Following the recent lockdown measures and work-from-home strategies, the role of outside sales reps dramatically shifted.
Overnight, the concept of inside sales vs outside sales essentially disappeared. Field sales teams were grounded, and in response, many businesses scrambled to make internal changes.
To ensure the ongoing growth and success of your company, you must adjust to the new normal and come to terms with the fact that your business model has now changed. Your go-to-market strategy will continue to change and if you do not adapt, you will be left behind.
We Have Been “Catapulted Into the Future”
“The future we imagined for 2030 has been pulled forward to the present.”
— Tobias Lütke, CEO, Shopify
For now, field reps will not be flying out to various locations to meet with prospects. The same is true in regard to multi-day on-site onboarding meetings. These previous methods of selling and conducting business are simply not going to be the way we do things now.
While many companies have already implemented the tools and resources they need to drive their sales team, for those who have not fully ironed out all of the details, there is a silver lining.
You still have access to the human capability, tools, and solutions you need to conduct business. Everything you need is available and has been for years. Just because we were catapulted into the future much more rapidly than initially anticipated, as David Droga, Founder and Creative Chairman of Droga5 said, “We didn’t leave our ability to create behind in our office.”
The same concept applies to sales. We did not leave our ability to SELL behind. It’s time to accept that this is the new way of life, one that will bring immense opportunity — if, of course, you immediately put the right tools and systems in place.
Another great read: 6 Steps to A Successful Digital Transformation
What Really Is The Difference?
Put simply, outside sales reps conduct business in-person, often traveling to the prospective customer’s location or to industry events, such as conferences and trade shows. In contrast, inside sales reps largely conduct business remotely, typically in an office, using tools such as phone calls, email, and video conferencing.
While the difference is simple enough, the broader effects of this distinction have not always been as obvious—until now. In response to the pandemic, businesses across the globe were forced to fully transition to a digital sales model.
Prior to the pandemic, businesses weighed the pros and cons of each sales group; and over the past few years, there was significant growth as businesses invested in their inside sales teams. We covered this trend last September in our white paper, The Rise of Inside Sales. In this paper, we focused on the differences between inside and outside sales, highlighting the many advantages of both sales roles.
Some of the key takeaways include:
- Inside sales cost less and increase efficiency, and the numbers don’t lie. Overall, companies with sales teams dominated by inside sales showcase a 9.8 percent higher quota attainment compared to those dominated by outside sales.
- Research shows that nearly 80 percent of decision-makers do not want to meet face-to-face—they would much rather conduct business remotely.
- Access to digital selling tools will allow inside sales reps to streamline and automate workflows. This supports greater productivity and better collaboration. These tools are not typically available to outside reps. From activity logging to sales engagement, CRM automation to call data, these are imperative to your ongoing success. Learn more here.
- Allow scalability without necessarily increasing headcount. Once again, efficiency is key here.
While these advantages have been influencing sales strategies in recent years, a total transition to inside is the reality we live in. So at the moment, ‘the option’ to transition from field to inside selling no longer really exists. Many agree that field sales have been dying for quite some time, and recently, as you know, your hands are tied. Based on COVID, it is inside sales or limited to no sales at all.
In response to recent events, Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, made an excellent point:
“Some of the big question marks are — do we need more salespeople now because it’s harder to sell because you can’t travel? Or, do we need fewer salespeople because they’ll be more efficient because you don’t have to travel?”
The goal is to optimize your inside sales strategy to become more efficient, investing in the tools and resources that will ramp up productivity, leads, and revenues.
For years, outside sales were the gold standard. However, as technology improved and opportunities were created, inside sales began to slowly take over. In response to COVID, there was an almost immediate flip in how companies approached business, and in many ways, life in general. Brain Chesky, CEO of Airbnb said, “We used to do a lot of travel for work and then we entertained ourselves on screens. That’s going to inverse.” This is an incredibly interesting and insightful thought. Instead of constantly traveling for business before catching up on the latest Netflix series to unwind, we’ll be glued to our screens for work, taking pleasure in travel during our downtime.
A lot is changing, but with those changes, unique opportunities will present themselves—both in terms of our professional and personal lives.
The New Digital Selling Reality We Live In
Many speculated whether or not the growing trend towards inside sales would continue. However, at this point, that topic of conversion is relatively dead. It’s no longer about when the total transition from outside sales to inside sales will occur — it’s already happening. We’re living it.
Since all field sales reps were grounded a few months ago, companies across the U.S. and globe have had to adapt. Of course, those who already had systems in place were well-equipped for these unexpected events, and those who did not, are now seeing the value of AI and digital selling. This was summarized by Christian Klein, CEO of SAP, “Digital transformation is no longer an option, but an essential.”
Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales: By the Numbers
If you’re still hesitant to accept that inside sales are the future, these figures and statistics should ease your mind and encourage you to take action (like yesterday). Inside sales are the future.
Prior to the pandemic:
- Of the 5.7 million professional sales representatives in the United States, 53 percent of them were outside sales reps, and 47 percent inside sales reps. However, in more recent years, the lines between field and inside sales have blurred.
- Inside sales were growing 15 times faster than outside sales, which means that roughly 750,000 inside sales jobs were being created in the U.S. every year.
- The average cost of an outside sales call was more than $300, while the average cost of an inside sales call was just $50.
- Compared with outside sales reps, inside sales reps completed 43 percent more phone calls, sent 9 percent more emails, and had 49 percent more engagements on social media.
- Almost 80 percent of an organization’s key decision-makers preferred to conduct business remotely, which makes inside sales the better fit.
Inside sales is already the clear choice, but many were hesitant to make critical long-term changes. It’s now clear that inside sales will continue to gain dominance, making variables such as CRM automation, data analytics, workflow management, and interaction quality more important than ever.
The Future Is Digital Selling
Over the past several years, inside sales have followed a steady growth trajectory. The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically quickened this pace, making the adoption of inside sales a near necessity for sales teams to survive.
With entire companies now working from home, many outside sales reps have suddenly found themselves converted into inside sales reps. As such, the current situation will be a crucible for the fate of inside sales. If and when things return to the way they were prior to the pandemic in terms of travel, organizations that find the inside sales model to be just as effective as outside sales, or even more so, will likely assign their outside sales reps to permanent desk-duty.
In summary, the difference between inside and outside sales couldn’t be clearer — outside sales are (largely) conducted in person, while inside sales are conducted remotely. This distinction is what makes all the difference in terms of the two strategies’ cost, adoption, technology, and effectiveness.
While they’re often compared and contrasted, inside and outside sales aren’t at odds. As business operations continue to become increasingly digital, many organizations will need to successfully merge their inside and outside sales teams — a trend that will carry on well into the future.