The inside model has quickly moved from the future of sales to the here and now.
In 2017, less than 10% of B2B companies used a digital approach to sales. Fast-forward to the present day, and inside sales reps now make up around 40% of high-growth sales teams.
This shift has been driven by two major influences: improvements in communication technology and our attitude toward it. Decision makers are increasingly comfortable being sold to remotely. In fact, most buyers now expect their B2B buying experience to be digital, just as they would with any B2C e-commerce purchase.
You may still be thinking, “What is inside sales?” In this article, we explore everything you need to know. We’ll answer the most commonly asked questions: what inside sales means, how it compares to outside sales, what is expected of an inside sales rep and more.
What is inside sales?
Inside sales is a remote method of selling that has rapidly become the go-to for modern companies, over the more traditional practice of field sales. This approach to selling goods and services is executed remotely from an office-based environment, rather than through in-person networking.
The concept is an evolution of telemarketing, which emerged during the second half of the 20th century. Instead of just focusing on sales made over the phone, inside sales casts a much wider net. It includes just about every type of digital communication available.
Typically, three main channels are used: emails, phone calls and social media, with LinkedIn being the most popular social platform for B2B.
What’s the Difference Between Inside Sales and Outside Sales?
The main difference between inside and outside (field) sales is how the product or service is sold to a prospect. Inside reps sell their offering to buyers digitally, building relationships over the phone, internet and other virtual channels. Outside reps sell products face-to-face, in the field.
Outside sales is seen as the more traditional way to engage prospective customers and close deals. While some high-value deals are still negotiated face-to-face, most decision makers no longer expect to be sold to in person. This growing demand for more virtual contact has transformed the responsibilities of the traditional Sales Development Rep (SDR) role entirely.
What has caused the transition? It is more cost-effective for sales teams to work from within an office or remotely. More importantly, remote sales are highly convenient for modern customers, enabling them to buy services in the same style as any other B2C e-commerce purchase.
In fact, recent studies suggest:
BUYERS CAN BE UP TO 70% THROUGH THE JOURNEY BEFORE THEY CONTACT SALES.
OF BUYERS AND SELLERS PREFER REMOTE ENGAGEMENT OVER FACE-TO-FACE INTERACTIONS.
INSIDE SALES CAN REDUCE THE COST OF CUSTOMER ACQUISITION BY 40-90%.
What are the benefits of inside sales?
Inside sales offers a range of additional benefits that have revolutionized the way businesses approach revenue generation. On the surface, there’s the obvious cost savings of moving a sales team indoors, lessening the need for extensive travel or physical office spaces. But, the advantages stem far beyond just routine reductions in spend. The most attractive benefits include scalability, flexibility and extended reach. Here’s how.
Easier to scale
With no ties to a specific location, businesses are free to expand into new territories and markets as they see fit — without relocating any staff or resources. Previously, expansion would have meant building new offices, hiring additional team members and assigning resources to new areas. As businesses scale, inside sales teams can expand easily without hesitation — the only real limit to growth is headcount.
Bigger talent pool
Due to its remote nature, inside sales can be a more accessible hiring market, compared to the traditional field sales model. Reps often have the freedom to work entirely remotely, from home or their own office location. This means that businesses are no longer limited to hiring only people who live inside, or close to, their region of business.
Easier to forecast growth
Strong inside sales should be primarily data-driven. Using an array of powerful tools and CRM systems, businesses can effectively keep a finger on the pulse of their results and targets, gaining a well-rounded understanding of their ROI and ROE. This means leaders are able to better predict their annual or quarterly revenue outcomes, determine accurate targets and make more informed decisions to improve results.
With sellers based entirely remotely, small businesses can reach further afield, making it easier to penetrate new markets, territories and audiences. Sales teams are no longer restricted by travel distance. They can sell where they want, when they want, and how they want. Many inside sales teams will deploy across the globe from their existing headquarters, without needing to purchase physical infrastructure in each specific country.
Easier to adapt
The future is digital. Buyers no longer expect the “traveling salesman.” A major benefit of inside sales is that it enables sales teams to be reactive in their approach to selling, and respond to changes in buyer expectations as they happen. This can be a change in the technology used, or something more human, like different messaging or tone.
Increased sales opportunities
Inside sales is far more efficient than the traditional field model. Reps spend less time traveling to meet prospects face-to-face, so they can instead focus on nurturing and outreach activities. The average sales rep can make 80+ cold calls a day. Some field reps will only make one visit per day, with most of their time spent on the road. Increased activity = increased sales opportunities.
