Inside sales, or telesales, often get a bad name. No one likes to be cold-called: Most of us put the phone down as soon as we realise it’s a sales call.
Medtech has been slow to embrace telesales, often using it for the very lowest-value customers or the most geographically remote, where it just isn’t worth the sales rep driving all the way there.
And of course, some of our customers are surgeons or nurses who are not sitting down in an office to answer a phone—they may be scrubbed and in surgery, or visiting patients in their homes.
But we all use phones all of the time. We’re much more comfortable with phone calls, and increasingly with video calls or Skype, than we used to be. It’s no different for our customers—they’re busy, and they’re comfortable having an efficient call rather than a face-to-face meeting.
The surprise is that our customers actually prefer inside sales—when it’s done well! Inside sales can be better at:
- Efficient interaction: By leveraging technology, today’s inside sales reps can email or send a calendar invite to schedule a discussion, respond quickly to questions by phone, share a procedure video, and follow up with links to webinars and clinical information on a website.
- Tailoring the offering: With customer information at their fingertips, inside sales reps can select products and materials that are most relevant to the individual customer. They can review product usage with customers, highlight consignment stock ahead of expiry and suggest new products based on purchase history.
One of the big questions to answer when designing your sales model is, who “owns” the customer? Can responsibility really be shared between a traditional, face-to-face rep and an inside sales rep, or do you need to separate the customers? Depending on the situation, either can work.
- “Tandem” model: Customers are shared between a traditional rep and an inside sales rep, and both receive a bonus for sales to that customer (so yes, you do pay twice for the same sale). A surgical products company, a wound-care company and a diabetes-care company have been using this model successfully in Germany for several years. The customers are different in each case, but the commonality is that while customers are shared, there are very clear responsibilities for each sales role. The surgical products company has inside sales reps who qualify leads for a new procedure, and then hand over to the traditional rep to visit the customer, sell and train. The wound-care company turns it around and has the inside sales rep manage the customer relationship, and bring the traditional rep in as needed for meetings or training. The diabetes-care company has the inside sales rep increase the number of touchpoints to the customer, especially during product launches.
- Inside-sales-only model: Customers are served only by inside sales, not by a traditional rep. One example is from an implantable products company, which serves heads of department in all but the largest hospitals using inside sales. Through regular phone meetings, supplemented by a dedicated website, customers are provided with an overview of their business with the company and kept up-to-date with new developments. Customers can also call the inside salesperson whenever they have a question, and the inside sales rep either handles it himself or herself or passes it to customer service or a product specialist. They don’t miss the traditional rep, because their new rep is now more accessible and responsive!
If you’re thinking of using an inside sales approach, just watch out for some of the common pitfalls:
- Don’t just dump the crappy jobs on them—instead, make sure they have a “proper” role and accountability.
- Don’t just assign them the lowest-value customers—instead, make sure the customers should be covered at all, and then check whether they could be covered by customer service alone. Inside sales reps are skilled professionals who don’t come cheap.
- Don't hire under-skilled people or pay them poorly—instead hire whom you want and expect to have to pay for them. Many of these models require a rep who is just as good as your field team, but he or she just uses a phone instead of a car.
- Don’t keep them separate from the rest of your organisation—instead, treat them as part of your sales force as much as possible.
- Don’t roll out an inside sales approach everywhere at once—instead, test it out and refine before you expand.
As technology advances and medtech continues to look for innovative sales models, we should think about renaming our much-maligned “telesales” reps. In fact, several companies have branded their inside sales team and use a proprietary name that emphasises the benefits of this approach, which is great idea!