In light of our unrelenting economic turmoil, companies are under enormous pressure to lower their cost of sales. Those with a direct face-to-face sales force are reducing sales positions, marketing staff, and support functions. These actions, in turn, are reducing customer relationships and market reach. So how do you address the critical issue of reducing cost of sales…while at the same time continuing to provide visibility with clients, create awareness with new prospects, and drive revenue growth?
One highly effective way to lift the productivity of your sales organization is through a well-run inside sales channel. Many inside sales channels aren’t being leveraged to their fullest capacity, nor are companies seeing the type of productivity "lift" they should be getting from a face-to-face salesperson once the inside channel is up and running. Here are a few checkpoints to determine whether your inside sales teams are giving you the highest return on your investment.
1. An effective inside sales channel helps the face-to-face organization have more time to spend on enterprise and larger opportunities. Don't just organize inside sales reps around the SMB market—look at expanding to the national or major accounts. If you still have significant opportunity to cross-sell and grow additional business in your top accounts, put a telecoverage model in place where you partner field reps and inside reps together. The inside rep can focus on the less-complex products, as well as lead generation of more complex solutions to the field rep.
The field rep spends more time selling the larger opportunities and passing on the smaller ones to their inside partner. This type of model can also allow your field rep to cover more accounts and have larger territories. From the customer's perspective, they now have someone available on the phone when they have questions and aren’t able to connect with their face-to-face rep.
2. Inside sales is just that: sales. If you are still caught up in a lead generation-only mode, it's time to change. Why send out a lead for a simple product when it could be sold over the phone, freeing up your more expensive field resource to sell high-value products? And why have inside sales sell simple products that customers could buy from you over the Internet? It's all about cost efficiencies and leveraging each channel in the product/solution complexity chain.
3. Are you getting too caught up in the measurement metrics of dials, talk time, and time between calls…and not focusing on what really matters, which is the quality of the conversation? Don't get me wrong: I'm the first one to insist metrics must be in place and monitored daily. But metrics only tell one side of the story. If inside reps aren't having good quality conversations and moving the sales cycle along, then the metrics become a futile exercise. Managers must be actively involved in listening to a rep's dialogue, with the accompanying coaching, training, and support necessary to help improve their conversations.
4. Is your sales compensation plan driving conflict or cooperation between your field and inside channels? If you're seeing too much conflict, there's a good chance your coverage model and/or compensation plan needs work. Field reps may try to hold onto the simple transactions which they are comfortable with versus passing them to the inside. Inside reps may not be passing on the more complex leads soon enough, thinking they could become a hero by closing the large deal. Compensation should be driving the behaviors behind where you want each of your channels focused.
5. Do you have the right tools in place to make your team productive? Inside sales needs a "dashboard" to give them quick information for that next phone conversation. This includes an efficient CRM system, accurate account information on both clients and prospects, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, quick access to electronic marketing information, and proposal templates, to name a few. Field sales need these things as well, but an inside rep has great dependency upon the data and systems, as they should be making make 5 to10 times the number of calls per day as a field rep.
6. Is senior management supporting the inside sales approach, or is it just another program some hope will eventually go away? Creating an inside model should be of strategic importance to any organization—end of story. If inside sales is new to your company, it can also create concern among the field organization if they think its implementation threatens their jobs. They may also resist having someone else calling within "their accounts." After all, we work hard to teach our field people to "own" their accounts, and now we are asking them to allow someone on the phone to build a relationship with their customer. This initiative necessitates leadership at the top, with a clear vision of the intent and goals.
Simply put, creating an effective inside sales organization requires hard work and nurturing. But when done right, the results can bring significant productivity to the entire sales process.
Mary Donato is president of Applied Principles and associate director of the Institute for the Study of Business Markets. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.