Does this mean field sales is dead?
The rapid rise of inside sales does not make field sales a dead art. Many businesses opt for a hybrid approach to revenue generation, enabling them to cover more ground than a single approach. With hybrid, sales floors can work through their pipeline remotely, while handling higher-value, priority prospects in the field. This model can be highly profitable for businesses, with outside sales professionals known to make an average of 14% more than their inside sales counterparts.
Additionally, while the new digital reality has transformed the shape of sales, there is still a place for the charisma, conversation and personality tied to traditional field practices. Buyers have always been able to sense apathy, and those engaging, conversational qualities can never be understated. Often, inside sellers can be blinded by acute data research and pipeline theory to the point that they sacrifice the value of just being personable. Buyers will always favor human authenticity.
How does inside sales work?
Inside sales traditionally works through three disciplines: inbound, outbound and blended.
The inbound discipline focuses on warm leads from prospective customers that have shown interest in the offering online — submitting a form on a website, downloading content, requesting a demo or starting a conversation with a chatbot.
Outbound focuses on potential net-new business development, or opportunities to upsell, cross-sell and scale. Business development reps will use processes like cold calling, video prospecting and email outreach (to name but a few) to make contact with a prospect, then nurture their engagement with virtual meetings, demos and follow-ups until a decision is made.
Some organizations choose to blend both inbound and outbound practices to reach their prospects, rather than relying on a single method. By segmenting lead generation in this way, inside sales teams can provide a constant flow of selling opportunities to relevant team members, based on multiple different intentions in the market. It also enables teams to target different ICPs and buyer personas relevant to their offering, without being tied solely to inbound leads or prospects who are already in the decision stage.
How to build an inside sales team
Successful inside sales does not happen overnight. You will need to recruit and ramp up the right people before they can be an asset to your business. This takes time. In a dynamic, fast-moving market, you may not have this luxury.
Typically, businesses choose from two different methods for inside sales deployment: Building from scratch or outsourcing to a third party.
Building in-house sales teams
Building an internal inside sales team is no easy feat, but it is hugely rewarding for those that do it effectively. As a leader, you need to build an environment that is conducive to success and actively enables your team to perform. It isn’t enough to simply rely on skill sets and experience to grow pipelines or scale revenue.
Among the most important considerations, are:
- Compensation plans
- Customer relationship management (CRM software)
- Sales enablement & automation
- Reporting & analytics
Most organizations won’t have the experience, technique, personnel or benchmarking data to build from scratch. Once you’ve committed to building an inside sales team internally, it can take a great deal of trial and error before you begin to see results. You could be looking at six months or more.
Outsourcing to a partner
Outsourcing inside sales is the chosen method for organizations looking for a faster route to market. It helps businesses focus on their core competencies, protect their time, reach new markets and uplift revenue without risking existing quotas or performance.
The benefits of outsourcing include:
- Reduced risk & liability
- No recruitment
- Reduced retention risk
- Speed to market
Some companies will choose to outsource their entire team; others will opt to outsource a specific area of business, such as inbound lead generation. By doing so, they can protect the time of their in-house sellers to spend on outbound activities, or other activities that generate a guaranteed ROI for their business. Outsourcing can also evoke longer-term value by providing the additional resources to experiment with new strategies, initiatives or processes.
What positions are in an inside sales team?
To build an inside sales team, you’ll need to hire for a selection of inside-specific roles. These include:
Sales development representatives (SDRs): An SDR is responsible for lead and opportunity generation through prospecting, outreach and lead management. They hand sales qualified leads over to account executives to close.
Account executive (AE): An AE is responsible for closing warm net-new leads generated by sales development representatives. Their sole focus is customer acquisition – winning new business and closing deals.
Account manager (AM): Account managers are tasked with managing and nurturing relationships with existing clients and new customer accounts, with the primary goal of increasing revenue, satisfaction and customer loyalty.
Customer success manager (CSM): CSMs aim to understand customers’ goals and proactively help them to achieve their targets. Their responsibilities can include: client onboarding, training, technical support and customer service.
What is an inside sales rep?
An inside sales representative is a salesperson based in an office or remotely. It is their responsibility to generate product/service interest by following up on inbound leads or performing cold outreach to engage net-new prospects. It is not always the responsibility of the rep to physically close business, but to pass warm, qualified selling opportunities over to the appropriate account executive.
