What is Inside Sales? Definition, Skills & Tools for Inside Sales Reps
With inside sales, you'll spend less time with your prospects on the golf course and more time using technology to build relationships through activities like online demos, cold calling, and sales automation practices.
Less fun? Possibly. Highly effective? Definitely.
We've been doing (and teaching) inside sales since 2013. Over the last decade, there’s been a massive shift towards inside sales across nearly every industry. We’ve also seen how inside sales has changed with the rise of new tech like AI.
Before we dive into the mechanics of how to do inside sales effectively, let’s start with the basics: People buy from people they know and trust. This is even more true with the rise of both inside sales and remote sales, where reps are functioning more autonomously outside of the office.
Inside sales uses technology to establish and strengthen relationships with prospects, leads, and customers. While selling has changed a lot with the introduction of new sales technology, the core principles are still the same.
So, is an inside sales model right for your business? Or maybe you’re here considering a career in inside sales—either way, I’ve got you covered. Here’s what you need to know to decide if inside sales is right for you.
What is Inside Sales? A Brief Definition
Common inside sales tactics include cold emailing, cold calling, performing demos, and delivering virtual sales pitches to potential clients from inside your (home?) office. In stark contrast, outside sales is when you sell out in the field, through in-person interactions with prospects.
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.
Simply put: Technology is everything for inside sales teams.
Empowering your inside sales reps with a work environment and toolset they need to convert potential customers, is crucial to building a successful inside sales team.
So before you attempt to use inside sales, ensure you understand what you’ll need to succeed. Just like you wouldn’t try to build a house without the right tools (and a contractor who knows what they’re doing), you shouldn’t launch a remote sales team without the tools and processes built for success.
What are the Different Inside Sales Roles?
Whether you’re looking to shift your career or decide if building an inside sales team is right for your business, you’re gonna want to understand the different roles on an inside sales team. Keep in mind, the structure of your sales team may look different depending on your company and stage of growth.
For example, at Close, we don’t have sales development reps or engage in outbound selling; all our sales reps are inbound, inside sales reps. Yep, it can get confusing because there are both inbound and outbound sales, but either approach can leverage inside selling.
Now let’s talk about the different inside sales roles:
- Sales Development Representative (SDR): An SDR is responsible for the opening stages of the sales process. They find sales opportunities and initiate first contact with leads through calls, emails, or other outreach methods.
- Account Executive (AE): Generally used in enterprise or B2B organizations, account executives are responsible for turning qualified leads into customers. They tend to have more in-depth and product-related conversations, such as sales demos or presentations. They may work with accounts for months or years, servicing the customer in some capacity (and looking for expansion revenue opportunities), especially for B2B companies.
- Inside Sales Representatives: Inside sales reps tend to have a broader role including lead generation and closing deals. They may use a mix of both inbound and outbound sales strategies.
- Customer Success Managers (CSM): While not exclusively a sales role, a CSM typically comes in at the end of the sale process to finalize the deal and work with customers over time to cross-sell, upsell, and prevent customer churn. They’re most common in large companies and SaaS organizations.
- Inside Sales Manager: This position oversees and leads a team of inside sales representatives and is responsible for setting sales targets, tracking quotas, leading sales training, and optimizing the sales process.
Other common terms used to describe inside sales reps include account managers (similar to account executives) and sales enablement reps who support the sales process
What Does an Inside Sales Rep Do?
While the exact sales process always varies by company (and industry), in general, inside sales reps will:
- Use the sales tools in their tech stack to gather leads and prospects.
- Qualify leads using B2B databases, social media sites like LinkedIn, and their own connections.
- Find decision-makers at that company and authentically connect with them.
- Use their communication skills to build relationships with prospects through email, video, and phone calls.
- Use templates and automation tools to nurture those leads through the sales funnel.
- Collaborate virtually with leads via video conferencing, email, and other digital channels.
- Collaborate with other teams, including customer support and marketing to ensure customers are supported through each step of the sales process.
- Overcome objections prospects have, negotiate, and discuss pricing.
- Close sales, often without ever meeting their prospect in person.
Here’s an example of what an inside sales rep’s average day might look like:
Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales: What’s the Difference?
The main difference between inside and outside sales is where the salespeople work. Inside salespeople tend to work in an office or even at home. Outside sales teams often travel to in-person meetings and work on-site at the prospect's offices.
Inside sales reps rely on technology and virtual meetings to build relationships. Outside sales reps, aka field salespeople, rely on travel and in-person meetings to share demos, explore objections, and build face-to-face relationships.
Here’s a breakdown of the main differences in job descriptions for inside and outside sales reps:
However, there’s another core difference between these two sales models.
With 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 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 differs from outbound teams, where generally, one (or possibly two) salespeople manage the process from start to finish.
Which Skills Do Inside Sales Reps Need?
An inside sales rep uses a whole lotta technology, including email, video conferencing, phone calls, and social media, to qualify, nurture, and convert leads into customers. This means sales reps need a solid understanding of how key sales tech tools function, the ability to learn new platforms quickly, and an intuitive ability to build relationships virtually.
Kate Petrone, Senior Account Executive at Close, shares how the skills inside sales reps need to extend far beyond using tools and cold calling:
“One of the most important skills for inside sales reps is the ability to ask the right questions - being genuinely curious. Being a really good listener is equally as important to understanding their current vs. ideal scenario, uncovering their pain points, and helping them discover a better solution.”
