Outside sales. Inside sales. What’s all the noise about?
The inside vs. outside debate: A clash of strategies, techniques and approaches that has fueled endless debates among sales professionals. Which one is more effective? Which one yields higher conversions?
Inside sales, with its reliance on virtual interactions, has transformed the sales landscape. Meanwhile, outside sales, rooted in face-to-face engagement and handshake deals, remains a tried-and-true approach in many industries.
Typically, there’s been a clear divide. Each has its own separate role and responsibility in the sales cycle — but that line has started to blur. The increasing influence technology has on the pipeline has resulted in some serious overlap. Now, it’s common for companies to switch to a hybrid approach — or even invest fully into inside selling.
So, which is right for your business? Should you invest more into inside sales — or is outside the right fit? In this article, we explore everything you need to know, and the strengths and weaknesses of both.
What is inside sales?
Inside sales refers to a strategy in which sales reps engage and connect with prospects remotely, typically over the phone or through emails, video conferences and other digital channels. As the name suggests, inside sales reps usually sell right from their office or home, using technology and virtual tools to reach prospective buyers.
Inside sales is typically used in B2B markets with a focus on generating leads, nurturing relationships and closing deals through remote interactions. Buyers seem to prefer this model too, with customers choosing remote interactions in over half of all sales activities, according to McKinsey research.
What are the benefits of inside sales?
The influence of inside sales is so widespread, Gartner projects that by 2025, 80% of all sales between suppliers and buyers will occur digitally. So, what makes it such a popular business implementation?
Flexibility and agility
Inside sales professionals benefit from more flexibility in their day-to-day. They can pivot to different approaches, messaging and strategies as markets and customer demands change. This agility allows businesses to stay ahead of the competition and seize new opportunities as they emerge.
Inside sales eliminates the need for extensive travel, because reps can handle everything remotely. Without in-person meetings, transportation, accommodation and meals, companies have more capital to invest in key business initiatives, and salespeople have more time to spend actually selling. In fact, research suggests inside sales reps spend 35% of their week selling, compared to 22% for their outside counterparts.
Increased reach and scalability
Selling through the power of Web 2.0 gives sellers the tools to connect with a larger number of prospects in a shorter time frame. With the use of innovative tools and digital channels, reps can reach a broader geographic area and engage with prospects globally — they’re no longer confined by region. This extended reach enables businesses to expand their market and generate more leads.
What are the disadvantages of inside sales?
While inside sales has a number of key advantages, it’s not without its flaws. Here are some key disadvantages of the inside model.
With extended reach comes increased rejection. It takes an average of eight touches to secure an initial meeting with a new prospect, according to Rain Group. This speaks volumes about the perseverance needed to excel in the inside sales model. It’s easier than ever for a prospect to say no — teams need to be prepared for this reality.
Inside reps sit behind a desk all day, and for transitioning outside sellers this can be hugely demotivating. A relentless focus on activity levels (i.e., number of calls made) can feel tedious and draining — making culture, incentives and strategy all the more vital. Paired with increased rejection and a lack of consistency in results, sellers can quickly become disengaged with their work.
The transition to inside sales does not happen overnight. Ramping and training can be lengthy processes, not to mention the recruitment itself, which can be extremely competitive and time consuming. Inside reps are also prone to movement, which makes retaining a sales team tough — and potentially expensive.
What is outside sales?
Outside sales, also known as field sales, is an approach where reps engage with prospects and customers in a more hands-on way, usually outside of a traditional office or sales environment. The practice is seen as the more traditional approach to selling — the wine-and-dine way of closing deals.
Outside sellers usually meet clients, conduct sales presentations, attend trade shows or events, or conduct demonstrations in person. They’re often assigned specific territories and are responsible for building relationships, generating leads and nurturing prospects inside their region.
What are the benefits of outside sales?
Outside sales has been a tried-and-tested model for decades — and for good reason. Outside sales professionals attain an average closing rate of 40%, 26% higher than their inside counterparts.
