When most distributors talk about inside sales, they are usually referring to customer service agents. Yet, customer service personnel are generally more reactive than sales agents, because their goals are to make customers happy and solve problems. They are, like their titles, providing support and services to customers.
Proactive inside salespeople, on the other hand, are set apart from customer service reps. These are trained sales agents who love to take a more active, leading role in customer interactions. They are all about managing accounts, finding opportunities and building relationships in a proactive way. They’re just like field sales reps, but instead of working behind the wheel and physically visiting their customers, they work from behind a desk and use the phone to connect.
Here’s how to achieve the best outbound results with your inside sales team:
Get support from senior management.
This is required. Without senior management support, a proactive inside sales team won’t deliver the results you’re looking for. Senior management can also help groom and promote the right people to the right positions. This support is particularly important when determining which accounts to assign to the inside sales team. We’ve had situations where the pushback from field sales was so great that senior management capitulated and decided to keep accounts as they were. Consequently, the inside sales team was not as effective as they could have been.
Work with the right people with right skill sets.
Having the right people in the right positions is critical. Often, a management team might say they’ve found a great inside salesperson. When asked what would make them great, they might say, “They love to make their customers happy.”
Realistically, that trait corresponds with a customer service skill set and may even be opposite what a good inside salesperson would be. For inside sales, you want a sales-oriented skill set — someone who is going to pick up the phone day after day, create relationships and look for opportunities. The same goes for having the right people in customer service roles — ensuring these people are patient problem-solvers.
Assign inside sales reps to the right accounts.
Assign inside sales reps to accounts that have opportunity to grow and may not be getting touched by field salespeople. These accounts will typically be the B and C accounts within the organization. An additional strategy is to take the bottom few accounts from field sales rep bases as they are probably not being contacted anyway.
Implement incentives and recognition programs.
As with any program, it’s important for leaders to define goals and benchmarks for success. What are your goals for inside sales agents? How will they know they’re successful? Make sure you incentivize behaviors you want to see, including year-over-year gross margin dollar growth, margin percentage growth and sales growth. Activity measurement incentives must be reviewed carefully as one might generate a behavior that is not desired. One of our clients was paying reps to add new customers to the CRM database. They ended up with a lot of invalid and inaccurate information.
Devote resources to the program.
For a proactive inside sales program to be successful, it’s critical to devote the right resources to it. Make sure that all reps have the proper training, background and support to be successful at an inside sales job. Don’t try to split inside sales reps’ responsibilities between customer service and sales, because these are different skill sets. The default behavior will always be the reactive work. The outbound calling activities will simply not get done. Instead, help your inside sales team be proactive and to gain momentum in building customer relationships — working with customer service if needed, but not trying to wear both hats.
Track activity and results in your CRM.
Using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system is necessary right from the start, if at all possible. It’s an investment, but it’s important for maintaining customer data and building on relationships over time. If your company doesn’t have a CRM, then consider kicking off the process with the inside sales team. Because this is usually a smaller more focused group, implementing a CRM is much more focused and controllable. Then, you can expand its use from there to different departments and groups like customer service and field sales.
Proactive inside sales strategy presents a lot of opportunity, especially when it comes to growing gross profit dollars on medium to smaller accounts and increasing customer retention.
Watch our latest episode of the Wholesale Change Show, “Are Inside Salespeople Really Salespeople?”:
If you have any questions about these keys to success, feel free to get in touch.