Turn Your Order Desk into an Inside Sales Team


Turn Your Order Desk into an Inside Sales Team
Illustration by David Grey for Contact Center Pipeline

Imagine you are a frontline employee at a company’s order desk. For years, you answered the inbound phone queue and took orders from vendors. Your job success was measured by input accuracy and talk time. Then your manager says, “Congratulations. You are now inside sales reps! Your new job will be judged on sales volume and you will also have to initiate outbound calls at least 50% of the time.”

However, the conversion from order-taker to salesperson is not that easy. Each role requires different skills and attitude. It’s like telling a baseball team they are now hockey players. Those are very different skill sets. Employees require training and coaching to truly embrace the role and go from reactive (taking orders) to proactive (upselling, managing a territory, etc.).

Here are nine tips to help with that transition:

1. Determine your goals

What do you want your front line to do? Is upselling extra items on inbound calls your main goal? Is it to place outbound calls to promote a specific product? Or, do you want a true inside sales team that manages specific accounts and augments/replaces your field sales team or distribution network? What are your sales targets? Is it overall revenue? Or, is it revenue by product type or territory? Clearly communicate these goals to your team. Let them know what is expected in their new role.

2. Decide on your departmental structure

Will certain accounts, geographical territories or vertical markets be assigned to specific team members? Are certain inside sales representatives paired with field salespeople for “inside/outside” coverage? Or, is your inside sales only tasked with upselling and cross-selling on inbound phone calls? Will they also make outbound calls to clients and prospects?

Making outbound calls requires a different mindset and training. It also requires setting up an outbound calling schedule so, you know when clients are most likely to answer their phone. You may also need to provide outbound lists for cold calls. Clearly communicate this new structure to your team to help with the transition.

3. Change your team’s mindset about sales

Employee attitude regarding “sales” is the number one challenge when converting an order desk or customer service team into a true inside sales team. Many people associate sales with pushy, obnoxious behavior. So, it is no wonder they resist doing “sales.” Changing that mindset is the first and most important step in a successful conversion!

In my sales workshops, one of the first things I do is divide participants into two groups. One group lists excellent customer service behaviors, while the other group highlights excellent sales behaviors. We then compare notes. Typically, both groups list characteristics such as excellent product knowledge, asking great questions, being a good listener, giving helpful suggestions, showing the customer how to use a product and being focused on making the customer happy. In other words, a good customer service person and a good salesperson use many of the same skills.

So, why does sales get a bad reputation? Ask most people about sales and they typically share a story about dishonesty and overly aggressive behavior. But, those are the characteristics of a “bad” salesperson. Good ones help their customers buy the right thing. That negative association is the equivalent of taking the worse customer experience you ever had and making that your definition of customer service. Once that realization sinks in, their resistance to sales goes away.

4. Train them to sell

When your team transitions from an order-taking role to a sales role, they need to learn how to ask great questions, listen for needs and learn more about their customers. Order-takers wait for the customer to tell them what they want. Salespeople ask questions and listen for clues. That helps salespeople suggest products and services that solve a customer’s problem. Provide your team with the right sales questions to uncover each product need. Give them case studies and benefit scenarios so, they can share that during the sales process. Good training equips them to handle those situations.

5. Give them something “easy” to sell

Changing their attitude toward sales and providing training are the first steps. To build upon that, give your team initial products and services that are easy to sell. Instead of throwing your whole product line at them, focus on the easiest, most commonly purchased items. Selling these will boost their confidence and ease them into a sales-focused role. Since they are already used to taking orders over the phone, highlight logical upsells and cross-sells for them.

Create a matrix matching your commonly ordered products with logical add-ons. For instance, an inside salesperson in the food industry might tell a chef, “In addition to your usual order of five cases of french fries for your restaurant, many chefs also order sweet potato fries. They sell well and also improve your profit margin, since you can charge a higher price for them.” At a team huddle or meeting, have your team review the matrix and practice doing suggestive sales; i.e., “If the customer orders _____, suggest_____.”

Bundle products or services together to give your new sales team more opportunities for easy “wins.” Your team can get another easy win by helping customers meet your company’s free shipping threshold; i.e., “If you combine today’s ink cartridge order with your usual paper order today, you get free shipping.”

Upselling and cross-selling can create a recurring revenue stream. Think of the “razor blade” model: you make more money selling replacement consumables like razor blades than you do selling the initial item. For example, selling an inkjet printer is a one-time sale. But, selling replacement ink cartridges, paper and maintenance contracts is a continuous source of income. That is why so many order desks and customer service departments are now emphasizing sales, whether or not they rebrand as inside sales teams.

6. Help your team cope with rejection

Agents sometimes ask, “What if I suggest a product and the customer says no?” Inside sales agents need reassurance. They are afraid customers will be offended by a sales attempt. But as long as the suggested item is helpful for to customer and the salesperson is not overly aggressive, customers are usually fine with the attempt. On the other hand, customers get angry when salespeople are pushy or offer things that do not fit their needs.

7. Build relationships within your sales and distribution channel

Customer service or order desk staff tend to be isolated. They rarely go into the field to visit customers or spend time with the outside sales team. To remedy that, they should occasionally ride along with outside salespeople on their customer visits. That will help inside salespeople build relationships with the field teams. It also helps them learn more about customers. Former order desk or customer service team members say even a half-day ride-along in the field is a huge eye-opener for them!

8. Support your team with the right technical tools

Ensure that your customer relationship management (CRM) system can record sales ATTEMPTS so that agents know what already has been offered and how recently it was proposed. Customers hate hearing the same upsell on every call regardless of how many times they said no. For example, my local phone company will always try to cross-sell their satellite TV service. No matter how many times I say no, they will continue to offer it, even within the same call. That is what gives sales a bad reputation and makes agents want to avoid it.

You should also consider upgrading your existing knowledge base system. While an Excel spreadsheet or SharePoint database may work well for order-taking, inside sales representatives need more product knowledge to sell effectively. This might be a good time to invest in a more robust knowledge base system. It should have the ability to easily search for answers and display product/service features and benefits. Some systems even let you tag articles for different job types. So, an inside salesperson would only see information that applies to their sales role, while a field repair person would see technical data.

Converting from an order desk approach to an inside sales team is also a great opportunity to update or replace your existing telephony system. You may also want to additional channels such as live chat and SMS, if that makes sense for your department. Cloud-based contact center tools can make this switch much easier and far less costly than five or 10 years ago.

9. Decide on a new compensation structure

Most order desk departments pay agents a straight salary, or salary plus a bonus for the overall department’s sales results. Compared to that, most inside sales teams pay salary, plus individual commission or bonuses to incent agents to make sales. They may also have a departmental sales bonus. Just be careful to avoid compensation plans that drive overly aggressive behavior or cheating.

Invest the Time to Plan for Success

These nine tips can help you successfully transition from an order desk or customer service team to a true inside sales role. Remember that structure, mindset, training, tools and compensation are all important parts of this rollout. Invest the time to carefully plan before making the switch.