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Inside Sales

The Inside Sales function is often the most scalable of all the sales models to implement. Sometimes mistakenly referred to as Telesales, Inside Sales gets most of its strength from high volume business opportunities.

A typical Inside Sales model would see groups of young sales professionals working from a headquarters or regional office location, using primarily telephone, email and Web-based mechanisms to run sales campaigns. Leads come from Marketing, are fed into the Inside Sales queue and processed rapidly. A typical sales cycle would be 3-6 months (rarely more than 6 months).

In many cases, Inside Sales would focus on the lower price point products (or smaller product packaging of larger offerings), leaving the higher priced deals to an outside sales team (e.g. Direct or Enterprise Sales). Not all products are conducive to an Inside Sales model although if you approach the analysis similar to that of a channel sales model, the right decision is made more often than not.

We'll look at Inside Sales in more detail including possible ways to organize and incent the team, the importance of defining a Perfect Day and what is perhaps the most important item, how to manage career progression. Great Inside Sales people often want upward mobility in exchange for the challenges of the inside sales role.

The Perfect Day

The Perfect Day concept evolves out of the notion that sales activity, if focused in the right way, results in sales. Said differently, if you define the right kind of activity goals for each day, sales will happen. This assumes that your product has some value that someone would want and the incoming leads are aligned with the target market.

In creating the definition of a Perfect Day, you are formalizing the activities and resultant goals each team member should be striving to achieve. There needs to be sufficient rigor in place so that the goals are focused on, without exception. Daily goals to focus on often include:

Achieving a Perfect Day requires an effective sales management system with sufficient granularity to track the appropriate performance metrics of the team. Rewards for achieving the goals of the Perfect Day should also be defined so enough carrots are dangling to drive the right behaviors (see Incentives).

The theory you are striving for is to implement a volume-driven sales process. If each inside rep makes X calls per day, this will lead to Y appointments which will lead to Z product presentations which leads to N customers at an average sales price of $$ which achieves the revenue goal for the quarter. The initial goals and analysis come from the early sales experience and is refined as the product and the sales process matures. Sounds simple -- often it can be, but there is hard work to overcome.

The biggest challenge faced by most sales managers is in having the team maintain focus on the specific activity goals laid out. Sales reps often get distracted by qualified opportunities forgetting to allocate a defined amount of time towards identifying and building the next opportunities. For example, if an inside sales rep stops making the required number of new lead phone calls each day, the pipeline of qualified opportunities will ultimately dry up even if the current sales period is moving along well. The more the business tracks and understands the conversion metrics as a lead moves through its various stages, the more you can influence the overall sales result through fine-tuned activity-based management. The Perfect Day becomes the vehicle to achieve success.


It's often true that small incentives bring big results. Giving away $100 gift certificates to local merchants, handing out cash in small bills, posting someone's name or picture on an achievement chart, keeps people focused on the goals at hand. Incentives work for all types of sales people, although they work especially well with young inside sales people who are focused on the tangible rewards that come from sales success. Some example rewards might be:

Incentives like these can vary throughout the sales period -- they should vary according to what is needed to be successful. Sometimes a shift towards processing more leads is required whereas other times may require more focus on advancing qualified opportunities to the web demonstration stage. The more you measure, the more you learn about where incentives (focus) should be placed to obtain the sales results required.

Sales Conflict

If Inside Sales is but one method of selling, it will be important to lay out some ground rules when overlap occurs. For example, territory conflict is a key issue to prepare for. The Inside rep can find themselves selling into the same organization as a field-based rep or perhaps a reselling partner. No surprise the conflict is often all about compensation, so it can get edgy if the engagement rules are not well-defined in advance. You can establish an overall territory sales goal that all reps participate in -- or, depending on the level of involvement in the sales cycle, pay some element of double compensation. Partners should be required to register deals so that conflict, if it exists, is known up-front and both groups can work together to decide how to pursue the overlapping opportunity.

It's not unusual for the CEO, CFO or sales leader to have to make compensation rulings when conflicted sales opportunities arise. Hopefully everyone is motivated by the greater needs of the Company to succeed and not solely on their compensation, although rarely does this happen. A key tenant to keep in mind is to maintain as much a win-win scenario as you can -- if the company is making the sale, occasionally having to double compensate is good all around. If you get stingy when you don't need to, it can turn off the juices that make great sales people great. Make sure you think through what conflicts can occur and have ready-made policy to decide how they are handled -- it's all likely centered around compensation which is a touchy issue for most sales people.

Career Progression

Inside Sales is often a step towards a larger sales role. A young sales rep may cut their teeth inside selling for a few years but their longer term goal is to become a (higher paid) outside sales rep handling enterprise accounts. Your company may not be in a position to offer career progression as you only have an inside sales model for your products -- in this case, moving up the sales management ladder is a viable alternative, but keep in mind that top sales people often are best when selling, and don't always make the best people managers.

If the Inside Sales function is large enough, you can create tiers within it. For example, you might have a more junior group of people who only handle qualification of incoming leads. They spend most of their time on the phone and email trying to reach the raw leads that come in from marketing. Once the lead is qualified, the lead moves to the next tier in the sales process where it is further qualified by the inside sales rep to become a viable sales opportunity. This allows you to hire true beginners (with the right aptitudes) to learn the selling process, progressing through the sales organization as results are proven.

Achievement tends to be the best retention motivator for sales. If you are always setting compensation out of reach, even the best sales people will move on regardless of their career aspirations.

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