When it comes to inside sales, put aside old visions of airplane hanger-size room filled with lots of salespeople making lots of sales calls using finely polished scripts. These rooms may still be around but inside sales has undergone a dramatic shift in the last several years. Inside salespeople are no longer just engaged in small commodity type sales or as backup for completing the secondary tasks of the outside sales group.
As Steve Martin pointed out in an HBR blog companies are increasingly creating inside sales groups who are independently handling accounts in the mid-market. As compared to the past they are handling more complex sales and they are doing it by email and phone contacts with the customers.
Why the newfound interest? In Martin’s survey of 100 VP of Sales, the VPs reported the shift is driven by pressure for profitability and the belief that buyers are more accepting of remote selling. The VPs also noted that inside sales groups are faster to scale and best practices are easier to share.
As the intensity of the spotlight on inside sales increases, attention needs to turn to training. In the past, the level and rigor of the sales training for inside sales has not matched that provided to outside sales groups. In most cases this was justifiable given the difference in the sales activity and the potential for revenue generation. Since in many cases those differences are starting to blur, it is time to upgrade the sales training for inside sales.
Let’s take a look at three specific considerations for designing more rigorous sales training for inside sales groups.
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- Instructional Methodology. Given the computer skill set of inside salespeople and recent advances in learning technology the use of online learning is particularly well suited for inside sales groups. Online learning can be a particularly good choice when the need exists to train a large number of reps, in a short timeframe, at an affordable cost. There is no longer a need to first install complex learning management systems; easy-to-use online sales training programs are now available.
- Training Design. Although the training design needs to be compatible with the unique requirements stemming from the phone and email driven sales process, the skill sets needed for this type of inside sale group will be similar to those required for an outside sales group. For example, they too will need to master skills such as: asking questions, active listening, handling objections, and closing. They will also need to develop expertise in competencies such as: lead identification, lead qualification, and relationship building.
- Sales Coaching. We know from the long history of classroom training for outside sales groups that the skill improvement achieved by the training will quickly decay if not reinforced. We also know the most effective approach for reinforcement is sales coaching by the front-line sales manager. So the question of how to coach the inside sales group needs to be a priority.
Here again it is possible to leverage new learning technologies. Some of the aforementioned online training systems also incorporate effective and efficient methods for coaching, so the coaching reinforcement becomes an integral aspect of the training delivery. Also there are interesting new coaching software packages that help managers to improve their coaching efforts.
It seems likely that the trend towards a greater use of inside sales groups is likely to continue. As those days unfold, it will be important to make the required training commitments if the potential of inside sales groups is to be realized.
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