Inside Sales: What it is, Why it Matters + How to Get it Right

Inside Sales: What it is, Why it Matters + How to Get it Right

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 for strategies like online demos, cold calling, and sales automation.

Less fun? Possibly. Effective? Definitely.

We've been doing inside sales as a company since 2013 and saw a rapid shift to inside sales across nearly every industry due to the pandemic in 2020.

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.

Wondering if this sales model is right for you? Here is what you need to know to build an effective inside sales force.

What Is Inside Sales?

Inside sales is the act of identifying, nurturing, and converting leads remotely, often using technology like a CRM, cold emailing templates, and social platforms like LinkedIn.

In recent years, inside sales has become one of the most popular sales models both for selling high-ticket products and for small businesses as buyers become more comfortable purchasing and collaborating remotely.

In many ways, the evolution of technology is what has made these possible and armed companies with the ability to embrace inside sales and transition field sales reps to working in-house.

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 2021 State of Sales report found 77% of sales organization plans to invest “significantly more” or “more” in sales intelligence tools. Even organizations that were hesitant to move to virtual sales tools are making the switch. Craig Rosenberg, VP/Analyst at Gartner shared,

“Overall, virtual selling has driven rapid digital transformation in sales. Early adopters were ready technologically for the sudden move to virtual, and now laggards are investing in technology infrastructure to support their reps. The early days of the pandemic were really the ultimate test.”

What's more—a 2019 study by Gartner found 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:

  • compensation
  • 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

Empowering your inside sales reps with a work environment and a toolset they need to convert potential customers is crucial to building a successful inside sales team.

So before you attempt to use inside sales, make sure you understand the tools you’ll need to be successful. Just like you wouldn’t try to build a house without a toolkit, you shouldn’t try to launch a remote sales team without the right tools for success.

What Does an Inside Sales Rep Do?

An inside sales rep uses technology, including email, video conferencing, phone calls, and social media to qualify, nurture, and convert customers. This sales job relies heavily on technology and automation.

More and more companies are embracing the benefits of inside sales to build real connections with their customers and convert inbound prospects on a global scale.

While the exact sales process varies by company (and industry), in general, inside sales reps will:

  • Use the tools in their sales stack to gather leads
  • Qualify leads using B2B databases, social media, and their connections
  • Find decision-makers at that company and connect
  • Use tools like templates and automation to nurture those leads

To be successful, inside sales reps should have a good understanding of technology, be able to learn new platforms quickly, and understand how to build relationships virtually.

Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales: What’s the Difference?

Inside sales reps rely on technology and virtual meetings to build relationships. Outside sales reps, rely on travel and in-person meetings to share demos, explore objections, and build relationships face-to-face.

Here’s a breakdown of the main differences in job descriptions for inside and outside sales reps:


Inside sales teams

Outside sales teams

Also called

Virtual sales

Field sales 

Where do reps work? 

At their company’s office or WFM

Mostly at prospect’s offices/locations, trade shows 

Tools? 

Full sales stack including automation

Limited technology. Usually a CRM, but limited or no automation 

Sales strategies

Cold emailing, social selling, cold calling, virtual demos.  

Cold calling, referrals, in-person meetings 

The main difference between inside and outside sales is where they work. Inside sales tend to work in an office or even at home. Outside sales professionals often travel to in-person meetings and work on-site at the prospect's offices.

However,  there is one other main difference between the two sales models.

In inside sales, the team structure often includes multiple people taking ownership of different stages of the sales process. For example, a sales or business development rep gathers leads and qualifies leads, while an account executive converts them, then a customer success team manages the onboarding/upselling process.

To be clear, not all inside sales teams use this structure, but it is different from outbound teams, where generally one (or possibly two) sales professionals manage the process from start to finish.

Inside Sales Model Structure

What does an inside sales model structure look like? It can vary by industry and target audience. For example, B2B inside sales has a longer sales cycle and will likely spend longer on lead qualification than B2C. In general, the sales structure for inside sales representatives follows these steps:

  • Find Prospects: Sales rep uses digital sales technology to find qualified leads. This may include offering downloadable resources or using databases or social media to find prospects.
  • Qualification: Leads are further qualified to ensure they match the company’s ideal customer profile based on location, company size, and industry.
  • Company Research: Before outreach occurs, inside sales reps perform online research to make sure the prospect needs their solution.
  • Outreach: Depending on the sales model, reps may reach out to lead directly via social media or cold emailing or calling, or create drip campaigns to nurture leads and wait to reach out.
  • Sales Pitch: Once the lead is qualified and has expressed interest, the sales rep reaches out to pitch. This may include a demo or presentation, generally delivered virtually.
  • Close the Deal: After objections are handled, the inside salesperson works to close the deal. This may include offering discounts, adjusting the onboarding process, or adding additional features.
Inside Sales Model Structure

In general, the inside sales model focuses on lead generation and qualification, rather than diving straight into a pitch. The benefits of inside sales include a faster sales cycle and scalability. Inside sales is also more cost-effective, since it uses technology, such as a CRM, to track sales tasks and automation to send notifications and qualify leads.

