More Companies Embrace Inside Sales Strategies

More companies are seeing the value of inside sales teams according to a recent study, "The Truth About the Field Sales to Inside Sales Migration Trend," authored by Steve W. Martin, a professor at the University of Southern California. In a survey of 100 high-level business-to-business sales leaders, 46 percent reported a shift from a field sales model to an inside sales model. Martin said the study confirmed a shift in sales models he and others had "intuitively noticed."

The mix of inside and field sales for each company depends on a variety of factors, such as the stage of growth the company is in as well as the products it sells. A typical software-as-a-service product will start out being sold by an inside sales force. As the company grows and pursues more enterprise-level accounts, it may start adding field sales representatives. The reverse holds true for companies selling complex products to enterprises. They may have a large field sales team that they supplement with an inside sales team to pursue smaller accounts or to qualify leads. Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed who added inside sales did so because it provided a better strategy to penetrate SMB and midmarket accounts.

Strategically, the high speed and lower cost of inside sales was a huge factor in its adoption. The speed at which a sales leader can onboard an inside sales representative (83 percent), as well as the ability to scale quickly through the use of inside sales reps (79 percent) and increase call activity and selling volume (78 percent) were other leading factors. Sixty percent switched because of the margin focus of their business.

The younger generation of sales leaders have grown up using inside sales, CRM systems, and advancements like remote presentations to carry out inside sales, Martin explains, reducing the bias many older sales leaders have against inside sales. Nick Hedges, CEO and president of Velocify, which underwrote the study, offers one prominent example: the CEO of Salesforce.com. "Marc Benioff started out as inside salesperson at Oracle, happened to be the most successful inside salesperson in Oracle's history, and quickly moved through the ranks there and became a sales leader there before becoming a part of Salesforce," he recalls.

More than half of those surveyed believed technological advancements enabled them to switch to an inside sales force. A third of those surveyed cited societal changes as a reason for the switch to an inside sales force. "Whether it's a business or a consumer, they tend to prefer remote relationships to in-person relationships these days. It's something we hear again and again. They don't want a salesperson showing up in their conference room and selling them as much as they used to," Hedges says.

Inside sales teams are also growing in response to the increase in leads generated by marketing automation systems. "The average sales team is getting vastly more leads coming into their organization than they ever have before, as marketing is becoming more effective at generating volume," Martin explains. "That's a difficult thing for a field sales team to absorb. Because an inside sales team is process-oriented, working in a slightly different cadence than a field sales teams, they can work through vastly greater volumes of opportunity than a field sales team can."

Martin believes the shift from field to inside sales he observed in his study will only accelerate. Currently, in enterprise sales, 15 percent of interactions are over the phone or Web, while 85 percent are in person. For platform-based sales, the majority of sales, 60 percent, take place over the phone or Internet, and 40 percent take place face-to-face. He believes that enterprise sales will soon look close to the current platform sales model, while platform sales will rely even less on field sales. "If we revisit this in two years, I think [the number of sales leaders using inside sales] will be higher, and in five years, even higher," Martin predicts.

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