29 November 2016 Category: Insider Perspective

If you’ve been in sales for the last decade, the rise of the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals’ (AA-ISP) here in Europe has probably not escaped your notice. Dedicated to advancing the profession of Inside Sales, the AA-ISP has 6,000 individual members represented by over 2,500 companies in the US and worldwide. Without doubt its mission of becoming the industry standard bearer is as strong in Europe, as it is in the US.

The AA-ISP is unifying an industry, defining what it is to be in ‘Inside Sales’, branding it even. Although, for some, it could be more aptly described as: ‘re-branding’ an industry. After all, a not so distant relative with an altogether less current name must surely be ‘telesales’ and in B2B, it can be hard to distinguish between the two professions. There’s a lot to be said for the old adage, it’s all in the name.

But that said, nowhere is the AA-ISPs presence more keenly felt than in Ireland, where Inside Sales is booming. For the last couple of years the AA-ISP has held its annual European event ‘Inside Sales World’ in Dublin and for good reason, currently, vast numbers of the AA-ISP’s European membership can be found there.

So much so that outside of Ireland (and maybe Bratislava and Barcelona) you could be forgiven for thinking that Inside Sales was still ‘something the yanks do’, a fancy term for telemarketing, the Emperor’s new clothes if you like, or a fad. But in Dublin this is big business. And its sheer size should give pause for thought to every Sales Director.

Organisations large and small are ‘popping up’ inside sales teams like Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. IBM, Intel, Oracle, Dell have been long standing players but new arrivals such as SAS, BA, Smartbear and MathWorks are joining the club. Established players like Microsoft are planning a huge operational transition to centralise their entire EMEA Inside Sales function in Dublin. And they are not alone, as others too look at centralising this function in one geography to serve the region.

Of course one of the consequences of so many big brands congregating in Ireland to build these functions is the pressure it’s putting on the talent market. Not surprisingly, one of the recurring themes we hear in Inside Sales discussions both on and offline is the growing difficulty in hiring the right people. Ireland is not short of talent. That’s not the issue - it simply can’t keep up with demand. Competition for Inside Sales Agents is fierce, with pages and pages of jobs advertised on Google every day. The digital technology sector in Ireland sector employs more than 30,000 people with total sales of €2bn per annum, so you begin to get a sense of just how big this particular big business is there.

This of course begs the question: what’s going on in Ireland: why has Dublin and its cohorts become the hotspot for these Inside Sales teams, how can they possibly continue to support the growth and how can medium size companies get in on the act while de-risking their approach. And finally all importantly, what is Inside Sales and what distinguishes it from traditional telesales.

Let's perhaps begin with the last question: What is Inside Sales?

There is little precise definition of Inside Sales and much of the commentary and metrics we see and hear would have been worthy of a telmarketing article written 10 years ago.

However, there are a handful of characteristics that set it apart from telesales of old (but perhaps not as many as you first thought!)

  • Firstly, Inside Sales agents are expected to use a range of digital tools as well as direct contact (i.e. by phone) with customers – while not exclusively the preserve of inside sales teams, this omni-channel approach is more and more becoming the new face of telemarketing.
  • Agents may also have their own discrete social media presence, what IBM describes as being ‘in front of’ the brand
  • 'Cadence’ is the all-important buzzword. A sales cadence refers to a prescribed schedule of when reps should reach out to prospects; a semi-fixed best practice journey of phone calls, emails, social media activities or all of the above
  • Agents are expected to manage their own pipeline with more authority and discretion than a typical telemarketing department and are very much measured on outcome 
  • Research is seen as a key part of an Inside Sales agent’s job. Stats shared at the event suggest that ‘reps spend around 65% of their time researching, not selling’ and other statistics showed that these reps closed quicker and in more quantity.
  • The value of sales will generally be higher than in historic telesales campaigns, typically at a level where a field sales or senior salesperson might have been expected to close previously. At the other end, some teams are selling products where the sales value has dropped to a point where the ‘Inside Sales’ model is the only feasible one in terms of costs.
  • Inside Sales requires tight sales and marketing alignment for in-house teams, sometimes co-locating so that marketing can create bespoke content for sales to use via its digital channels
  • Social Selling is not ‘hype’ – for Inside Sales teams, it’s central to the strategy.

