At a 2013 Inside Sales Virtual Summit, one speaker noted, “Prospects now participate in sales presentations via Skype, web conferencing and video. These tools are quickly catching on and overtaking face-to-face visits and traditional meetings, which are expensive and too time consuming for busy buyers. Inside sales will soon surpass field sales.” While that prediction was made a little more than a year ago, the market seems determined to make it a reality. In fact, a recent study by ZS and Reality Works Group, “Outside In: The Rise of the Inside Sales Team,” found that 40 percent of large technology companies plan to increase their inside sales headcount by 2016. So, what’s driving that desire to change?
- Dollars and Sense
Do more with less is an adage that likely isn’t going away soon. B2B organizations continue to search for ways to cut costs and increase efficiencies. A number of well-known, cloud-based businesses found success through a greater focus on inside sales as their primary sales channel. Many larger companies have taken note and are following that example, which is resulting in lower-cost and more efficient selling models.
- Fewer Deals During Lunch and More on LinkedIn
In a 2013 Harvard Business Review blog post, we revealed how IBM refocused and reinvested in its inside sales teams with social media training and personalized digital pages to help its salespeople generate leads and manage account relationships. Early results included a 55 percent increase in Twitter followers and a significant increase in the number of high-quality inbound leads. B2B buyers increasingly are becoming comfortable with collaborating, researching and even completing the purchase cycle through online channels.
- Intimacy Without Face-to-Face Interaction
The proliferation of technology and social tools means that people don’t need to leave their desks to be taken from the tops of sales funnels to – quite literally – the virtual handshake of becoming a new client. Certainly, there now are many more opportunities to reach, engage and influence prospects and customers, and the number of touch points only will continue to grow. Savvy companies recognize this trend and are arming their inside sales teams with not only the tools to engage clients and prospects, but also the expertise to identify preferred media of prospects and clients and to communicate effectively through them.
As companies begin to increase the size of and reliance on their inside sales forces, it’s critical to realize that the old lens through which they viewed these parts of their teams may need an upgrade. For example, our research found that 65 percent of organizations surveyed indicated that they classify inside sales staff members as exempt. And, while the Federal Labor Standards Act offers clear guidelines for classification of outside salespeople, the details for inside sales people are not as clear-cut. Unfortunately, this vagueness has left some companies to find out the hard way that overtime laws don’t always apply for inside sales teams as they do for field salespeople. As responsibilities of inside and outside salespeople begin to evolve, similar challenges will arise.
- Organization Roles and Structures
The sales landscape continues to change rapidly, allowing inside sales staff to respond to clients and prospective customers efficiently and effectively. Changing business models, technologies and customer preferences are prompting high-tech sales organizations to rethink the way they design and deploy sales resources.
- Development and Growth
Results of our survey revealed that the standard turnover rate, for inside sales professionals in technology companies, is 19 percent. Organizations should begin to think of the inside sales role as equally import as outside sales. Companies need to consider retention strategies, competency models, coaching and career progression for inside sales, just as they do for their field sales organizations.
Compensation structure is an important element of sales. When built correctly, compensation plans motivate, reward and build employee loyalty. A poor compensation plan produces exactly the opposite result. With an increased role in generating revenue and engaging clients and prospects, tying an inside salesperson’s quota and commission plan to an outside salesperson may no longer make sense. Organizations need to rethink their approaches to the drivers of sales force effectiveness, including motivating and rewarding their inside sales teams through sales compensation programs.
The increased role of inside sales will allow organizations to adapt to the fragmentation of communication channels available to reach their prospects and clients. However, even with the increase in efficiency and cost savings that an inside sale team delivers, some relationships still require the engagement that only and in-person meeting provides. The organizations whose sales forces will excel are those that strike the right balance of both.