Author’s note: This article was originally published in Top Sales World’s September 2017 digital magazine.
Inside sales is a popular high-growth sales model used by companies in a variety of industries. The Harvard Business Revenue reported that 46% of high-growth tech companies are growing through inside sales versus 21% using outside sales teams. The reasons for rapid growth of SDR/BDR sales teams vary but one thing is clear, buyers are fine with alternatives to face-to-face meetings. From an efficiency point of view, buyers prefer phone calls, video or web conferencing meeting options to minimize waste on their already overscheduled calendars.
The evolution of technology has made the inclusion of inside sales teams a core component of organizational sales strategies, as companies look for ways to decrease costs and improve their own operational efficiencies. PointClear reported that an outside sales call costs $308 versus an inside sales call cost of $50 making it clear how much more cost effective it is for a company to leverage an inside sales team to its fullest.
With growth comes challenges.
Though there is rapid growth in inside sales, there are also challenges facing inside sales leaders in achieving their sales objectives. In 2016 research conducted by CSO Insights and ClearSlide, they noted that core challenges faced are reducing churn among the sales ranks, hiring the right talent to fill inside sales roles, speeding up the time it takes to ramp new hires skills, reducing deal forecast slippage, improving opportunity qualification and ensuring that salespeople are adept at having business conversations versus pitching product features.
Training and coaching remain areas of opportunity and competitive advantage.
Two factors dogging inside sales team today are:
- High turnover – 20% annually per the ClearSlide and CSO Insights research.
- Slow ramp time with 33% of companies surveyed indicating that it takes more than 9 months to ramp new hires, and less than 13% of organizations can get their reps up to speed in less than 4 months.
Today’s buyers expect to work with salespeople who understand their business, industry trends, and competitive challenges. They don’t expect to be the on-the-job training vehicle for your inside salespeople. If there isn’t a solid plan to get salespeople fully competent quickly, you are leaving them at the mercy of learning by trial and error on the buyer’s time dime. Few executives I’ve ever spoken to have the time or the patience to be educating your sellers in how to sell to them.
Given that SDR’s and BDR’s are often the first personal experience a buyer has with a company, without proper training, coaching and reinforcement of basic selling skills, these front-line sellers are impeding sales progress, or worse, doing damage to the company brand. And, if as has been reported by CSO Insights that sales leaders see lead volume and quality as more important than skills training and process, I think there is a disconnect. Could this be a factor in why only 46% (2016 Sales Comp Survey, Alexander Group) to 67% (the Bridge Group) of inside sales reps are achieving quota?
Lack of training and outdated sales approaches lead to a steady stream of no’s, and the frustration that breeds, along with the inability to achieve sales objectives has a domino effect. Higher turnover among the sales ranks. Some reps will choose to leave on their own. Others will be asked to move on, which hardly seems fair if they haven’t been given the training, coaching, and tools they need to succeed in their role.
The second-best thing to getting a yes, is getting to a fast no.
A top challenge I often hear when talking to sales leaders is that there need to be more leads and better-qualified sales opportunities reported in the pipeline. To which I come back to the importance of a solid training program that is more than a motivational speech at a sales kick-off meeting.
Poorly forecasted sales opportunities and deal slippage in the pipeline can be improved with proper training, coaching, and skills reinforcement. Salespeople are notorious for being overly optimistic about when deals will close. The CSO Insights and ClearSlide data showed that 70% of reps don’t validate prospect interest during the sales cycle. If salespeople are not effective at qualifying opportunities, and that includes qualifying no’s quickly, pipeline is muddled and conversion rates are diminished. As Jeff Schmidt, SVP of Global Sales and Services at ClearSlide said, “Qualifying out is a critical practice and will lead to better pipeline conversion and deal visibility.” Without the proper training to help reps understand what constitutes a qualified lead, a lot of “maybe’s” and “never will buy” end up in the CRM pipeline.
Stop pitching product features, solve the buyer’s problem.
Salesforce’s State of Sales report noted that 83% of buyers want to work with salespeople “focused on helping achieve their company’s needs, not just making a quick sale.” This is where inside sales teams can score huge competitive wins. Leaders must be willing to let their salespeople drop the script, ditch the pitch and back away from the reliance on demos to sell the product or service.
Inside sales teams can create amazing sales experiences from the very first interaction, and that can only happen if salespeople are taught how to demonstrate to buyer’s that unlike their competitor’s, their focus is on helping buyers achieve their goals first and foremost. In the end, the ability for inside sales teams to achieve their goals depends more on how they sell, not what they sell.