Entrepreneurs, especially at those early-stage startups considering the best way to sell their products and services, should strive to know the power of inside sales, and how much the process has changed over the years due to the advent of virtual tools and technologies.
The role of virtually-based inside sales professionals has evolved into the fastest growing and most widely embraced selling channel across the globe. Outpacing traditional field sales by 300 percent in terms of job growth, many progressive organizations are either shifting resources from the field or just growing these inside positions altogether.
Here are three trends companies of all sizes need to truly consider when determining their best go-to-market sales strategy.
1. Sales has become digital.
Today’s buyers require immediately accessible information and sales interactions on their own terms. They want the option of a comprehensive and valuable sales engagement without the need for face-to-face interaction.
Research by CEB indicates 60 percent of the buying cycle has been completed digitally by decision-makers before they reach out to a sales rep. It also indicates that more and more complex, big-ticket sales are completed through a virtual sales exchange. The days of the face-to-face “dog and pony show” are long gone.
"The digital revolution is changing the way buying decisions are made and commerce is transacted," said Bruno Di Leo, senior vice president of sales and distribution at IBM. "What individuals are experiencing as consumers is changing what they expect from IBM as an enterprise client. They want us to know them and understand their preferences, and get value from our expertise in new ways and on their own terms. ... In other words, digital is central -- not secondary."
Simply put, most decision-makers these days prefer engaging virtually when making purchasing decisions. Whether it’s research on the web, a demonstration through screen sharing and/or video or the use of social media, busy buyers want information quickly and easily, in the comfort of their offices or via smartphones as they commute.
2. Digital has become the primary sales channel.
The digital and virtual way of doing business has arrived and is here to stay. In fact, traditional field salespeople have adopted some of the same strategies and tactics that inside salespeople have been using for years. This is because buyers demand it.
Extensive research in 2013 and again in 2014 by the AA-ISP (a global association dedicated to the advancement of inside sales) has shown that 95 percent of companies above $20 million in annual revenue have adopted the expertise of inside sales as a critical sales channel. Further, AA-ISP research indicates a significant shift from inside sales simply supporting field reps to carrying a discrete quota and responsibility over a set of accounts.
From 2010 to 2014, companies moving inside sales from a teamed support role into a “discrete” quota-carrying model rose from 32 percent to more than 50 percent. Research by ZS Associates and Reality Works in the fall of 2014 indicated that 40 percent of large companies (greater than $1 billion in annual revenue) in the technology space are specifically shifting headcount from the field to inside sales.
Finally, U.S. Dept of Labor statistics, combined with research by InsideSales.com, indicates that 750,000 net new inside sales jobs will be added from 2013 to 2020 -- nearly three times the job creation rate compared to that of traditional field sales. Simply stated, virtual sales is alive and thriving. Face-to-face is on the decline. Inside sales has arrived as a true profession. In addition to having a global association (AA-ISP) dedicated to advancing their profession, both inside sales reps and leaders have their own virtual sales accreditation called the CISP (Certified Inside Sales Professional) and AISM (Accredited Inside Sales Manager).
3. Technology will continue to feed inside sales.
Those who earn a living selling virtually know only too well how technology has improved their sales results. Software-as-a-service companies have been launched in recent years to cater specifically to this digital sales revolution. These cloud-based service providers and their software applications help put an already efficient virtual process on “selling steroids."
The potential for inside sales to produce revenue continues to grow, due in part to the advent of these tools and technologies. The 2014 study by ZS Associates and Reality Works indicates that the mean inside sales quota responsibility is $2.1 million for large enterprise companies and more than $1 million for small and medium businesses.
Easy-to-use software applications are helping reps in a variety of areas such as data analytics, sales acceleration, screen-to-screen selling and pre-call research. To keep these two-screen, wireless-headset on, always-in-their-cube reps motivated, gamification is deployed as a way to keep money- and status-motivated players on the hunt and engaged. Many inside sales organizations place large-screen TVs around their offices to highlight sales leader boards.
With all these great technologies comes a new set of skill requirements and a new way of selling. Traditional sales training, although valuable in many ways, is also changing. Many training firms are providing once unavailable deep tactical training on the how-to’s around the new set of virtual selling standards, such as enhanced pre-call research, email, social media, remote presentations and more.
The digital sales revolution will continue to adapt to meet the requirements of today’s virtually connected decision-makers. Entrepreneurs and business owners in all industries need to consider the best way to harness its power.
Related: Flip the Sales Process