Must-Have Tools for Inside Sales

There’s one thing you’ve probably noticed about inside sales: it uses technology a lot. Whether it’s to send an email, host a video conference, or leverage automation to stay on top of tasks, inside sales reps need tools.

So which are the most important? Here are the must-have sales tools for inside sales.

1. Phone (or a CRM With Integrated Calling)

Inside sales might happen online, but building relationships is still important. A voice conversation is one of the most valuable interactions between a sales professional and a prospect. Two important sales calls for inside sales are the cold call to set an appointment and the follow-up call to conduct a pitch.

To make those calls more effective, inside sales reps should use a telephony tool to call, track, and record calls.

Using Close, the process of calling prospects is easier than ever. Inside sales reps can dial and make calls from our platform with the push of a button. Calls are automatically synced directly to a contact's profile, arming reps with a 360 view of the activity happening on the frontlines.

Phone (or a CRM With Integrated Calling)

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 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: the CRM.

2. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software to Pull All Your Inside Sales Info Together

The best CRM software provides an overview of all your sales activities so you can stay on top of your pipeline. Most importantly, a great CRM system arms your team with the critical information and organizational tools to manage relationships more effectively—which is the core of effective inside sales.

Our 2019 survey of more than 900 sales professionals found that 37.3% of sales reps think their CRM is the most valuable sales tool they use all day.

The right CRM should integrate with the tools you already use, make sales management easier, and generate reports. Ideally, there would be a little automation thrown in for good measure.

Close does all this, and a whole lot more. Check out our demo and see how Close helps inside sales teams close more deals (and spend less time sorting their inbox!)

3. Social Intelligence Software to Keep Prospects Engaged

Zach Hofer-Shall from 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 to help uncover 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 use this data to re-engage prospects, nurture leads, or even inform their cold emails.

4. Social Selling Tools to Connect With Prospects

Social selling is all about using 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—these tools help professionals embrace social selling. For example, LinkedIn’s paid Sales Navigator is a popular social selling tool for inside sales teams in the B2B industry.

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:

Social Selling Tools to Connect With Prospects

5. Email Tracking Software to Tame the Inbox Beast

Marketing teams across all industries are told to focus on acquiring emails that the sales team can then utilize for outreach and nurturing. That’s because most inside sales outreach happens through email.

Inside sales professionals identify a lead and reach out to them via email to schedule a call or product demo. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, inside sales professionals spend 28 percent of their time each day reading and writing emails (which is why so many sales training programs focus on this strategy!) 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.

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 tabs. Furthermore, you can still send emails from your favorite email client or your mobile phone, and this activity is automatically synced in Close. 🚀

6. Reporting Tools & Dashboards to Track Inside Sales Performance

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. Inside Sales Productivity Apps

The final component of an inside sales professional’s sales stack is tools designed to improve productivity Some inside sales professionals use tools like Focus to block websites like Reddit and Facebook and prevent distractions.

Other inside sales professionals use messaging platforms like Slack to automatically feed sales-related notifications into their chat rooms to stay in the loop on recent developments and day-to-day operations.

As you look over this list of inside sales tools, don’t get overwhelmed.

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.

A few years ago, we released our sales productivity tool within Close called Inbox. It unifies all your sales communication, tasks, and reminders in one place. It's a distraction-free zone for salespeople.

Inside Sales Inbox Close

Top Habits Of The Best Inside Sales Professionals

Getting inside sales right takes practice–and a willingness to learn. After years in the inside sales game, we’ve found the best inside salespeople tend to share similar habits. Including these:

Invest Time in Understanding Your Audience

Who 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

The power of technology is what makes inside sales work. Out of all the tools we’ve talked about, great CRM software is without question the #1 tool in the inside sales toolkit.

A robust CRM system can make an average sales professional good and a good sales professional great. Look for a CRM that is easy to use and helps limit the amount of time your reps spend on manual entry. Only someone in charge of sales operations for a complex team should require in-depth 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 sales wants 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 automatically put the right leads in front of you at the right time.

No matter what type of sales process you use, embracing structure provides a competitive edge over businesses that constantly try new strategies. Designing a sales process that reduces friction can lead to huge productivity improvements.

Want to Succeed at Inside Sales? Keep Learning

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.

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.

But you do have to be willing to embrace technology and invest time upfront in learning about your target customers.

As you go through this process of embracing inside sales, you’ll likely discover insights we didn’t cover in this post. Inside sales has been around for quite some time, but as technology gets smarter, so are inside sales strategies.

Want to keep learning? Start with our book, The Follow Up Formula: