The Best Guide to Inside Sales and Outside Sales

June 5, 2020 Tarmo Tamm

There are many jokes in popular culture that reference the amount of jargon that’s present within the world of sales and marketing.

Personally, we prefer to think of it as a sales-specific lexicon. It’s a language that has real meaning and applications within the world of hitting numbers and closing deals. Outside of our departments, it may seem like jargon, but to sales professionals, it’s a true language.

Still, the terms that we take for granted often call for an explanation if only to make sure everyone’s using them in the same way. It never hurts to have an agreed-upon definition for industry terms to verify that everyone dropping the word or phrase is using it to mean precisely the same thing.

The concepts of inside sales and outside sales are certainly two terms to which that applies. Do they seem easy to define? Probably. The core difference between inside and outside sales is remarkably simple: the first one keeps you inside your office and the second one takes you outside it.

That simple difference, however, belies a series of complex differences in the training, preparation, and competencies that are required in order to succeed in these two spheres of the sales. The manner in which a salesperson presents themselves and their products on the phone versus in-person varies greatly. So, too, do the type of people who seem to thrive in the two roles. Complicating matters are the changing faces of both the inside and outside sales landscape. While most of the sales professionals hired are brought on to fulfill outside sales roles, most of the industry’s hiring growth is taking place in the inside sales side of the business.

Over on the outside sales side, more and more aspects of the inside sales role are starting to seep in. As clients become less interested in face-to-face meetings, and much more used to being able to research potential purchases themselves without the involvement of a sales representative, the lines have become blurred. All of which makes it one of the most interesting times to enter into the sales industry. But there’s a lot to learn.

This guide looks at the practices of inside and outside sales, their current outlook, management requirements, and best-practices tips.

In this guide you’ll learn:

  • All About Inside Sales
    • What’s an Inside Sales Department Like?
    • How Inside Sales Has Been Changing
    • Inside-Sales Tips from the Experts
      • Sense the Buying Signals
      • Structure an Inside-Sales Call Like This…
      • Spend More Time Trying to Reach Prospects
  • All About Outside Sales
    • What’s an Outside Sales Department Like?
    • How Outside Sales Has Been Changing
    • Outside-Sales Tips from the Experts
      • Quote Quickly!
      • Get That Inbox Under Control
      • Investigate the Newest Field Sales Tools

All About Inside Sales

What’s an Inside Sales Department Like?

Josiane Feigon is president and founder of TeleSmart Communications, a company that helps to develop and train inside sales teams and inside sales managers for companies including CISCO, AutoDesk, Citrix, and Adobe, among others. She is also the author of ”Smart Sales Manager: The Ultimate Playbook for Building” and “Running a High-Performance Inside Sales Team.” Here’s how Feigon describes the job of an inside sales manager.

“You manage a unique, complex system of CRM, tools, processes, talent, and technology that powers the organization. Your job is to make sure that your people are running on all cylinders and at maximum capacity—charging forward, making tons of calls every day, and closing all the deals in their pipeline.”

It sounds like an engaging and exciting role, doesn’t it? Sure thing! But it’s also a challenging one. Most people who find themselves in an inside sales manager position, according to Feigon, were promoted based on being a high-performing individual contributor. They’re likely to have little to no management training and yet they have been thrown into managing a young and impatient team.

And what’s the content of their work? Feigon says they probably find, on a day-to-day basis, that 25 percent of the deals that they’re in charge of fail to close because the potential customer couldn’t make a decision and only 40 percent of their sales team is making quota. Meanwhile, Feignon shares that this inexperienced manager is probably barraged with complaints from their team members about how hard it is to do their jobs. Their prospects won’t pick up the phone, customers are constantly canceling appointments left and right, and their emails to prospects are going unreturned.

How Inside Sales Has Been Changing

Why are these talented salespeople being moved into management so quickly? Feigon says it’s because of the rapid growth of the inside sales sector. That growth meant that more managers were needed so the pool gets filled with top sales performers. She also notes that social selling, digital communications and visual content have taken the place of simple cold calling, which has turned an inside sales operation into a far more complex operation than it was in the past.
The customers have also changed. In addition to the changes that lead to the complaints described earlier, Feignon says inside sales prospects now want to self-educate, buy on their own sales cycle and not be rushed into a different timetable by a salesperson.

With companies now relying on the inside sales portion of their organization to drive up to 50 percent of their revenue goals, Feigon says that inside sales managers have to change their thinking in order to hit those numbers. It’s time to stop looking in the rearview mirror, she says, embrace the new normal, and learn how to transform inside sales slackers into inside sales superheroes.