So now we know what it is, we can return to the question of why Ireland and what can be done about its shrinking talent pool. Like other major cities, Dublin has access to a large pool of the country’s highly skilled and talented graduate population and has built a reputation for attracting highly educated groups of workers from all of the other major markets due to its standard of living and way of life. The IDA, Ireland’s Inward Investment Agency is quick to highlight its position as the only English speaking country in the Eurozone and boldly reminds visitors to its website of its unwavering commitment to the European Union.

Of course a number of the companies we’ve mentioned already have a significant presence in Ireland, so establishing these often sizeable teams, somewhere where the real estate won’t be cripplingly expensive, could also explain the attraction.

No need to be left behind

But what about the smaller mid-size companies, those that aren’t looking to hire teams of thousands and that have none of the technical stack required to support these predominantly ‘telephone’ based teams, nor the expertise to manage them? There is an answer, provided by solid UK based agencies. It might feel like you are being short changed, sold a mini when you wanted the Ferrari but the answer is to outsource the function. After all, when you consider what it actually is and strip Inside Sales back down to its core essentials. It is, after all, just selling. And companies like ours have been doing it for years.

The simple fact is many of these teams are not so different from our outsourced sales teams, and we have been doing this for 26 years. We run multiple teams of between 10 – 20 sales agents on behalf of some of our large often Enterprise clients. The reps are selling high value B2B propositions and hitting quotas daily. We might not have been calling it “Inside Sales” when “Telesales” or “Outsourced Sales” sufficed, but Inside Sales is precisely what we’re providing.

Of course, it’s always horses for courses, we don’t deliver all singing omni-channel social selling campaigns for all of our clients, because that would be like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut. However, where a more creative approach is desirable and where the client is set up to support it, we are able to leverage all of the latest tools to deliver digital sales.

And importantly, we know what to measure.

In every Inside Sales forum, there is constant debate around the question of measurement. Is the key to measure the leading or lagging indicators? Are the leading indicators – the inputs, or the lagging indicators – the outputs, the KPIs that will tell you the most about whether you will meet your sales targets? How important is ‘effort’, if your rep is making the numbers?

The fact is, if you are not measuring your leading indicators, and these must still include the traditional metrics such as dial rates and Decision Maker Contacts (DMCs), then you won’t be able to track your progress through to final results (your lagging indicators). Or alternatively, if you start with your targets – the results you need to achieve, you can, work back to identify the necessary KPIS and conversions (leading indicators) to achieve those results. And the stack of measures needs to include ‘boring’ things like dial rates, DMC rates, hours to result, as well as pipeline weighted value, proposals or quotes sent, opportunities added, opportunities lost.

These traditional telemarketing metrics might look like only a handy stick to beat underperforming agents, but as many of these ‘inside sales’ teams are learning, they are in reality so much more than just that.

But what does all this tell us?

There is no doubt that Inside Sales is a massive industry in the US. And where the USA goes, the UK tends to follow. So, while it may feel like it’s the sole preserve of the Irish and there is no doubt that Ireland is ahead of the game, pioneering digital sales teams like IBMs is where people hope to get to, not necessarily where they are today.

Therefore, its perhaps easier now to see why some, for whom Inside Sales is nothing more than a re-branding exercise of telesales or, if you prefer ‘virtual sales’, feel a little insecure about what it is precisely they need to do to ‘get in on the act’ of this Inside Sales play. Particularly, if they are not looking to build a team of hundreds or even thousands, and don’t want to get into a brawl for sales talent with Oracle and LinkedIn.

The AA-ISP will no doubt continue to go where the audience is with their events, and right now, that’s Dublin. Remember those giants Microsoft, IBM, Dell, Intel, BT and the ‘young guns’ like Salesforce, Marketo, Linked In, and PayPal – they’re all over Ireland from Galway to Cork, Limerick to Dublin.

But we believe that Inside Sales IS the future of sales across all of EMEA. So for those companies not set up to embrace this new sales approach and not wanting a shiny new office, and expensive new Inside Sales Managers either, we can help.

We’re just a phone call or an email away, we’re experienced and we have the right technology. Moreover, we are multi-lingual and we have a pool of highly trained and educated agents hungry to make your Inside Sales team a success.

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