Other skills crucial to inside sales success include:
1. How to Do Cold Outreach Effectively
Cold emailing and cold calling are key skills just about every inside sales rep needs to master. Reaching out to prospective customers via phone or email and fostering relationships helps fill your sales pipeline and increase conversions. Making sure to call at the right time and knowing how to get responses are key skills inside sales reps should foster.
- 15 Cold Call Scripts + Templates & Examples to Nail Every Sales Call
- 15 Best Cold Email Templates to Improve Sales Email Outreach
2. Product Knowledge
Great sales reps don’t just know the features list of their product or service—they also have a deep understanding of how their product can help prospects solve their own problems.
They should be able to explain how their product works in detail, including explaining workarounds, integrations, and the nuances of key features. It’s a major bonus if your sales reps can somehow use your product or service in their day-to-day responsibilities, making them go-to product experts.
- Five Strategies to Increase Product Knowledge
- How to Build Fluent Product Knowledge and Improve Sales Success
3. How to Navigate Objections
Objections aren’t the end of the world, they’re just speed bumps along the road to closing a sale. Customers naturally have questions, doubts, or concerns, and being able to navigate these obstacles with finesse is what separates the pros from the rookies. It's like the ultimate game of verbal chess, where you anticipate moves and counter with charisma and deep insights.
- Objection Handling 101: Your Guide to Overcoming 40+ Sales Objections
- Our Best Sales Objection Templates (Free Download)
4. Use AI Strategically
If you can use AI the right way in your sales process, you’ll supercharge a few specific areas of your selling capabilities. You can now significantly automate and scale activities like sending cold emails, getting AI call transcripts with next steps, follow up email management and more.
Use these tools in a sloppy way, and prospects will think you’re a robot. Replies and email opens will plummet. So how do you properly leverage AI in sales today? Think of AI tools like interns that can deliver a solid first draft and generate notes — but you’ll still need to take the time to review and personalize their suggestions.
- AI in Sales: How Artificial Intelligence Can Help You Close More Deals
- How Generative AI Will Change Sales
5. The Art of Negotiation
Negotiation is the art of finding that sweet spot where both you and your customer feel like winners. It's like a friendly game of tug-of-war where you’re kindly smiling as beads of sweat drip down your forehead while ensuring your prospect feels valued and satisfied. It's a delicate balance, and mastering this art is essential to being successful as an inside sales rep.
The Inside Sales Process: A 5-Step Model to Closing More Deals
The inside sales process can vary by industry and target audience, but it’ll generally follow the same overall structure. For example, B2B inside sales has a longer sales cycle and spends more time on lead qualification than B2C, however, the steps in the inside sales process are virtually the same.
In general, the inside sales process 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.
- Outreach: Depending on your sales model, reps may reach out to leads directly via social media or cold emailing or calling, or create drip campaigns to nurture leads and wait to reach out more personally.
- Pitch: Once the lead is qualified and has expressed interest, the sales rep reaches out to make the pitch. This may include a demo or presentation, generally delivered virtually, that speaks to the customer's needs.
- 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.
The inside sales model generally focuses quite a lot on up front lead generation and qualification efforts to maximize the ROI on time spent with prospects, rather than diving straight into a pitch for every cold lead that lands in your CRM.
Two of the top benefits of choosing an inside sales model are a faster sales cycle and major scalability. Inside sales is also more cost-effective since it uses technology (like a CRM), to track sales tasks and automate sending notifications and qualifying leads.
4 Must-Have Tools for Successful Inside Sales Teams
You’ve probably noticed one thing about inside sales: this process uses technology a lot. Whether it’s sending an email, hosting a video conference, or automating tasks, inside sales reps need the right tools.
Here are our picks for the must-have sales tools every inside sales representative can use to excel in their role:
- Calling Software (or a CRM with Built-in Calling Feature): Between cold calling and follow up calls, phone conversations are one of the most consequential time investments for inside sales reps. To make those calls more effective, inside sales reps should use a telephony tool that can call, track, and record calls. This is a core feature of any serious inside sales CRM (like Close).
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Software: Speaking of CRMs, this is a must-have! The best CRM software provides an overview of all your sales activities, so you can stay on top of managing your pipeline. The right CRM should integrate with your existing tools, make sales management easier, and generate reports. Ideally, your CRM throws in a dash of automation for good measure (and sales rep sanity).
- Email Tracking: The right email tracking software lets inside sales professionals see when an email is opened, whether files are downloaded, and notifies you when it’s time to follow up.
- Reporting Tools & Dashboards to Track Performance: To build a successful inside sales process, you need to keep a close eye on the metrics that matter. But, just tracking all the data points in a cute little dashboard isn’t enough, you need the ability to generate these reports quickly—and use the data to make meaningful improvements in how you’re selling.
Close offers sales reps all these features, plus workflow automations, a ChatGPT plugin, and a whooooooole lot more. Watch our quick 10-minute demo to find out if we’re the right CRM for your team.
Want to Thrive at Inside Sales? Keep Learning
It's no stretch of the imagination to say that inside sales will play an outsized role in the future of sales. The path to success here is in learning how to sell to people the way they want to be sold to.
Field-heavy sales organizations like Coca-Cola and Oracle are shifting sales responsibilities from field-based reps salespeople towards inside salespeople and digital self-service channels.
To be a sales leader today, you gotta be willing to embrace technology and invest meaningful time upfront in learning about your target customers.
Ready to take your (inside) selling to the next level? Try all our best free sales tools today.