
Better predictability and forecasting of revenue
Flexibility to work different hours and adapt to customers schedules.
Inside sales also has the benefit of data and analytics to help salespeople understand who they are targeting, how they should target them, and to measure the success of previous campaigns.
"Data provides a drawn out map to success-including preferred touchpoints, best time to engage, and how often," says Manny Medina, CEO of sales automation platform Outreach. "It allows a rep, when armed with the right tools, to target a specific prospect who's known to be looking at similar services they're selling (perhaps they've been to the product's website), and contact them according to their preferred channel - which more and more today, is virtual."
Convenience and efficiency
Lateef says that while the phone has always been an essential part of the inside sales process, the technologies that can be given credit for creating it are web conferencing products such as Webex and GoToMeeting, and this is where salespeople can reap the benefits.
"The expediency of demonstrating the products remotely to the clients through web conferencing makes inside sales much more convenient and efficient," he says. "The same feature has also made it the fastest growing industry in all of sales and marketing across different industries. Moreover, low customer acquisition costs and significantly accurate revenue predictability are the primary advantages of Inside sales."
Improved customer experience
The buying journey has undergone a transformation in the last few years, with the linear pattern of salesperson selling to customer a thing of the past, instead channel hopping, informed customers shop in completely new ways.
"With the advent of online, digital and social media marketing, key decision makers prefer remote/online interactions with the Sales Team as compared to traditional face-to-face meeting which are seen more intrusive & time taking during initial engagements," says Amit Sharma, CEO of consulting firm Dishah Consultants. "Moreover, with the explosion of information online, customers often prefer to contact sales teams instead of salespeople proactively connecting with customers. These changes in buyer behavior and the buying journey pave the way for inside sales, outshining field sales in delivering a better customer experience."
However, given that in recent research almost half of respondents rate 'in person' as the method that provides the highest quality leads, the lack of face to face meetings with customers is a challenge.
"It takes longer and is harder to build trust and relationships over the phone (i.e. customers buying bigger ticket items still want "personal" relationships with their sales representative)," says Miller.
Matt Stanton, VP of Sales at sales dialing solution ConnectLeader, adds: "Face to face meetings are focused as attendees are not distracted; they allow sales reps to cover more ground by meeting with groups of people and to "read the room" by observing body language, facial expressions and power structure within the client group. However, inside sales teams make up for this by extensively researching customers before engaging. Additionally, what inside sales reps lack in face-to-face meetings they make up in volume as they are able to attend to many more customers as their travel obligations are drastically reduced."
Finding and developing talent
As inside sales staff overtake outside sales staff in many companies, the challenge becomes in hiring enough talented salespeople and in finding the time to develop these staff.
"Hiring of sales personnel in inside sales has outgrown outside sales, as such,the challenge is in the high demand of recruiting and hiring inside sales professionals," says Sharma. "Businesses also have to incur the cost of having proper recruitment and onboarding infrastructure in place to effectively on-board inside sales reps."
"The challenge is in finding time to coach and develop reps because they are doing a higher volume of work, and at a faster rate," says Miller.
Picking the right tools
A major challenge for businesses is also to invest in the right tools that can simplify the connectivity and communication with the prospects.
"Sales acceleration tools and analytics can help in streamlining the process and maximizing productivity," says Latiff.
The market is full of sales tools, all promising to do the same thing, but better than their competitors, to the point where sales reps could easily spend all their time updating these tools and not doing much work. So why should a company invest in inside sales software.
According to research firm Gartner (content available to clients), inside sales technologies offer one or more of the following capabilities:
Dialers/automated voice mail/presence
Content engagement/email tracking
Inside sales software also allows companies to track how well reps are doing, and identify areas for improvements.
"Technology has greatly enabled us to better track and report what I call the "intermediary metrics" of sales - bookings is obviously the key metric, but before that, there are questions about how many calls, how many visits, how much face time, talk time with the customer, how many demos, etc," says David Howard Director of Marketing and Sales Operations at visualization platform N3N. "This is all highly trackable nowadays with SaaS and other telephony solutions that integrate with CRM and marketing automation tools, so the inside sales manager can better understand, from that intermediary metric perspective, who the performers are in the sales organization, and who needs more help and motivation."
As we've mentioned, many tools promise to do the same thing, so it's important to determine what you are looking to get out of any tool.
Howard recommends choosing: "an integrated solution that ties telephony to CRM and marketing automation, includes some predictive analytics capabilities to help prioritize outreach, and includes tracking and reporting across the intermediary metrics that reflect activities that ultimately close in a sale. Certainly there are still software solutions that require field sales making face time with customers, but it's no accident that inside sales has grown along with SaaS acceptance."
Medina says that the solution needs to serve all members of the team - not just reps. "An ideal software solution should also have assets for all members of the selling team-from account executive all the way up to sales managers who requires insight into their individual team members' performances in order to identify the top sellers who can act as mentors, and the lower performers who may need additional coaching."
Sharma recommends looking for these four key attributes in any inside sales solution:
Simplicity and use of integrations
Remote and mobile access
Integrated analytics and actionable insight
According to the research from Gartner cited above, almost all inside sales software is cloud-based, and Howard believes that the SaaS delivery model has really enabled the inside sales model, particularly for corporate B2B software.
He explains: "The cost of entry for business is lower, the vendor has to constantly work to continually earn SaaS renewals, and the deployment / turn-up model is vastly different from classic on-premise perpetual use license models. This means that SaaS products can be sold differently, i.e. inside sales."
There are some solutions that our experts recommend our use themselves that provide good starting points if you are looking for software to help you better manage your inside sales processes.
"What to look for is dependent on what problem customers are trying to solve," says Stanton. "To generate intelligence before engaging, companies look to data providers like HG Data and ZoomInfo to deliver organizational and individual information. Once the prospects are identified, Salesforce or Zoho CRM help track, organize, and analyze prospects and opportunities. To take action in the sales process, companies look to sales acceleration technologies."
McDonald also provides recommendations on inside sales software to use for the different parts of the inside sales process:
Hubspot Sales because it includes a full CRM, click to dial which allows you to click a hyperlink which then calls your prospect and even records the phone calls, and online appointment scheduling which syncs with your calendar. It also allows prospects to self schedule with you, and email sequences which can send to one or more emails to prospects based upon a pre-designed template.
Uber Conference for conference calls because it's free, and it lets you share your screen etc. Just as importantly, it allows you to share a static URL with your prospects which means you can quickly/easily paste it into calendar invitations.
Apptoto to send prospective customers text and email appointment reminders the day before an appointment. This reduces no-show rates which are a huge problem for sales reps. If a prospect doesn't show-up for a phone appointment, it's really hard to close a deal with them.
Zapier for automation between multiple inside sales platforms. Zapier allows different technology platforms to easily send and receive data from one another. For example, if you want to have Hubspot CRM automatically send out a contract using an online contract management software company, you could use Zapier to help them communicate with one another.
If you've decided that you're ready to invest in inside sales software, or just want to find out more about the options available, we have some resources to help: