Ever stopped and contemplated about how much the internet has changed the lives of practically everyone all over the world?
In 2015, 87.9% of the North American population are connected to the internet.
From communication, health, governance, and just about anything, the internet has made our lives a little bit better and easier. But along with the convenience, of course, is a shift in dynamics for many industries.
In sales, the permeating presence of the internet is fuelling the case to rethink which sales method is more effective: inside sales or outside sales.
Defining inside sales vs outside sales
Simply, inside sales is sales conducted remotely via telephone, email or on the web. Outside sales, on the other hand, is conducted face to face with the customer. Wherever the customer is found, the sales person is there.
Tools for the inside sales professional include an internet and phone connection, a computer, and not much more.
For outside sales teams, a reliable means of transportation and mobile communication is essential, along with tools for physical product presentation and demonstration, a commitment to 100% confidence while on the job, add to those a long list of personality traits that good outside salespeople are known and heralded for.
Since the advent of Telemarketing in the 1970s until its evolution into inside sales, outbound sales has been an integral part of these eras of sales.
Outbound sales, unlike inbound sales where the staff waits for website or phone inquiries from customers, are sales efforts to reach out to leads.
The sales arena is currently abuzz with inbound marketing strategies and there seems to be an exodus towards that direction. While it is true that inbound sales cuts down on the expenses big time, there are compelling reasons why outbound sales is still an indispensable part of your sales force:
- More leads
However you put it, taking down any source of leads slashes your population of customers. An additional cow to milk still gives you more bottles of milk.
- Bad Leads
Since you have no control over the leads that inbound marketing gives you, you just get quantity but not necessarily quality. A number of it might be dead leads.
- Target customers have already been defined
Not all potential customers land on your website; it’s impossible to draw them all to you with your marketing campaigns. If you have a set of pre-qualified leads, a direct approach gives just the right nudge to push them to a sale.
Sales is a numbers game. Sales professionals and their mentors’ mentors, all swear to it. The science of probability supports that belief and it’s almost sacrilegious to even question its effectiveness. True, if you sell your product to enough people, some might just get interested to buy from you. At the slightest hint of interest, you attack the client with the best closing strategies you can throw.
However, another school of thought dared to tweak the numbers game – banking on the quality of interactions rather than the quantity. This quality-approach focuses on assessing which prospects to tap, and getting to know them before they get funneled into the sales cycle.
The greatest sales people come from a pack of bold game-changers. If you’re ready to be a member of the pack and believe in the advocacy of outbound sales, read up on these best practices for outbound selling:
- Know who calls the shots
In big businesses, the people you really want to talk to are the decision-makers. If you’re lucky, you deal with a single decision-maker. But in the real world of organizational corporate structures, even that single decision-maker doesn’t absolutely make the decision by himself. If he’s not someone who solicits opinions from his top management team, his decision is still largely influenced by the people around him.
So it’s critical that you understand the organization’s dynamics in approval. Being privy to who the key players are and the people involved in the approval gives you the advantage of knowing who to build relationships with.
When you’re in touch with the decision-makers of the organization, you have the opportunity to interact with them during discussions to help them arrive at the best solution. You can even mediate and shed light between differing opinions, facilitating a fluid approval process.
Lastly, you gain more confidence about your account, because you can immediately address objections by any decision-maker. This makes you their champion in providing solutions, and an indispensable “outside partner” when deciding for needs where you are the expert.
- Get your stalker instincts to work
According to a 2012 Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study, the purchase decision is already 57% complete even before the customer contacts the supplier.
Generally, the normal buying process starts with sales reps approaching prospects, helping the customers realize their needs, then offering them a solution. But the current technology is now playing a big part in altering this process. Customers can now surf the net to research on the solutions to their needs themselves. They will read reviews and forums about your products, and will mostly likely be influenced by these. Your company’s reputation, good or bad, will precede you. You can’t do anything about this.
BUT, you can use exactly the same tools your customers used on you! Customers who are “looking” follow groups, and inquire on forums for specific products they are interested in. Having knowledge of what they follow, the questions they ask, and their general interests gives you a leverage on offering a tailored solution which will be the exact product that have been looking for.
- Expand your network
Cliché as it is, but it’s no secret that you simply can’t be in the business of selling without network. It’s also a fact that more than 90% of the time, cold calls hit a brick wall. It isn’t what you know, but who you know – this still very much applies.
Please don’t log in to Facebook now and randomly add your friends’ friends’ friends. “Know” being the operative word, means you actually take time to get referrals from your friends, and genuinely connect to prospects. When you get access to the prospect’s Facebook posts, you’ll have an idea on what approach tactics to use, and the exact product that will fit his needs.
It goes without saying that your Facebook or LinkedIn should reflect your integrity, professionalism and credibility.
- Write it well
Outbound sales is not only about phone calls. In includes written conversations, mostly through emails. Here are the best practices with cold mailing:
Subject Line. Keep your subject short, sweet and catchy. But please, please, please avoid using mock-up subject lines that have nothing to do with the content just to pique the recipient’s interest. The moment the reader realizes he’s been duped, your email goes straight to the bin.
Content. Make sure your first sentences are relevant to his needs. Drop the pleasantries and go straight to the point. Keep the tone conversational, without sacrificing professionalism. State the core benefits and enumerate them in bullets for clarity. Remember that the reader may not have more than 2 minutes to completely peruse your email.
- Keep connected
Always follow up on your prospects. Even if you initially got a “no”, don’t burn bridges. The client might decline the initial proposal but might also eventually consider once the need arises. Your goal is to be the first person your prospect will think of once the opportune time comes. Greeting cards on special occasions like birthdays and holidays are a sure way of making them remember you. Reinforce genuine relationship with occasional catch-up calls that strictly avoid pitching.
This holds especially true for existing customers as well. One mistake — which is sadly true with some sales reps – is when the sale is closed, the sales person forgets about the client and moves on to the next prospect. That is one of the worst feelings a client can experience, so don’t expect that sales guy to have another business from that client, not even from his friends.
While inbound sales is the current trend, it is outbound sales that gives your business its personal touch through customer engagement. Keep your outbound sales equipped with the right tools to provide impeccable customer service, and you’re bound to reap its rewards.
Inside sales vs outside sales trends are changing
The battle of which is more effective and valuable can be an endless debate, but we just have to look at how companies allocate resources to find out which one is given more emphasis and importance.
Historically, the budgeting battle featuring outside sales vs. inside sales favored outside sales. This was especially true for big budget or highly complex products.
Personal meetings were seen as essential to closing deals and nurturing customer relationships. That dynamic has shifted in recent years.
Conventional sales organizational structures across companies are undergoing an overhaul. Many of them are in transition from an outside sales-focused model to an inside sales model. Where inside sales representatives once wholly help support roles for outside reps, they now work with independence and are given the responsibility to close sales and major business deals remotely.
What has caused the trend to change in favor of inside sales vs. outside sales? Why are companies looking at inside sales more to hit their sales goals?
There are many factors to account for this shift. We can simply say that inside sales is favored by businesses because it is less expensive. Sales teams are not limited by budget because travel and other field-related expenses are grossly minimized with the shift to inside sales. But looking at the shift like that is simplistic, if not an underestimation of the power of inside sales.
Here’s the thing: If outside sales still continues to produce the same results it did decades ago, why would businesses reduce spending for it? The answer is right there. Inside sales has proved itself to be more effective than outside sales.
Although this might not be the case for some business-types and modes, the general shift across industries tells us that inside sales works for most.
Of course, this trend does not mean that outside sales is no longer an effective sales method. In many cases, the need for outside sales staff to close deals and maintain customer relationships remains. There are some situations where outside sales is crucial to close the deal. Throughout the sales process, there is a need to strike a balance between inside sales and outside sales.
Being the preferred strategy of companies translate directly to hiring patterns across businesses, especially in the B2B SaaS space.
According to Outside In: The Rise of the Inside Sales Team, an executive summary by ZS Associates and Reality Works Group, although inside sales make up only 22% of headcount at large tech companies, 40% of these large companies plan to increase their inside sales headcount by 2016. On the other hand, smaller tech companies and startups already generate 55% of sales from inside sales teams.
Along with this recognition that ramping up inside sales teams is a sound business investment. The demand for inside sales reps have risen but the turnover rate is not as high as the numbers suggest. In Bridge Group Inc.’s SaaS Inside Sales Report for 2015, the average length of experience for new hires has remained steady. Employees stay onboard for almost 3 years, not a big change from the number five years ago.
Striking the balance
In business, and particularly in sales, there is no one formula in keeping a steady stream of revenue. There definitely remains a benefit to including outside sales in your sales strategy, but all the findings point to inside sales as the hot and working tool that we need to polish and use right now. Most companies will find that a hybrid approach works for them, and that’s smart. This entails splitting sales duties between inside and outside sales staff.
Modern business practices often involve using a mix of inside sales vs. outside sales. There is a useful rule of thumb when choosing between the two approaches. High cost, complex products generally mandate more outside sales visits. Low margin, easy to understand products are more suited to inside sales. This is especially true when selling products of this type over a wide geographical range.
There is no telling that high-value clients prefer face-to-face presentations over emails and phone calls. The totem pole is stacked, with the decision-making happening at every level. Some clients might operate through their buyers and mid-level officers. For the really huge accounts, there usually is a team of professionals assigned to evaluate and deal with new offers and product presentations. Having the resource and manpower to attend to the whims of your prospects is a valuable asset.
Inside sales and outside sales teams only remain effective so long as the buyers respond positively to them.
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