Stronger buyer relations
Outside salespeople are judged on their ability to build relationships with customers. Meeting clients in person allows reps to better empathize with their needs, address their concerns, and tailor the approach based on immediate feedback. By fostering personal connections, outside sales can lead to stronger and longer-lasting relationships.
Outside sales offers a competitive edge for products that require up-close-and-personal demonstrations. Sales reps can showcase the full features, benefits and value of their offering and help their prospects see the full picture first-hand. This interaction can be highly persuasive in the sales process.
Industries like pharmaceuticals, insurance and real estate rely on outside sales because it is expected by their customers. Face-to-face interactions are crucial to getting the deal signed, and an immediate switch to inside selling would see a decrease in leads and diminish profits.
What are the disadvantages of outside sales?
Outside sales can be challenging when targeting a wide geographic area or when prospects are situated in remote or hard-to-reach locations. It may prove logistically impractical or financially unfeasible to visit every customer, which limits the market coverage you can realistically achieve.
Lack of buyer alignment
B2B buyers expect to buy virtually now — in the same way as they do with any B2C purchase. In fact, 75% of buyers prefer remote engagement over face-to-face interaction. If your business can’t facilitate digital purchasing or at least some degree of self-service, you’re likely to fall behind the pace.
Outside sales is generally a more expensive practice than remote selling due to travel expenses and the other related costs of meeting prospects face-to-face. These costs can significantly impact a company’s sales budget, especially if the target market spans a significant distance.
Inside vs. outside: Which is better for my business?
For most modern businesses, inside sales is the more compelling option. The market has grown immensely since 2020 — 300% faster than field sales according to SalesLoft. This is a trend that isn’t going to slow down anytime soon.
Inside sales directly corresponds to how customers want to buy in the modern world. Modern B2B buyers want a digital experience, similar to the way they purchase in all facets of their personal lives. The writing is on the wall in terms of results, too: Companies with sales teams dominated by inside sales reps have a 9.8% higher quota attainment than field sales teams, according to HubSpot.
An even higher percentage of businesses use the inside model due to the cost efficiencies and benefits in recruitment, attrition and retention. Working inside extends reach, meaning teams can be built cross-regionally or even across the globe.
Equally, with more people working remotely than ever, sellers are far less inclined to work out in the field. It’s an incredibly challenging hiring market to break into. The same can be said for prospects. They aren’t working in offices anymore; they’re working from home. You can’t expect to sell on someone’s doorstep or couch. All of these factors combined clearly show that inside sales will continue to outpace field sales and be the chosen method where possible.
Is field sales redundant?
That’s not to say that field sales is dead; it just requires a different approach. If you decide to opt for a field sales team, you need to invest in a decent CMS system to control your entire team. Try to localize your team too, in order to ensure there’s no overlap or confusion.
Many businesses also adopt a hybrid approach, which enables their sales team to cover more ground — but you need to hire a variety of different talents for full operational effectiveness. Sellers need to be analytical enough to work as an inside seller, but agile enough to be a capable outside seller at the same time.
Inside sales will only continue to become more widespread — especially as we step closer toward a fully digital future. Yet the power of both inside and outside sales is still relevant. It ultimately hinges on the industry, their customers, and how their buyers expect to be sold to.
Now, businesses should look to experiment, discover a sales strategy that suits the needs of their customer base and be adaptable to future shifts in sales trends.
Don’t have the time, resources or experience to do it yourself? We’ve helped organizations of all sizes to build future-proof sales strategies — from growing startups to the FT100. Inside The Lab, our unique, data-led environment, we test innovative sales initiatives that are entirely niche to your offering, delivering unmatched levels of efficiency and repeated gains in performance. Ready to unlock the truest potential of your revenue?
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Originally from Iver in the United Kingdom, Christina has 25+ years in sales and operations, the majority of which has been at board level. Those who have met Christina would agree that she strives for operational excellence on a daily basis, consistently working in her role as SVP of Sales Services to develop the individuals and teams as a whole.