“You have to step up your game because the playing field has changed. The sales world is now digital and connected and the old rules no longer apply.”

Why Business is Booming in Inside Sales

According to a recent study by the Telfer School of Management, the demand for inside sales professionals and managers has been driven by the increasing importance of inbound leads, the corresponding need for a higher volume of lead qualifications and conversions, and cost factors. The boom has even inspired a new technology category, the study says, called sales engagement.

Despite the fact that this category of sales is experiencing incredible growth, Telfer found that studies of the factors that impact inside-sales lead conversion are hard to come by. So Telfer took on the challenge, looking at how data-driven analytics can be used to sort out how a number of factors work together to speed up or slow down the conversion process. The goal was to be able to hand sales managers some actionable tips that they could put into practice with their teams that would help them to improve their outcomes.

To do this, the study examined 130,000,000 interactions with 45,000,000 individual contacts (including 4,000,000 Web-based leads) and analyzed the impact a number of items had on whether or not a sale was made. The factors analyzed included: speed of following up on a lead and number of contact attempts.

Telfer says their findings confirmed some widely held beliefs and overturned some others. Where time-to-follow-up was concerned, the results were not surprising. The warm leads that resulted in the best outcomes were those that were followed up on within one hour. Conversion rates drop considerably after 24 hours. Interestingly, there was such a thing as a too-fast response. Tefler found that the best response time was between 10 and 60 minutes after receiving the lead.

Another interesting piece of information that Tefler shares is that the number of contact attempts needed to accomplish a sale is increasing each year. It now stands at six calls, though the exact number varies by industry.

Expert Inside Sales Tips

1) Sense the Buying Signals

Vanilla Soft is a company that develops sales engagement software, and they also offer clients time-tested sales advice. In discussing methods for improving closing rates for inside sales teams, one tip that Vanilla Soft shares is that salespeople should learn to recognize, and react to, the buying signals that indicate it’s time to close the deal. The signals that they note are proof that the prospect is ready to be moved into the closing portion of the conversation include: asking detailed questions about the product, talking about the product as if they already own it, including another person in the meeting for feedback, investing a lot of time looking at your product, and saying yes to the sales rep often with enthusiasm.

The global sales coaches at Sandler Training offer up an additional method for assessing if it’s time to close an inside sales client. They share twelve questions that a salesperson should ask themselves to determine if they have “earned” the right to move forward with the client.

Those twelve questions include:

  1. Do I thoroughly understand this prospect’s problem?
  2. Does the prospect understand the consequences of not fixing this problem?
  3. Did the prospect get the sense that I understood their business?
  4. Does the prospect see me as an expert in my field?
  5. Is the prospect totally comfortable with me?
  6. Does the prospect have confidence in me?
  7. Does the prospect really need what I sell?
  8. Does the prospect understand the ways my product or service will help them?
  9. Can the prospect afford what I sell?
  10. Do I understand how the prospect will make a decision?
  11. Does the prospect know enough to make a buying decision?
  12. Is the prospect willing and able to invest in my product or service?

2) Structure an Inside Sales Call Like This…

Ken Krogue is the president of sales software company He suggests that one of the keys to inside-sales success is leading with your best foot. To do so, sales reps should plan and deliver a superb opening statement. Krogue says that a strong opening statement makes all the difference on a phone call. Next, he recommends a set of steps that the call should progress through. Here are the elements that Krogue coaches sales reps to include in their opening:

1. The Opening
a. This is the time to use that great initial statement that Krogue spoke of above. The sales rep should introduce themselves, the company that they work for and the reason for the call.
2. The Trust Ladder
a. In this step, Krogue suggests that the caller attempt to build trust by finding a commonality. This could be an issue or pain point that both struggle with or perhaps a common experience in their background.
3. Positioning
a. Next, the sales rep should share with the prospect what sets the company that they work for apart from other similar organizations in the marketplace.
4. Cool Feature and Key Benefit
a. Krogue then suggests that the caller move into what the product they’re calling about can actually do for the person on the other end of the line.
5. Proof Story
a. If the conversation has moved this far along, this is the time to offer some proof. The inside sales representative should share the names of current clients and what the product has changed in their companies.
6. C2C
a. Finally, Krogue suggests that the caller ask the prospect to commit to continuing–or C2C. They can do this by asking the prospect if they have time then, or at a specific future time, to demo the product being offered.

