In-person, apparently, is out. One-third of all buyers in business-to-business (B2B) transactions would prefer a sales experience that doesn’t include physical time with the seller, according to research from Gartner, by way of TOBB Chicago Trade Center (via LinkedIn). As a result, Gartner projects that by 2025, 80% of all sales between suppliers and buyers will occur digitally.
For years, the trend toward inside sales – the practice of handling sales remotely and/or digitally – has been steadily creeping into marketing, but now it’s on us like an 800-pound gorilla. And those businesses that have not established a formal plan for this advancing area may be falling behind their competitors.
So, if more prospects aren’t buying what you’re selling, consider giving them more screen time. If you’re in the early stages of planning your inside sales approach – or are at a point where you want to advance to the next level – here are three tips that can help lead your inside sales team to more ensured success and scale.
One, Recognize the Unseen Opportunities in Face-to-Screen Shifts
In the past five years, both inside and outside sales have had to make dramatic changes to remain competitive. Customers are more educated. Connectivity rates are down. The line between inside sales and field sales has blurred.
Yet from change springs opportunities. Here are three that we’ve spotted, from the inside.
- Inside Opportunity 1: Capitalize on better-educated customers.
- Chances are that by the time a sales rep makes first contact, the customer has already gained company/product knowledge, thanks to freely available resources, including product-comparison sites, webinars, social media, forums, and groups that provide best-practice instruction.
- Customers may have already done half of the traditional salesperson’s work! Gartner backs this up, reporting that sales reps capture only about 5% of a customer’s time during their entire B2B buying journey.
- Because of their pre-education, customers tend to enter sales conversations having already determined which offerings resolve their needs. This shift in education can add hours back to the salesperson’s day.
- Sellers should turn this gifted time into further education for themselves, through resources from case studies to competitor product reviews. They can use what they learn to better position their products and services, as well as craft new solutions: the pain points a product can solve, the benefits it provides, and how it stacks up against the competition.
- Inside Opportunity 2: Find profit in declining connection rates.
- Pre-COVID-19 pandemic, marketers tended to rank their connection rate (the number of attempts it takes for a salesperson to reach an intended target) as one of the most important metrics of customer acquisition. But now connection rates at our inside sales contact centers are down by 47%.
- Our conversion rates, however, are up by 27%. This is a welcome shift because conversions equal cash. Connections just account for talking.
- Like we said earlier: once a customer chooses to engage with a seller, they’re close to choosing the product or solution they want. It therefore makes sense to prepare sellers for conversions: with well-practiced pitches, concise yet compelling messaging, and knowledge about the buyer’s persona and needs. For example, what asset did the prospect download from the website?
- The more knowledgeable and immediate the response, the more likely they’ll close the deal: 35% to 50% of sales go to the vendor that responds first, according to research by InsideSales.com.
- Inside Opportunity 3: Gain flexibility using the “innie-outie” hybrid approach.
- While digital inside sales are gaining a greater share of B2B transactions, traditional in-person sales methods retain an important role in the sales toolbox. Indeed, McKinsey & Company suggests that the future of B2B sales is a hybrid.
- Here’s why: while our customers have left the office to work from home, the role of face-to-face interactions still maintains some necessity (think of Zoom). In-person meetings show that the sales rep wants to make the time, so the prospect feels better valued. This builds trust.
- Inside and field sellers would do well to merge their skill sets: combining the field sales’ confident, conversational approach with the technological and data-driven methodologies of inside sales. By learning these new skills and evolving their techniques, sellers improve their chances of success. Bonus: Reps get to enjoy the same work-life balance and flexible hours as their prospects.
…once a customer chooses to engage with a seller, they’re close to choosing the product or solution they want.
Two, Take the Time to Ensure the New Tech Stack is Right
In the context of inside sales development, the tech stack is comprised of the tools, technologies, and processes sales reps use to close deals. However, the combination and use of these elements determines their effectiveness, or failure.
Properly trained, sales agents can quickly spot stack features that will make them more money. A need-specific tech stack will enable your sales team to identify good prospects quickly and accurately. It will reduce administrative time, improve the quality, quantity, and timing of communications, and identify what’s working and what isn’t: in real-time.
Here is a list of the essential components of an inside-sales tech stack, with benefits and risks of each.
CRM applications. This is your master of record for all customer information and interactions.
