The Growing Power of Inside Sales appeared on the Harvard Business Review Blog on July 29. Overall, the article was quite good with valid sources and statistics. On the other hand, it was flawed in that, as usual with articles like this, it cited examples from only large companies (Astra Zeneca, IBM and SAP) leading most readers to come to one of two conclusions:
"This does not apply to us." or "We must follow because these industry leaders are doing it."
The authors listed four scenarios where a move to inside sales could be effective:
- By market segment,
- By stage of the buyer engagement process,
- By geography, and
- By product or service.
How about these:
- By sales talent - What roles are your salespeople best suited for?
- By location of the sales talent - Where can you find the ideal sales talent for your company? It may not be where the territory is or where the company is located.
- By location of sales management - Do you have managers where the sales talent is located?
- By customer - Some customers want to see your salespeople - often - while others could not care less if they ever see your salespeople as long as they are getting their needs met.
- By season - Some businesses are oriented around large, one-time, seasonal orders where it is very important for your salespeople to be visible.
- By business model - Some businesses have a model where customers must be resold or renewed at the end of a contract period and, depending on the size and importance of the customer, a phone call may not be enough to justify the renewal.
- By product - But this is different from the author's definition. If a company is selling an expensive piece of equipment that must be demonstrated onsite, inside sales has absolutely no ability to execute on that milestone.
- By project - Some projects necessitate a salesperson working hand-in-hand with the customer to ensure a successful outcome. Most of these require salespeople to be onsite.
In summary, I agree that there is a significant trend toward moving salespeople to the inside. But in general, every company needs to conduct a case justification and every situation should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Making broad statements, that define the general scenarios where sales should be moved inside, simply won't work for most companies because there will be more exceptions to the guidelines than those that fit.
Should you consider moving some or all of your sales to the inside? It's not a quick or simple answer. Many factors must be considered and outside expertise is required to provide objective, non-biased perspective. Of equal importance is the necessary science and data about your sales managers, salespeople and their capabilities. There is nothing worse than putting people in a role that doesn't position them for success. Some on the outside would not do well on the inside while some would do much better. Do you know which ones?
Take this change seriously! It has the ability to reduce costs, improve efficiencies, increase effectiveness, and grow sales. But only if you base your decisions on sound best practices, data and objectivity.