26 January 2016 Category: Insider Perspective

It’s easy to dismiss ‘Inside Sales’ as a US import, a fancy name for telemarketing or even a ‘bandwagon’ - Harvard Business Review would however disagree, describing it as the trend that is changing sales.

Recent research shows that inside sales grew at a fifteen times higher rate (7.5% versus .5% annually) than outside sales and that trend shows no sign of diminishing. And yet, many still ask – what exactly is ‘inside sales’?  

Sales done remotely is the simple definition, frequently followed by… but it’s not telemarketing!  The most common explanation for this distinction is that unlike telemarketers, inside sales professionals are highly skilled and knowledgeable. One commentator even went so far as to claim that: ‘Telemarketing is almost always scripted, it focuses on selling relatively low-ticket items (such as extended warranties and insurance policies) and almost never involves multiple touches.’

This is of course to wildly misrepresent telemarketing and those who work in the profession. In many established professional telemarketing companies, campaigns are rarely scripted and those tasked with generating leads and appointments for some of the world’s leading brands are hugely skilled at positioning complex solutions, articulating sophisticated value propositions and engaging senior decision makers.

The fact is there are as many different interpretations of what an ‘inside sales’ model should look like as there are of telemarketing. This may be an oversimplification but inside sales teams can be tasked with all or some of the following, depending on the organisation:

  • Pre-sales – profiling and research
  • Increasing the volume of qualified leads to drive sales
  • Creating opportunities through direct sales
  • Relationship building with prospects and progressing them through the buying cycle
  • Managing after sales support

The reality is many telemarketing companies have developed over the years to provide any or all of the above, often in close collaboration with their largest clients, managing a pipeline of business as opposed to a list of prospects.

So, why then do some firms still regard ‘inside sales’ as the Holy Grail but believe that outsourcing this function to specialist telemarketing companies would be a recipe for disaster?

The problem is often one of perception – telemarketing is a broad church and finding the specialist sales skills among the endless number of telemarketing firms purporting to offer ‘inside sales’ capabilities can be a challenge, but with the right agency the commercials can make a great deal of sense.  Uppermost amongst the business and financial benefits are:

  • Reduction in on-boarding costs and time to up skill new sales hires
  • Increased call activity and selling volume
  • On demand capacity - ease in scaling up or down in line with shifts in go-to-market strategy
  • Increased focus on core competencies

Realising the Benefits

A Strategic Partnership

To realise these benefits, the first thing the company must do is to enter into a genuine strategic partnership with their outsource partner. The decision to ‘buy’ instead of ‘build’ an inside sales function is a strategic one and to ensure success the outsource partner must be fully integrated into the end to end sales process. Other, less strategic, flavours of telemarketing do not of course require the same level of integration, but it is essential to a fully fledged inside sales function.

The Right Tools

The second is to put at the disposal of the outsourced inside sales team all of the sales acceleration tools considered essential to increasing sales productivity for any in-house team, be it business intelligence, predictive analytics or any of the other advanced tools available on the market. Only when the two teams are tightly integrated will the company experience a more cost-effective sales culture which champions both a focus on sales targets as well as a focus on expert service.

The Right Skills

The third is to identify the highest calibre team of outsourced inside sales specialists, ensure they are fully trained on your business propositions, products and services and that they are using the latest customised calling platforms to keep productivity levels high.  Organisations which opt to ‘build’ rather than ‘buy’ their inside sales function often fail to consider how critical the calling environment is for their remote teams, both in terms of the technology itself and the physical office environment. This type of oversight can be extremely costly in terms of levels of productivity and overall profitability.

The truth is –  telemarketing is not always ‘inside sales’ and ‘inside sales’ is not always telemarketing but they have emerged from the same stable. While not all telemarketing companies can boast the individuals and skills needed to create high functioning inside sales teams, some do and it is sensible to consider all of the available options when building your team. 

Build Or Buy

There can be no ‘one size fits all’ approach but a number of factors ought to be considered if outsourcing is one of your strategic alternatives. Broadly these are:

  • Product lifecycle stage – no matter how sophisticated the proposition or complex the new technology, over time, there is typically a shift from dedicated enterprise field sales to more indirect routes to market. This is often a critical stage in sales development and an outsourced ‘inside sales’ team should be evaluated along with vendor neutral distribution
  • Customer preference and accessibility – available research indicates that B2B customers are more comfortable than ever purchasing over the phone. New technologies and platforms such as video conferencing, slide-share and social media make it incredibly easy for the front end of the sales cycle to all be done remotely. Time poor executives see the possibility of seeing the product demonstration from their offices as an advantage.
  • Proactive Focus - consider the benefits of an entire team focused exclusively on building pipeline and responding to prospect needs undisrupted by non revenue generating activity such as meetings, report writing or other reactive tasks. This type of proactive focus may, of course, be more difficult to achieve within a typical office environment than with an outsourced team, working in environment wholly dedicated to outbound calling.
  • Marketing/Sales alignment - for many companies marketing and sales alignment is more of a journey than a destination. There are lots of ways organisations measure the level of alignment achieved from softer targets such as shared goals and open communication to a single view of the customer enabled through smart technologies. Organisations which are committed to truly aligning sales and marketing often find themselves better placed and perhaps more open to outsourcing their inside sales function.  Typically these companies have well developed lead generation processes, agreed targets and structured hand offs between sales and marketing. Dedicated prospecting teams generating qualified leads to fill the pipeline of field sales is all part of the process.

Fast growth organisations, which have embraced an ‘inside sales’ approach, have enjoyed significant rewards; among the most well-known of these is of course Salesforce.com, which generated a $100 million in recurring revenue. Increasingly organisations are choosing to outsource this function to specialist sales agencies in an effort to augment the focus on the commercial aspects of the sales cycle and ensure maximum efficiency in the sales process.

Whether you call it ‘telemarketing’ or ‘inside sales’, the growth of remote selling for even the most complex of propositions is undeniable.   Not least because the cost benefit analysis is so compelling: according to the Harvard Business Review, inside sales teams can bring in new customers for 40 percent to 90 percent less than field reps and with B2B sales costing upwards of 40% of revenue, there is a good chance that a specialist outsourced inside sales function will be both cheaper and more productive.

Perhaps it is time you considered your options...

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