The Ins and Outs

Answering the eternal question: Sell on the phone or sell in the field?
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the March 2002 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

There are some long-held misconceptions about how inside and outside sales teams work. While some truths remain constant--inside teams that do all their selling over the phone are generally cheaper to run and easier to manage, while outside teams that work in the field establish the crucial personal link that allows a real glimpse into a prospect's business--succeeding in today's selling environment requires re-examining some popular selling mythology.

Myth #1: Inside sales teams can't close big-dollar deals. Jay Love's firm, eTapestry.com, an Indianapolis ASP for nonprofit organizations, has an inside sales team that's closed quarter-million-dollar deals without ever removing its collective earpiece. Love credits eTapestry.com's philosophy about inside sales for its ability to close such large deals over the phone. "We don't see inside salespeople as junior-level. Our inside people are our highest producers, and we treat them as consummate professionals," says Love, 47, whose inside team is made up of former outside sales pros. Giving due respect to these pros has paid off handsomely for eTapestry.com--2001 sales hit $1.5 million, and $3 million to $5 million is projected for 2002.

Myth #2: Outside reps have gone the way of the Datsun. While eTapestry.com prefers to stick with its cost-effective inside team, other entrepreneurial companies recognize the need for both types of salespeople. Case in point: Optimus Solutions, a Norcross, Georgia, company that provides both new and refurbished servers. Last year, Optimus Solutions had $95 million in 2001 sales and is on target to hit $120 million in 2002. The company Sean Murphy, 35, co-founded in 1998 with partners Mark Metz, 39, and Ed Flachbarth, 34, today employs 40 salespeople (15 inside and 25 outside). Both teams are vital to the company's success. "The inside team is cost-effective and great for customers who have a specific need," Murphy says. "Our outside team is building more personal relationships year in and year out." He believes the personal nature of face-to-face selling prompts customers to share more details on their strategic planning if they're dealing with an outside rep, which allows Optimus Solutions to cross-sell other products.

Myth #3: Sales management is sales management. Salespeople do not respond to one-size-fits-all management. Knowing how inside and outside sales pros differ will help you better manage and motivate the troops. "Outside salespeople value freedom, enjoy meeting new people, tend to be visual in nature and are very personable," says Alan Buhler, author of The Selling Safari (Infinity Publishing) and president of Sales Research and Consulting Inc., a sales coaching and training firm in Georgetown, Texas. Inside salespeople value structure in their jobs and aren't bothered by rejection, according to Buhler. Murphy believes inside salespeople are motivated by shorter sales cycles and fast-paced days. Outside reps, on the other hand, usually have a big-picture view and tend to be more comfortable with a longer sales cycle.

At least one truth about salespeople is universal: Competitiveness is what makes them tick, so make an extra effort to foster teamwork in the ranks. Buhler encourages entrepreneurs to keep up with weekly sales meetings, as this communication will assist in defining the team, creating a pool of shared knowledge and helping each member understand how his or her work can contribute to the group's success.


Kimberly L. McCall is president of McCall Media & Marketing, a business communications company in Freeport, Maine.

Contact Sources

eTapestry Inc.
(888) 739-3827, www.etapestry.com

Optimus Solutions LLC
(877) 848-OPTI, www.optimussolutions.com

Sales Research and Consulting Inc.
(512) 630-6578, www.salesresearch.net

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