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The Future of Inside Sales: Managing the Ever Changing Sales Landscape

AI and Inside Sales

The writing is on the wall: inside sales is the future - and an inevitable one at that.

Inside sales has grown exponentially since 2020. According to SalesLoft, the market has advanced 300% faster than traditional sales – a trend that shows no sign of slowing.

The reason is simple. Inside sales can transform sales process and buyer affairs through a digital-first approach. They help businesses sell more fluently, seamlessly and cost-effectively – generating a better ROI and ROE from their people and processes.

In fact, companies with sales teams dominated by inside sales reps have a 9.8% higher quota than their counterparts. The truth is, companies today need to keep their head above the water more than ever. With so much change in such a short time: what’s next for the industry? 

In this blog, we’ll explore five key trends for the future of inside sales, and our predictions for the progression of the sales market.

What does the future of sales look like?

All evidence and historical information points toward a continued shift to inside sales. From 2017 to 2019 the industry saw a 6% average shift to inside from field sales, as per Gartner.

That means, as people left field sales roles, they weren’t replaced with a like-for-like candidate. Their role was repackaged as an inside sales position. In 2021, that shift increased to a staggering 33%. You’d be forgiven for believing that the Covid-19 pandemic started the downfall of field sales, but it’s true. To an extent.

Covid-19 removed the option for field selling and forced sales jobs to be remote. It was a necessity – not a choice. What wasn’t predicted about that sharp increase until more recently was the longevity. Currently, 54% of employees want to remain home working, on a hybrid, flexible or agile basis.

An even higher percentage of CFOs want to retain that model due to the cost efficiencies and benefits in recruitment and retention. Working inside extends reach, meaning teams can be built across the globe.

All these factors combined clearly show that successful inside sales will continue to outpace field sales, and be the chosen method where possible.

Buyer habits will continue to move towards digital

Buyers have been moving toward digital-first behavior over the last decade. They’ve become self-sufficient in researching purchasing decisions.

There’s no longer an expectation for the ‘travelling salesman’, wine-and-dine experience. Modern buyers expect a seamless, digital, customer experience-first approach. One that’s entirely on their terms. This digital-first approach to selling has become second nature in B2B, just as e-commerce has boomed for B2C.

This isn’t a new phenomenon – or even entirely down to the impact of Covid. Business buyer behaviors tend to follow consumer buyer behavior. In fact, 2016 data from SBI suggested nearly 75% of customers preferred not to spend time meeting face-to-face with sellers. The universal truth is, customers – whether at home or at work – want to buy online, over a sales call or email.

The only difference between B2C and B2B behaviors is the convenience. At home, buyers take a credit card and purchase – it isn’t that simple yet in business terms. Whether due to business purchasing procedures or procurements, the digital-first process causes a lag. B2B buyers are rarely armed with a company credit card. The majority of purchases go on an invoice, then through a statement of work or contract.

But, as the shift to home working moves, it’s only a matter of time before this changes. That whole process is what takes time to catch up. Not the buyer behavior, which is already in place. It’s their ability to demonstrate it in the workplace that takes longer.

Not to mention, people work remotely now – that doesn’t just impact the nature of selling, but also buying. Clients, prospects, buyers aren’t all office-based anymore. You can’t visit them at their home and expect to make a sale sitting on their couch. Just as 54% of employees want to work at home, the same can be said of buyers. They’re equally employees of a company.

AI and automation

Contact ability through media has evolved seriously. Just as marketing bodies have powered their results through intelligent tech, inside sales has been quick to follow suit.

Insights and data intelligence are more meaningful and powerful than ever. It’s not just limited to statistics or activity metrics. A wide range of plug-and-play CRM systems like Salesforce are being used across Fortune 500 and small startups alike. Sales softwares are investing more time and effort into the creative side. AI has become the main driver.

Leading software brands are investing in totally new ways to quantify prospecting and engagement. Intonation AI tracking has become important for sales teams, but this intelligence is starting to move into more visual interaction.

Looking ahead, machine learning and AI will improve the affairs between customers and inside sales teams. This could be through automation, data management or even engagement analytics. If you’re not considering how you can use your tech stack to create innovative customer interactions, you’re already behind.

The Sales cycle will shorten further

According to Hubspot’s 2021 Buyer Experience Study, 80% of SaaS buyers say the buying process is cumbersome. There are too many steps. It’s too complicated. There’s too much paperwork. We’ve heard it all before.

B2B buying is only just catching up to the digital-first buyer behaviors customers are used to. That massively changes the sales cycle, increasing the ability to prospect, sell, and close at pace.

In fact, recent research by CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council shows B2B buyers complete nearly 60% of the buyer journey before even talking to a sales rep.

With rich researching tools at their fingertips, buyers know what they want – and where to get it. This naturally shortens the sales cycle, resulting in an increase in inbound enquiries. It also makes investment into CX and lead qualification an important part of capacity planning. This value shows very little sign of change.

Marketing’s influence will only grow in significance

In the early days of sales and marketing, each team would be accountable to their own targets. Activity, connection and success metrics for sales teams and conversion, traffic and lead source data for marketing.

Today, with the omni-channel approach to buying/selling, marketing has a huge role in the sales cycle. Without a shared idea of what success looks like and how to measure it, there’s no alignment for business goals.

Typical “marketing-specific” channels such as social media, web and content is ever-improving as a resource for lead generation. 60% of the B2B buying cycle is completed before a buyer has even engaged with a sales rep.

Future lead generation efforts will likely be dictated by combined efforts from inside sales and marketing. It will attract and engage prospects on their terms, whether that’s phone, email, SMS, or other new social selling channels like TikTok.

Now, more than ever, sales and marketing teams need to make better joint efforts to ensure they are both accountable to the same end-goal. The only way to achieve that is to be open and honest about goals and results from the onset. It’s a topic we’ve discussed in greater depth in our How to Improve Marketing and Sales Alignment Blog.

Personalization will only grow in importance

In inside sales, “the riches are in the niches”. Those who personalize their prospecting outreach always see a better return on effort. Why? Because when you approach prospecting too broadly and try to appeal to everyone, the opposite happens. You end up resonating with no one.

There’s a huge amount of research and money going into improving inside sales tools. From lead capturing and CRM all the way through to AI and engagement data. These tools are now far better at sourcing, quantifying and displaying human behavior.

Human behavior isn’t filling in surveys anymore. It’s considering the way prospects respond to specific sales channels and activities. Through tonality analysis and visual interaction. The difference today is that human data is being combined. It’s less about the group you’re selling to and more about the person. Not just personalized around their job title either. Personalized around the human being sold to.

Armed with rich data into each buyer, sales reps can shorten the time it takes to prospect. This saves wasted energy on chasing the “wrong” leads, and maximizing genuine pipeline. Equally, as buyers expect personalization more, it’s natural to think it will become second-nature for sellers. It’s worth investing in the right tools to enable personalization, before your business is left behind.

Final thoughts

The “uncertainty” of the inside sales industry is a myth. With logical research and assessments of current market trends, business leaders and sellers can monitor the direction of the market and prepare fot it. The proof is all in the data.

If you’re monitoring an industry trend, create a data source for that. Your assumptions are nothing without numbers. Experimenting is also critical. Assign a portion of your headcount to messaging testing for your assumptions. There’s zero value in rolling out the unverified, based on a hunch!

Not possible with your current setup? At Harte Hanks, we have the resources and sales strategy to begin experimentation less than 90 days after an SOW is signed. Our work is achieved alongside your existing outbound sales organization. That means you’ll never have to reduce existing capacity or resources, or see a reduction in MQLs, customer service & pipeline.

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