Inside Sales: What it is, why it matters, and how to do it right
Let me start with the bad news: When it comes to inside sales, you’re going to spend less time with your prospects on the golf course and more time using technology. We've been doing inside sales as a company since 2013, and saw a rapid shift to inside sales across various industries due to the pandemic in 2020.
What is inside sales?
Inside sales is the act of identifying, nurturing and turning leads into customers remotely. In recent years, inside sales has become one of the most popular sales models in high-value industries as buyers have become more comfortable purchasing and collaborating remotely. In many ways, the evolution of technology is what has made this possible and armed companies with the ability to embrace inside sales.
In October 2019, Harvard Business Review wrote "Inside sales has muscled its way into serving larger customers with complex needs. Also, inside salespeople who once performed only simple tasks (generating leads, getting renewals) are doing more complex steps, including assessing customer needs, crafting solutions, and closing sales."
Simply put: Technology is everything for inside sales.
LinkedIn’s 2016 Sales Report found that almost 24 percent of sales professionals are spending more than 10 hours per week using customer relationship management (CRM) tools. The study also found that 33% of inside sales professionals using sales intelligence tools were spending 3–5 hours a week uncovering insights about leads and prospects. To further convince you of the role that technology is playing in the world of inside sales: 82 percent of the top sales professionals described sales tools as “critical” to their ability to close deals.
What's more—according to a 2019 study by Gartner 24% of inside sales reps are actively looking to switch companies because they're dissatisfied with their current employer.
The most common reasons for dissatisfaction:
- manager quality
- respect the organization shows employees.
“Leaders responsible for inside sales face a high turnover risk with reps today. To avoid this, sales leaders not only need to craft a compelling employee value proposition to attract high-quality candidates to inside sales roles, they must make sure they are delivering on the proposition to retain talent in a competitive labor market.” - Matt Dudek, vice president, Gartner.
Making sure to empower your reps with a work environment and a toolset they need to succeed is crucial for retaining top inside sales talent.
So before you attempt to use inside sales, you have to understand the tools you’ll need to be successful. Just like you wouldn’t attempt to build a house without a toolkit, you shouldn’t try to embrace inside sales without the right tools for success.
Here’s a list of must-have tools for inside sales:
1. Phone (or a CRM with integrated calling)
It might sound old-fashioned, but a voice conversation is still one of the most valuable interactions that a sales professional can have with a prospect. Two important calls for inside sales are the cold call to set an appointment and the follow-up call to conduct a pitch. Using Close, the process for calling prospects & leads is reimagined as calls are now able to be answered & made with the press of a button right from within the app. Further, the calls are automatically synced directly to a contact's profile arming organizations with a 360 view of the activity happening on the frontlines.
The role of the telephone in sales is no longer limited to voice calls. Text messaging has become a real part of our culture and the preferred method of communication for many professionals. Over the years, more and more inside sales professionals have begun messaging their prospects, leads and customers via text. That’s why we recently integrated SMS directly into our CRM system—the best inside sales professionals know the importance of keeping everything in a central place. Which takes us to arguably the most important tool on this list...
2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software
The best CRM software will give you an overview of all your sales activities and help you stay on top of your pipeline. Most importantly, a great CRM system will arm you with the critical information and organizational tools you need to manage relationships more effectively—which is at the core of effective inside sales.
According to the 2016 Sales Study from LinkedIn, 70 percent of sales professionals believe that relationship-building tools have a meaningful impact on their ability to grow revenues.
In our 2019 survey of more than 900 sales professionals, 37.3% indicated that a CRM was the most valuable sales tool they use during their work day.
Sometimes it makes sense to look for software that works well for companies in your specific industry, a CRM for coaching companies, and sometimes it makes sense to look for a solution that works well independent of the industry you're in, but that is flexible enough to adapt to your sales process.
3. Social intelligence software
Zach Hofer-Shall of the research and advisory firm Forrester describes social intelligence as the process of harnessing social media data to inform business strategy. For an inside sales professional, social intelligence software is valuable for revealing insights from social media.
For example, social intelligence software can equip inside sales professionals with information from LinkedIn about new hires and other changes within an organization. The best inside sales professionals know how to use this data to their advantage to re-engage a prospect, nurture a lead or unlock an entirely new opportunity within an existing account.
4. Social selling tools
Social selling means using various tools that integrate with social media to establish, build and nurture relationships. Whether it’s a social media management tool or the messaging systems built directly into Facebook or LinkedIn—all of these tools help professionals embrace social selling.
Don’t think of social selling as a hard sell that happens in your DMs on Twitter. Instead, take this slide from Nick Frost of Mattermark as a great starting point for understanding the practice:
5. Email tracking software
Most inside sales outreach conducted today is done through email. Inside sales professionals identify a lead and reach out to them via email to schedule a call or product demo. Marketing teams across all kinds of industries are told to focus on acquiring emails that the sales team can then utilize for outreach and nurturing.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, inside sales professionals spend 28 percent of their time each day reading and writing emails (and a major emphasis is placed on this in the best sales training programs). Still, that’s a lot of time spent crafting a great message, attaching files, pressing send and hoping that there wasn’t a typo in your introduction.
In our 2019 survey of more than 900 sales professionals, 25.9% mentioned that email is their most valuable sales tool.
