Inside vs. Outside Sales: Redefining the Sales Structure

In 2020, 52.8% of sales reps that operated as outside sales reps went from working in the Delta lounge to working in their home offices. Sales teams navigated unexpected changes to their processes and motions and are still learning how to adapt today.

As organizations solidify their plans for the new buying landscape, sales leaders are adapting to the new normal. Many of the changes that happened in the past year are likely here to stay, and that has huge implications for sales teams that have had to go back to the drawing board on their sales organization and sales motions.

Since the landscape has changed dramatically in the past year, here’s what changed about the traditional inside sales vs. outside sales conversation and how sales are building new, digitally enabled teams, no matter where they set up their workspace.

The Death of the Conference Room Meeting

Some constructs of field selling are canonical, like conference room meetings and stakeholder meetings. Field reps work to get stakeholders into one room, where the decision-making happens between the champion, boss, and the approver. Before COVID-19, the conference meeting was earned once or twice over a 6-9 months sales cycle, but post-COVID, it’s earned zero times because conference rooms aren’t an option.  

Field reps need the same level of visibility they’d have in a conference room without insisting that it looks just like it used to. And, truthfully, buyers never really liked the conference room meeting anyway. The challenge for field reps is to create and deploy a process that is buyer-friendly but still gets things done.

Creating a digital conference room goes beyond Zoom calls. Sales reps need to create systems that allow them to get the visibility they would have if they were in the room. They can identify who is not in the room but should be, and create action plans and next steps for stakeholders.

Digital field reps will develop an ability to manage mutual action plans or “close plans” in a digital way. All of the same steps that happened in the field through emailed spreadsheets and word documents need to take place digitally in real-time: information security review, legal review, design review, sign-off from finance on ROI, etc.

Embracing Change and Changing Biases

When it comes to adapting sales teams to the new normal, bias from experience will be sales leaders’ worst enemy. The book many seasoned reps swore by has now been thrown out. The true risk for sales leaders is believing they have it all figured out. For teams to succeed today, they’ll have to forget their biases and embrace change.

For field reps who have become digital field reps, adapting to digital tools and engaging with the customer using those tools will be critical. Buyers are digitally native and frequent, asynchronous communications are the norm. Sales leaders who can step up to that challenge and play in a digital environment will be more productive than ever before. Investment in tools that allow sales reps to see their territories at a high level as well as engage in authentic, personal, and natural conversations with buyers will be key to making this happen.

Inside sales leaders will need to stretch their teams as well. As many teams are asked to do more with less, inside sales reps will need to work larger deals and step into a multi-stakeholder process. As they expand into enterprise-level deals, they’ll learn to manage longer sales cycles and stretch into selling more products and more complex products and services from the inside.

Sales leaders for any team, no matter how it is configured, must loosen up on definitions of standard operating procedure.

Strategic vs. Transactional Selling

The definitions between inside and outside selling have converged. However, there is still a relevant distinction related to the characteristics of the sales cycle. Many sales leaders continue to think about sales teams as inside vs. outside when the conversation has shifted to strategic (enterprise) vs. transactional selling.

This shift in terminology matters because even though field reps have been working from home, they didn’t become inside sellers. They continue to use their unique and valuable skillsets to work digitally.

A successful outside sales rep today embraces technology and uses the right tools. They have seen and embraced the shift in buying behavior and are using it to their advantage. For teams that can leverage their experience and expand their range of tools, they will be prepared to meet the challenges ahead.

As sales leaders consider their modern sales teams, it’s important to let go of the idea that the selling landscape will return to normal. The challenges that many teams face will not be solved the same way as before. Sales reps should pick up new, digital tools and processes that enable them to engage with customers and their territories in new, creative ways. And, as the rules of engagement continue to change, the sales leaders who can adapt first will be the ones who win. 

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