What Is Inside Sales

what is inside salesWhat is inside sales? This is a common question for people new to the business world, or just joining the workforce. Fortunately, the answer is as straightforward as the name:

Inside Sales is a role in which the salesperson stays inside the organization. They do their job mostly by phone and Internet; or, more rarely, when a client drops in to see them.

In contrast, Outside Sales is a role in which the salesperson travels to the prospect. Outside salespeople are far less frequently found at the office than inside salespeople, because they are going out to reach potential clients at their place of business.

What Is Inside Sales, Really

In many organizations, inside sales roles are used as a proving ground, or junior role. Successful inside salespeople may one day be promoted to outside sales positions. However, this is not always the case. Steady but average performance, or no apparent need for an outside role, may keep an inside salesperson in their role for the duration of their time at a company.

Many small businesses believe that answering the question of what is inside sales means a bootstrapping operation. They cannot afford a high salary, proven outside salesperson. So instead, they hire a low salary inside salesperson to generate revenue. This person may eventually become the outside salesperson, or continue in the original position when enough money is available to bring on the outside role.

An inside sales role often is more 'farming' than 'hunting'. Customers phoning in to the organization are directed to the inside salesperson. They can then ask some qualifying questions and match up the offerings with the prospect's needs. If the inside salesperson is not careful, much of their time can be caught up in preparing quotations. Without sufficient qualification, producing quotes often results in a treadmill of paper and pdf creation that ultimately leads nowhere. As the prospect wasn't properly qualified, the quotes end up being used as price checks and bargaining chips.

A company may well direct their inside salespeople to make prospecting calls and be more 'hunter' than 'farmer'. This gets into the telemarketing area, though, which inside sales is supposed to be distinct from. Typically, the outside salesperson is more likely to generate new, larger customers.

What Is Inside Sales - An Example

Early in my career, I was an Inside Sales Engineer for a control equipment company. This equipment was for starting up and controlling large power equipment, or part of the electrical system of a building. I received incoming calls from a geographic area (the Pacific Northwest) and provided quotes. The quotes would involve technical knowledge, as there were often several different ways of accomplishing the same goal: for instance, three devices of varying tech, feedback and price levels could complete the same function.

Quick example for clarity:

Option 1- a breaker that breaks when overloaded--feedback is when the breaker is open and power won't flow--inexpensive

Option 2 - a dial gauge that gives a readout--feedback is the viewable dial position--a little more expensive

Option 3 - a PLC/computer-controlled digital readout--feedback is very accurate and numerical--most expensive.

So it was my job to decide which one was the best fit for the application. I never had to make prospecting calls and was plenty busy with the incoming business. Much of it was made up of repeat customers. Looking back, from a selling perspective it was an easy job.

However, the role also required me to have relationships with Accounting, Engineering and Production. Setting up new accounts, figuring out custom designs, and determining when a build would be complete--or if it could be finished within a certain timeframe--were all things I was responsible for. We had a weekly meeting for all the salespeople, inside and outside, with a sales manager, to discuss ongoing issues.

I had no formal sales training at that time, so my abilty was primarily tech-based. Price and delivery were frequent buying criteria. So the answer to "what is inside sales"? to me was different than it is today. Now, I would train and emphasize much more of the qualification element of selling. If I could take that knowledge back to 1999, would I have performed much better? Perhaps, perhaps not--the flow of business was excellent, we were a recognized company in the field, and I was surrounded by other competent people (which is not always the case)--but I would probably have avoided a couple problematic situations.

One issue that comes to mind when you ask what is Inside Sales responsible for is pleasing the customer. In construction, the electrical components must be installed and inspected before the walls can be closed up and finishing work begun. Inspections are booked ahead of time and inspectors usually cannot change their schedule quickly. So when a prospect gives you a deadline in that field, it is a hard deadline. What I learned at that job is production staff are often overly optimistic. You can go visit them in person, and ask if they believe the build can be delivered by the deadline; they will almost always say yes. But when the date is missed, the production staff shrug their shoulders. And you, the inside sales rep, have to go deal with the customer whose job cannot be continued for days or weeks now. Even if you could get them the equipment tomorrow, it's likely the inspector won't be able to return to the jobsite for a much longer period.

(Later, as a factory manager myself, I got to see things from the other side. As usual, things are complicated.)

So this is part of "what is inside sales": handling upset customers. Fortunately, we can manage most of these issues and stop them before they start. We don't have to accept orders that are unlikely to meet the delivery date, because ultimately this will lead to a bad reputation for both the company and you.

A good inside salesperson is trusted by their customers. They phone in just for that person. That's who they want to deal with, and no one else. When the customer encounters a straight shooter, who doesn't waffle and tells it like it is, they really appreciate it. Sometimes the best move is to turn the sale down politely because you probably can't make the delivery date--even if you just might--and avoid the risk. The customer will come back to you again because of your honesty.

So What Is Inside Sales Expected to Do?

As an effective inside salesperson, you are expected to:

* grow your technical knowledge and become competent
* handle incoming calls from prospects and repeat customers
* interact with staff from other departments to find solutions for customers
* prepare quotations
* attend and participate in sales meetings
* possibly occasionally attend tradeshows, though outside salespeople more frequently do this
* handle customer complaints.

What's missing? What was not present as a requirement from my employers as they figured out "what is inside sales" for any of the jobs I held?

* understand and apply a consistent sales process.

Tells you a lot, doesn't it.

Oh, I'm sure the owners and managers of those businesses would have told you, "Of course we want you to apply a sales process!" if you brought the question to their attention, but I never once heard anything like it. Technical knowledge was what they wanted. No sales training of any kind was ever talked about or offered. Nor were there any targets. The bosses simply threw the inside salespeople into the fray and acted like sales processes didn't even exist.

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