- Benefits: CRM software efficiently stores and tracks all client and prospect conversations and nurturing efforts, providing a 360-degree view of each interaction in the funnel.
- Risks: Too often there is a lack of adherence to basic guidelines. This can produce out-of-date, duplicated, and/or mismanaged data that can become arduous to work with, or worse, become useless.
Sales enablement and automation platforms. These tools are designed to optimize training and communications. Typically, they automate material delivery at specific points in the sales cycle or alert sales reps on the steps they should take at certain points of a prospect’s journey: making a phone call, sending an email, etc.
- Benefits: A well-implemented platform will help the sales team gauge if a prospect is an ideal "fit" for their offering and in the process dust their fingerprints with data gold. This in turn can improve rep performance through better buyer experiences, higher client conversions and retention, and increased revenue growth.
- Risks: A platform can be overly complex for its role and implemented with limited training and guard rails. Also, platforms that aren’t fully integrated with the organization’s other tools, technologies, and processes, are less likely to target the Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and buyer persona.
Intelligence tools. These time-savers help sales reps sell smarter. They can include lead scoring technologies, data analytics, visualization tools, and call recording software that help to identify top-performing keywords and call tonality.
- Benefits: Business intelligence tools quickly compile a range of company data (third-party, in-house, unstructured and structured) and parlay it into reports, dashboards, and charts. Users can customize the outputs to measure specific performance goals, for better cost control, budgeting, and risk management.
- Risks: For some organizations, business intelligence can be an expensive investment, and the more data sources the system analyzes, the more complex the process. This can lead to breakdowns (think lost data) among platforms.
Reporting and analytics. All tech stacks require accountability. The reporting process should provide crucial insight into historical benchmarking data, so leaders can install a balanced, relevant set of key performance indicators (KPIs).
- Benefits: Well-maintained reports will accurately track team engagement, productivity, and performance levels.
- Risks: Leaders will be tempted to add more than what’s necessary in the report, resulting in information that is not essential to the goal. This could distract members of the sales team, who will assume the information is included because it is important.
How do you ensure your reps will use the tech stack you create for them in the way it was intended? Easy; show your agents how it makes them more money.
Three, Treat Your Closers Like Gold
Sales is a high-attrition industry: estimates run as high as 27% according to the Harvard Business Review. So if you have 100 salespeople today, you may lose 27 within the year.
Preventing this churn requires understanding why sales reps leave. Based on our analysis, it typically boils down to these issues:
- They follow the dollar. A competitive advantage requires competitive compensation, which in the end pays for itself. A new hire who is not started at a competitive hourly wage will likely take the training, gain experience, and then go somewhere else. That’s expensive. Balance the investment by adjusting base and commission structures, realigning tasks with the best-suited talent, implementing claw backs, and enhancing pay schedules.
- They follow their values. In addition to wanting dollars, today’s workers are more inclined to make contributions: to themselves, their teams, and society. When training new hires, tell them what your company stands for: its history, place, and positioning within the industry, and your objectives. In this context, explain how their KPIs contribute to the business’s overall success.
- They follow personal growth. Good hires want to become better hires, so they tend to seek out a structure of coaching and one-to-one support. Present a clear and consistent strategy for employee growth that includes the pathways to progress, the specific milestones, and the timeframes for achieving them.
- They follow the leaders. If workers feel leaderless, they’ll feel abandoned. An organization should emphasize direct-line leadership and transparency in its strategy. Don’t phone this in. When team members believe that their leaders want to invest in them, their confidence strengthens, and loyalty takes root.
Good hires want to become better hires, so they tend to seek out a structure of coaching and one-to-one support.
Inside Sales is the Future, and the Future Looks Good
Gartner’s 2025 projection, that 80% of B2B sales will be digital, is supported by history. From 2017 to 2019, the industry saw an average 6% shift to inside sales from field sales. In 2021, that shift escalated to 33%.
The digital approach to selling is as second nature in the B2B world as eCommerce is to B2C.
This trajectory will not reverse. Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will continue to shape how we sell, and how our prospects and clients buy, and we’ll need to keep pace. The ability to interpret voice intonation in digital communications, for example, is advancing to visual interpretations.
But don’t forget that your team’s “face” still matters as much as their voice, even when it’s unseen. Build your strategy first, support it with reliable analytics, and reinforce the outcome with accountability. Invest in these steps, and your organization should look good.