At face value, the inside sales rep’s core duties are very similar to a field seller’s. They identify new markets, pitch to prospective customers, overcome objections and nurture leads. The key difference is that inside sales reps don’t meet potential customers face-to-face like outside sales reps do. Instead, they identify and nurture leads through an in-house approach. These reps use phone, emails, Zoom and live chat to interact with buyers on their terms.
Faster Lead Response
More Accounts On-the-Go
More Time Spent Selling
What does an inside sales rep do?
The main duty of an inside sales rep is to sell products and services remotely. It’s their job to seek new clients, understand customer needs, build effective sales pitches and generate new leads.
While the sales process and execution may vary between businesses and markets, inside reps usually follow a predefined cadence or sales play. Their role typically includes the following:
- Qualify leads using business intelligence and CRM
- Identify prospects using a sales tech stack
- Find decision makers at relevant companies
- Create battlecards comparing competitor offerings
- Arrange demos, video conferences and other digital conversations between buyer and brand
- Perform cold outreach to engage net-new leads
- Manage leads to move inbound opportunities through the pipeline
- Nurture and follow up on disengaged leads
- Contribute toward and adopt new sales plays and messaging initiatives
- Monitor performance and report back to senior leaders
What skills are required for inside sales?
Inside sales is an emerging, ever-shifting field. Inside sales people need to be equipped with the right skills to succeed quickly. The following attributes are essential:
Inside sales reps will need to gather insights into prospects and their businesses. This is a key aspect to winning at inside sales. To achieve this, reps will use directories, search engines and other forms of networking. More importantly, they will need to analyze engagement data to help engineer their messaging, touch patterns and personalization.
Time management is vital for those looking to become top performers. It’s easy to get distracted by daily admin tasks, but time spent not physically selling is time wasted. Usually, sales leaders will keep a close eye on the activity of their reps — the number of touches they make on an average day. Use an intuitive CRM to track activity and employ intelligent sales platforms to automate routine tasks.
When an inside sales rep calls new prospects and brokers deals, they need to be able to get ideas across clearly. This includes displaying their knowledge of customer pain points and explaining how their offering is the solution to these challenges. The best reps are bold, authoritative and highly knowledgeable about their product. Confidence comes easier to some, but it can be learned over time. It is a vital part of being able to persuade prospects to purchase.
The digital market is constantly evolving. The most effective reps will constantly look to move alongside the speed of innovation and find new ways to improve efficiency, engage prospects and win business. Those with this forward-thinking mindset are most likely to see a prolonged career on the sales floor, as their abilities are essentially evergreen — which is of huge value to their employer.
Inside sales tools
Inside sales: Frequently asked questions
On average, full-time inside sales reps earn a base annual salary of $49,929 in the United States, based on the latest figures from Indeed. In addition, inside sales reps make an average of $10,438 a year in commission. As with any role, salary depends on factors such as experience and education. Naturally, there are also variations depending on a company’s location and industry.
Cold calling is the outbound task reps will perform most regularly, but it is just one of the ways to reach out to prospects. Today, inside sales uses every remote sales channel, including phone calls, email and social media.
What gets measured gets managed. To truly keep a finger on the pulse of performance, leaders need to measure what matters most to their operations: Speed-to-qualification, productivity, pipeline velocity, lead generation and more. At Harte Hanks, we break sales performance metrics into three key categories: Activities, Connections and Success. You can discover more about this in our blog post “5 Key Inside Sales Performance Metrics You Need to Be Tracking Right Now.”
It is not uncommon for inside sales reps to earn a commission. This is usually part of a wider strategy known as a Compensation (Comp) Plan, a structured program that determines how much a sales rep should earn, based on their performance.
As the demands of buyers change, businesses have a responsibility to pivot and re-align. Today’s buyers are digitally savvy. They no longer “demand” easier buying processes, they expect them – and sellers that can’t sell in the way buyers want to buy can only expect to miss opportunities, lose business and reduce revenue.
As we’ve established, there is no rulebook for building a digital sales model. Businesses need to experiment to find processes that work for their customers, team and market – leading with data to prevent continued testing from becoming a bank-breaking expense.
Interested in arming your business for the digital landscape, but not sure where to start? Harte Hanks can help. We help businesses of all sizes to scale their outreach, grow their pipeline and convert their prospects with exceptional inside sales outsourcing – ready to go inside 30 days of an SOW being signed. We provide the data, infrastructure and accomplished personnel to meet your digital revenue goals, no matter where you find yourself in the market – helping you to scale effectively, at pace and with true, tangible results.
Contact us today
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.