Due to the volume of emails being sent by salespeople, brands are embracing email tracking software. For inside sales purposes, email tracking software lets inside sales professionals see when an email is opened, whether files are downloaded and when it’s time to follow up.
Close does more than just track emails though: You can send and receive emails directly from within our CRM, without switching windows. Furthermore, you can still send emails from your favorite email client or your mobile phone and this activity will automatically be synced in Close. Most inside sales tools require you to BCC a special email address for this—which often leads to emails not being tracked properly when a sales rep occasionally forgets to do so. With Close, this happens automatically to ensure that all sales interactions are logged accurately.
6. Reporting tools & dashboards
In order to build a successful inside sales process, you need to keep a close eye on the metrics that matter and understand how to extract actionable insights from all the data your sales organization tracks.
Here are some of the questions you should be able to answer with the help of an inside sales reporting tool:
- Which reps are performing best?
- How does their activity correlate to the results they achieve?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of different reps, and how can you best position them to succeed?
- Which email templates elicit the highest response rates?
- What’s the ideal follow up sequence?
- Are you on track to hit your target this month?
Keep in mind that just tracking all the data points in a system isn’t enough. What matters even more is that you are able to generate these reports quickly and easily. Oftentimes the best way to extract meaningful insights is to slice and dice the data in different ways.
7. Productivity apps
The final component of an inside sales professional’s toolkit is a set of tools to help the salesperson be more productive. Some inside sales professionals use tools like Focus, which blocks websites such as Reddit and Facebook to limit opportunities for getting sidetracked:
Other inside sales professionals use tools like Slack and automatically feed sales-related notifications into their chat rooms to stay in the loop with their team on recent developments and day-to-day operations.
As you look over this list of inside sales tools, don’t feel overwhelmed.
The technology is important, but what’s even more important is that you understand why inside sales is one of the best ways to establish relationships and close deals. In fact, we released our own sales productivity tool in 2015 within our CRM: Inbox. It unifies all your sales communication, tasks and reminders in one place. It's a distraction-free zone for salespeople.
Before we dive into how to do inside sales, let’s start with an insight you might already be familiar with:
People buy from people they know and trust. And this is even more true with the rise of remote sales.
Inside sales is meant to achieve both. The intent of inside sales is to use technology to establish and strengthen relationships with prospects, leads and customers. It’s true that sales has changed a lot with the introduction of new technology, but the core principles are still the same.
Here are some of the habits embraced by top inside sales professionals:
Invest time in understanding your audience
Whom are you trying to sell to? What is their biggest pain point? What is your audience’s primary objective? And who is the typical roadblock in closing the sale?
These are the questions that the best inside sales professionals start with. They study the inner workings of each company to understand exactly whom they need to speak with and what the organization’s goals are.
Capitalize on the power of great CRM software
As we discussed earlier, the ability to capitalize on technology is what makes inside sales work. Out of all the tools we’ve talked about, great CRM software is without question the No. 1 tool in the inside sales toolkit. A robust CRM system can make an average sales professional good and a good sales professional great. Ideally, choose a CRM that is easy to use for your reps. Only someone in charge of sales operations for a more complex team should really require a more extensive CRM training.
Educate & embrace the marketing team
In many organizations there is a huge disconnect between the leads being generated by marketing and the leads that sales actually want coming through the door. The best inside sales professionals recognize the importance of having everyone on the same page. It’s not enough to sit in the same room—the best inside sales professionals create processes to ensure open communication between sales and marketing.
Rather than complaining about the types of leads that are being generated, the best inside sales professionals take the time to educate their team on the leads they need to attract. As a result, marketing will be better equipped to target their efforts toward the right people.
Commit to following up & following through
Finally, to succeed as an inside sales professional you have to be persistent and consistent. You need to be persistent with your follow-ups and consistent in following through with your day-to-day tasks.
With our inside sales software, you can manually schedule follow up reminders or use workflows that will automatically put the right leads in front of you at the right time.
It might feel repetitive over time, but embracing structure in your actions will give you the edge over the other inside sales professionals who are always trying to mix things up. Designing a sales process that reduces friction in your day-to-day can lead to huge productivity improvements over time.
Final thoughts on inside sales
Inside sales has been around long enough to establish a set of best practices, so to succeed, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
And it's no stretch to say that inside sales is the future of sales:
Field-heavy sales organizations such as W.W. Grainger and Oracle are shifting sales responsibilities from field salespeople to inside salespeople and digital self-service channels.
- Technology Is Blurring the Line Between Field Sales and Inside Sales, Harvard Business Review, October 2019
But you do have to be willing to embrace technology and invest time up front in learning about your target customers.
As you go through this process of embracing inside sales, you will likely discover insights that we didn’t cover in this post. Inside sales has been around for quite some time, and there are eternal truths of sales, but strategies for closing a deal are always changing.
That’s why it’s important to stay on top of the trends and embrace the idea of constant learning. But you need to have a clear idea why you're learning and what you want to accomplish, otherwise you risk wasting plenty of time educating yourself about meaningless sales trends. Our B2B Customer Acquisition guide: From 0 to 1,000 Customers & Beyond is a good starting point.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, download the ebook today:
This guide—along with a commitment to embracing inside sales—has the potential to turn the next three months into three of your most successful months yet.