3) Spend More Time Planning How to Reach People

Startup guru Steli Efti thinks that many companies are spending time on the wrong parts of the inside sales puzzle. The fundamental way that people get outbound calling wrong, Efti says, is that they don’t think about it as a product. When Efti picks up the phone, he thinks about the person whom he is calling as a user and considers what that user’s experience is from the time that they pick up the phone to the time that they hang up.

According to Efti, most companies just buy a list and say “let’s smile and dial” and simply push ahead with trying to hit their goals. And they hit a lot of obstacles as they do. Instead, Efti recommends that businesses plan an inside-sales calling campaign by first thinking about reaching people. How can you make sure that you reach enough people at the right time?

That’s a big change, according to Efti, because that’s the step that most companies will spend the least amount of time on. That’s why their campaigns are doomed to fail. Organizations need to consider, Efti says, if they are even marketing to people who pick up their phones when an unknown number calls. CTOs of Fortune 500 companies don’t answer calls from unknown numbers. Doctors may very well do so. If the leads that the organization is seeking to reach do indeed pick up the phone when an unknown call comes in, then a calling campaign may be the proper way to reach them. The second thing to discover is when the optimal time to place those calls will be.

All About Outside Sales

What’s an Outside Sales Department Like?

Ken Sundheim of KAS Staffing Placement defines outside sales as a sales role in which the sales representative regularly meets in person with their prospective customers. In most industries, Sundheim says, outside sales positions involve engaging with potential clients without direct oversight from a more senior member of the company. Most outside sales jobs also are remote roles, where the employee works from home when not visiting client locations.

Sundheim notes some additional aspects of the workplace that exist in most outside sales jobs:

  • There can be high turnover in outside sales roles because when organizations have to downsize they often start with those representatives that company leaders don’t see every day.
  • The required travel will vary depending on the scope of a salesperson’s region, but most costs of that travel can be expected to be covered by their employer. Often there will be additional expenses that are related to travel, however, that are not reimbursable.
  • Outside sales representatives get varied and deep experience conducting in-person meetings with potential clients.

According to the team at the time-tracking software company Hubstaff, an outside sales team functions best when it is made of employees with a good deal of drive and determination, and who do not give up easily. Additional characteristics to look for in outside sales staff include listening skills and a high degree of comfort in dealing with people face to face. Sales reps are also more likely to succeed if they have learned how to take constructive criticism.
Well-run outside sales departments, according to Hubstaff, have an organized and structured training timeline that prepares new representatives for the field. Some also create a mentoring program, pairing an experienced staff member with new hires. The mentors answer questions, and may also allow their mentees to shadow them on sales calls.

Once sales representatives are up and running, their outside sales manager will typically set them up with a series of key performance indicators by which they will be evaluated. Examples of these KPIs are:

  • Lead response time
  • Sales cycle length
  • Closing ratio

Next, managers will generally create a plan for regularly scheduled one-on-one calls with the employee, to check in on how they are progressing with respect to their KPIs and to discuss any other issues that have come up. Managers may also walk through the details of a company’s performance incentive structure if there is one. And they’ll get them set up with whatever technological tools the organization makes available to their sales team. Those tools may include a customer relationship management platform and a team communication solution.

Once the sales representative is up to speed, it’s time to get down to the business of fulfilling the duties of their job description. And just what is that job description? Jobs website Career Igniter shares that the primary responsibility of an outside sales rep is to call and meet with both prospective and existing clients to sell them on the products and services of the company that they work for. At some organizations that will mean reaching out to individual consumers. At other businesses, it will mean working with institutions like schools and hospitals.

A large part of the outside sales role includes walking clients through demos of products and services, which requires a solid understanding of what it is that the organization has for sale. It also calls for the salesperson to be comfortable with the particular presentation software that will be used, and with presenting in general. They will also need to be ready to answer questions from prospective customers about the applications of the solutions that they are selling and how they might be best used by the prospect.

Outside sales representatives also need to be trained in drafting sales agreements, and in transmitting information about warranties, service level agreements, returns, and exchanges.

How Outside Sales Has Been Changing

A study undertaken by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals took a look at the current state of sales in the United States. They found that the profession as a whole continues to be dominated by outside sales. Roughly 70 percent of the sales force in 2017 was engaged in face-to-face sales. Inside sales professionals made up about 29 percent of the workforce, but the study found that companies planned to up their percentage of inside sales professionals to over thirty percent the next year. The larger companies surveyed said they would be moving toward 40 percent of their sales team being located in the inside sales department.

