As we start the new year, I want to offer some observations on what we’re learning here about inside sales management. Sales executives often ask about new ways to build a sales a pipeline. How can your business use an inside sales function to produce leads? There is a risk that reorganizing your teams could potentially kill your inside sales efforts, so this question is so important to address.

Is Inside Sales The Answer For A Stronger Sales Pipeline?

It happens all the time – a company recognizes that inside sales can benefit the field sales organization by producing qualified leads. It makes sense to look for ways to help the company by selling through a lower cost channel. Management considers inside sales as a way to build a strong, predictable pipeline. So, the company decides to hire an in-house inside sales representative. It seems like a great idea. But wait, not so fast.

What result can you expect? The actual benefits may vary from great to none. The purpose here is to see what impact management can have. The challenge is for management to find what makes the difference between best and poor performance. If results are poor, leadership will question whether inside sales can be a viable option to support the field sales team. Executives may disband the function and label the effort unsuccessful, never to surface again in the company.

If you achieve great results, how can you make great results even better? If expected results are not reached, what is the culprit? Without a look at the key roles of inside sales management, pipelines suffer and inside sales is no longer viewed as a possible solution to pipeline building.

Effective Management Is Key To Inside Sales Results

There may be many factors that affect results. We will look at the solutions that come from having effective and consistent inside sales management.

So here are eight key factors in managing inside sales to see more income from your sales pipeline:

1) Reporting: Have the inside sales representative report to an available manager.

Make sure that that the higher level manager has the time and skill to manage the inside sales representative. Many times an inside sales representative is hired and managed by a person who is too busy or doesn’t have the skill set to effectively oversee the in-house sales program. You don’t want to invite a continuing debate about whether inside sales reports to sales or marketing.

We have found that the reporting structure varies by organization. What matters is that the manager should be consistently available to the inside sales representative.

It is important to involve the inside sales representative in weekly working meetings, traditionally called “one on ones.” Use this time to review activity and results, provide guidance and resolve issues.

2) Hiring: Your choice of hire depends on whether you want the inside sales representative to generate leads or close deals.

Who you hire depends on the tasks you want the representative to be responsible for. It matters whether the person will be responsible for generating leads for business development or sales, or if the person will be responsible for closing deals.

Inside sales representatives tasked with generating or qualifying leads generally come straight out of college. Good candidates may have had an internship with the company. A desired background may include various roles such as customer service or inside sales representative. Your new hire may come from another part of your organization, or you may find one from another organization in a dissimilar role.

Regardless of where you find candidates, they should possess certain traits that allow them to succeed in this role (a topic for another blog post.) A sales representative who carries quota may be prime for promotion. Needless to say, hiring right makes management easier.

3) Metrics: The measures of success are different for inside sales than for field sales, and require tracking a greater volume of data.

You may want to base your new inside sales representative’s compensation on performance. But know that inside sales metrics differ considerably from field sales or business development metrics, so your compensation plans will be different.

The nature of inside sales activity tends to produce voluminous amounts of data to track. It’s important to follow certain metrics to evaluate activity and ensure success. Deals closed may be a metric that is often used, however it is usually not the only metric to determine an inside sales representative’s success in generating leads. Most of the time, performance and compensation metrics measure the quality and quantity of leads delivered.

4) Training: Whether generating leads or closing deals, training is necessary for new hires as well as experienced staff.

New hire training should be specific to inside sales and cover your company culture, and how to position you in relation to your competition. The goal is to enable new hires to perform their job functions. Ongoing training should also occur on a daily basis. Representatives from various departments should be able to share their knowledge with the inside sales representatives regularly. You can provide opportunities through lunch meetings or discussions that allow insides sales staff to bring up topics to address.

5) Inclusion: Many times, the legacy sales process excludes inside sales representatives from key interactions with field sales. Find ways to integrate them.

Your traditional sales activities may exclude inside sales staff from interactions that can otherwise help them in their role and allow them to produce better results for the company. There are many ways to include inside sales representatives in key activities of the teams they support. Inside sales representatives should be present at kickoffs and sales conferences. They should be able to participate in weekly monthly sales calls with the sales organization.

By being involved, representative learn from the field sales representative and see the outcome of meetings with prospects. Inside sales representatives spend their days in house generating leads or closing sales. It is important for them to participate in sales calls as well. Any training given to the sales or business development team should include the inside sales representatives.

6) Management potential: You may want to plan ahead for the management of your inside sales team as your organization evolves.

If you have a salesforce or business development team greater than four, you will probably be looking to hire a second inside sales representative to qualify leads. With that eventual plan in mind, it’s a good idea to hire one inside sales representative who has management potential. This person can later serve as a manager for the group. Alternatively, you may want to structure a new smaller team, and look for a representative who has the potential to become a manager of a group of two or more.

7) Document your processes: Have written guides and definitions to standardize the message and activities.

Inside sales representatives should be instructed on the process created for them to perform their jobs most efficiently. Guides and scripts for calls and emails should be part of the process to standardize the message.

Include success stories and qualifying questions that inside sales representatives should be aware of and use. In addition, have a defined process for lead definition, lead passing and lead follow up. For inside sales representatives hired to close sales leads, there should also be a process for completing closed deals.

8) Focus: It is imperative that each inside sales representative is focused on accomplishing their own goals.

If an inside sales representative is responsible for generating leads, the focus needs to be 100 percent on doing just that. Not all sales representatives are equally able to perform inside and outbound sales. Most inside sales representatives are much more skilled at one function over the other. Too often inside sales representatives become administrative assistants to the sales or business development representatives. This diverts inside sales staff from performing their primary responsibilities. The ability to achieve goals and produce intended results for the company suffers as a result.

Some inside sales representatives should be tasked with inbound efforts and others with outbound efforts. But each representative should remain fully focused on their own activities.

Managing an inside sales function is very different from managing a field organization or a marketing team. I hope these points provide guidance in helping to manage the important tasks of inside sales representatives to increase your sales pipeline.