Maybe you’ve taken on the responsibility of an inside sales manager – perhaps by default, without really clarifying the professional implications of the title.

Because – hey – it is a big deal.

An inside sales manager manages a team of highly trained sales professionals. Inside sales representatives have been credited for the growth of industries that sell high-ticket items. B2Bs, B2Cs, SaaS and a variety of technology industry players have routinely transacted using the phone, email and the internet. This is in contrast with the traditional outside sales representative or the less-expert telemarketer.

An inside sales representative is a highly knowledgable sales professional who sells remotely, often optimizing the use of current online technologies for remote demos, product presentations and other sales functions.

As the inside sales manager, you lead this team of professionals. And, in a way, it is assumed that you know inside sales, inside and out.

What is Inside Sales?

Simply put, inside sales is remote sales. It has gone by other names, such as ‘virtual sales’ and ‘sales in the cloud.’ It is principally the opposite of outside sales, which is sales done face-to-face. It is also vehemently different from telemarketing. (As in, inside sales reps will passionately bite your head off if you make the mistake of attaching ‘tele’ to what they do….)

And, with the current numbers, it looks like inside sales is where sales, in general, is converging into.

A lead management study by found that the field of inside sales has outgrown outside sales since 2000. The number of inside sales jobs has exceeded outside sales jobs by about 7%.

Even those in outside sales are spending more and more time inside in order to communicate better and regularly with their prospects. Arguably too, telemarketing jobs have become more competitive, encouraging telemarketers to veer outside of their scripts towards having more personalized conversations with their leads.

Thus, there is truth in a comment by Bob Perkins, Founder and CEO of The American Association of Inside Sales Professionals. According to him, “Inside sales is just… sales.”

The Growth of Inside Sales

Telemarketing began in the 1950s through DialAmerica Marketing, Inc., the first company that focused on sales and services via the phone. However, within a few decades, business needs became more complex. The products for selling also became more specialized and high-value.

By the 1980s, attempts were made to distinguish telemarketing from the high-touch and skilled practices of ‘inside sales.’ After all, an inside sales representative won’t ever blast-call a list of names – people often caught at bad times and who allowed only seconds worth of conversation. No, an inside sales representative’s calls were nuanced and well-researched. And, the skills required to close deals were often more expert and specific.

There was also a need to separate inside sales representatives from those who dealt with clients face-to-face in the 1990s. Back then, the traditional model of outside sales was still prevalent. Inside sales played second fiddle.

Somehow, this changed as the channels of communications improved. From the telephones and fax machines of decades ago, email started to seep in during the mid-90s. By 2000 onwards, remote connectivity through Wi-Fi and the like, as well as technologies that allowed remote demos, presentations and any time/ anywhere access, put more sales people inside, and less on the road.

In fact, a lead management study by MIT credited the evolution of inside sale to two major changes in business:

  • The way we did business shifted from traditional hours to one that was more open. Work was done and deals were reached off the usual hours.
  • Technology changed, allowing for improved remote conversations with your prospects.

The Tools of the Trade: Technology that Helps An Inside Sales Manager and His Team

As an inside sales manager, you understand the degree of engagement a typical representative has with their prospects. They will be in contact with their lead several times, through a variety of channels. Sales are almost always never closed on the first contact.

In this way, advanced online technologies have become indispensable tools of the trade – so much that these have been referred to as “power tools.”

The power tools include:

  • internet technology
  • computer telephony integration (CTI) systems
  • CRM (customer relationship management) systems
  • web conferencing
  • email and chat
  • social media
  • smartphones

Mobile telephony and call routing via CTI, for instance, make an inside sales manager and your team of inside sales representatives more accessible to your prospects. You can take calls anywhere, at practically any time. There is no so-called office hours when it comes to doing business.

Email too has been a dream for many sales people. Instead of drafting pages upon pages for a presentation, and then heading to your lead’s office, you can just email them a link to a presentation that’s been uploaded online. Through web conferencing, you can talk more specifically about your prospect’s needs and respond to their questions in real time.

The possibilities are limitless. It’s only a matter of empowering your team of inside sales representatives with training and the right tools. As an inside sales manager, this is your ultimate responsibility.

Requisite Skills on a Good Inside Sales Representative

Of course, not everyone is cut out to be an inside sales representative. As an inside sales manager, you should be able to cultivate these requisite skills in your team, in order to transform the so-so inside sales rep into a great one!

Pre-Call Research Skills
Research is necessary when you want to grab the attention of your prospect. Remember that these people have daily agendas to attend to. Your rep’s call isn’t one of them. So, if you are to engage through it, do research first.

ExecVision Chief Revenue Officer, Steve Richard, pushes for the 3×3 research strategy. Here, you need to spend three minutes in order to find out three things about your lead. Do this before picking up the phone or establishing contact. Use this information to connect with your prospect.

Social media, especially LinkedIn, comes in handy in this aspect. Likewise, have your team of sales rep visit the prospective company’s website and do a Google search about them.

While this lowers the number of calls that your team makes each day, it can increased their conversion rate.

Engaging Sales Questioning
Once you have your foot in the door, make it a point to find out more about your prospect. Ask questions. The more you know, the more specific you can be when it comes to addressing their needs. Plus, asking questions is a good way to break the ice.

Often times, inside sales representatives ask about their lead’s pain points. They try to create a need by highlighting a troublesome aspect of the business. This may work sometimes but not always.

It can be worthwhile to consider an alternative approach suggested by Jeffrey Gitomer in his 21.5 Unbreakable Laws of Selling book. Here, he wants you to try asking questions that make the prospect smile, instead of recalling a pain point. When your prospect thinks of the benefits (instead of the negatives), it creates a sense of value. They become more open; and closing the deal may be easier.

Online Presentation Skills
The presentation challenges faced by an inside sales representative are different from those faced by traditional sales people. In the past, presentations were mostly in person and you can try to read the reactions of your audience while in their presence. You don’t have the same luxury when it comes to inside sales.

You won’t have body language and nonverbal cues to read. Instead, you have the language of the internet to rely on.

These are some notable behaviors that help your team assess their prospect’s interest:

  • Email, presentation and proposal click/opening rate
  • Slide analytics on viewing time and popular slides.
  • Website visits and popular pages

Sense of Immediacy
Your team’s sense of immediacy can make or break a deal. So, act fast and return those calls!

Don’t take those inbound calls for granted. Sure, a call from a lead already hints at their level of interest. But, there is the fact that you have competitors. A call to you can also mean a call to them. You can make an impact by responding faster.

So, call fast… but don’t sell right away. Use the opportunity to build a relationship with your prospect. Sales talk can come later.

When at first you don’t succeed, call and call again – don’t give up on a good lead! Studies have been made about this and they say that you should make at least five calls per good lead. Within those five calls, you can ideally close the deal. Or, at the very least, you have begun a business relationship with a person who might eventually buy.

Keep track of these relationships through technologies, such as CRM and CTI systems. Persistence pays eventually, as long as you choose the right leads to be persistent with.

A Love for Advancing Technology
Telecommunications technologies and social media channels change at the blink of an eye. One minute, you are networking through Friendster. The next minute, you’re on Facebook and LinkedIn. Another minute, you’re on your Blackberry. The next minute, everyone else is on iPhone and Samsung.

So, expect changes and updates to your favorite web conferencing, chat, and email tools. New players will come in to change the game. Rest assured, this is for your own good too!

Discipline and Dedication
Being an inside sales manager, you have to remember that your work is both an art and a science. There are nuances that you need to learn. Once you have mastered these, you can make reliable assessments of your prospects. This can help you decide on your team’s next steps. There is creativity to it to. Your approach varies, according to the position, location, requirements and other details about your prospect. You can’t ever rely on just one approach.

Thus, it is important to instill some discipline within you and your team. Take time to learn the ins and outs of the business first. Once you’re an expert in the field, that’s when you sell most effectively.