The study found that about 60 percent of inside sales representatives were hitting the quota that their companies set for them. About 65 percent of outside sales representatives were doing the same.

Additional information was contained in the report that offered insights into the changing ways that companies are dividing the sales process between the inside and outside sales departments. Outside sales representatives were found to be spending almost half of their time selling remotely. This represents a more than 89 percent increase since 2013.

Part of the reason for this shift is clearly economic. A report from PointClear estimates that an outside sales call now costs a company about $308, while an inside sales call costs that same company about $50. The shift is also a response to what prospective clients are asking for According to the Sales Benchmark Index, about 70 percent of prospects are opposed to in-person meetings.

3 Outside Sales Tips from the Experts

1) Quote Quickly!

Callproof is a company that makes and markets customer relationship management software, and they offer this tip for sales professionals working in outside sales: move quickly! In particular, move on quotes quickly. Callproof explains that outside sales reps need to avoid telling prospective clients that they’ll get back to them soon, but instead set a specific time by which they will send their follow-up communication. Leads, according to Callproof, are like fish. The older they get, the more they start to stink. During the quoting phase in particular, moving fast and maximizing the number of client interactions that take place in the early phase of the relationship will serve to fast-track the relationship building.

Outside sales reps would do well to remember, Callproof asserts, that the product they’re selling isn’t the center of their prospect’s world. They aren’t going to spend days sitting around thinking about it. And they’re not interested in spending weeks waiting for you to get them the details on how it can improve their business. So outside sales employees need to create efficient processes that set them up to be able to move their prospects through the quote process. One way to do that, according to Callproof, is to follow a specific structure after each sales meeting. For instance, leave the meeting and immediately mail a thank-you note, then email over a proposal that day and call to make sure that the prospect has received it.

2) Get That Inbox Under Control

Spotio is a sales automation company, and their advice to outside sales representatives is to learn to manage their email inboxes. They suggest scheduling time each day on a calendar app that creates an appointment for reading and replying to email messages. During that time, Spotio recommends eliminating all distractions during the time blocks that are set aside for email management. They also suggest creating an autoreply email message that will be sent out when a new message is received and set expectations about when a reply to the incoming message will be sent. For instance, a reply might detail the fact that the sales rep checks and responds to messages twice daily at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., and let the sender know that they should expect a reply at the next one of those time periods. Spotio suggests also including in the message a phone number at which the sales representative can be reached in the event a matter is too pressing to wait until the next time that email is checked.

The final step for sales representatives to get their email under control is to take action against unwanted messages. They should unsubscribe from all of those bulk mailings that they don’t need to be receiving.

3) Investigate the Newest Field Sales Tools

It’s time for outside sales representatives to recognize how far they’ve come since the days of door-to-door salesmen, according to software company Espacial. There are many technological tools that can help sales representatives from wasting time and money simply because they failed to plan efficiently. Mapping tools are one of the solutions that can make outside sales employees more successful. Beyond that, sales representatives should look into what other tech upgrades they can make to their mobile set-up. A small investment in a device, software and some training can have outside sales reps presenting and demoing products seamlessly and elegantly while in the field.

4) Manage Up

The inbound marketing experts at Hubspot recommend that outside sales representatives get proactive in order to make sure that they get the help that they need from their sales manager. For employees who are new to the workforce as well as those who are simply new to outside sales, it may take some getting used to that manager and workers are rarely in the same location. To make that adjustment easier, salespeople can get time on the books with their managers for coaching. While good outside sales managers will always make time to review prospect status and other transactional details with their direct reports, they may not create the space for regular coaching. So sales reps may need to create that space themselves.

5) Make the Right Impression

Hubspot also cautions outside salespeople not to neglect their appearance. In the world of outside sales, the kind of impression that a sales employee makes on a client has lasting effects. Physical appearance is one portion of what salespeople need to look out for. That includes being neatly and appropriately dressed and groomed. But it also includes making sure that sales reps are showing up on time for all appointments. Plus, field salespeople should take care to be polite and engaging with everyone they interact with at client sites. Hubspot reminds reps that decision-makers aren’t’ the only ones who deserve their respect and attention. Everyone at client sites should be treated well.

Tarmo Tamm

Tarmo has sold at least 12 different products and services and worked as a Sales Manager on at least 14 projects. The efficient practices described in this book have been successfully implemented for B2B and B2C. These principles have been tested over the phone, in conference rooms, implemented in retail business, at shopping malls as well as in door-to-door sales.