By Timothy Sullivan, Director, Sales Performance International
Recently, I was invited to speak on the “Interviews with Inside Sales Gurus” podcast, hosted by Chris Orlob. On the show, we talked about how buyers have changed, and why that has created an impetus for sellers to become more collaborative with customers. As Keith Eades and I documented in our book, The Collaborative Sale, the ability of sellers to develop their own personal brand around their individual expertise, and to apply their expertise to create value in every interaction with buyers, have become paramount to sales success.
One question that Chris and I explored was: Does the need for collaborative selling apply equally to inside sellers as well as those who engage with buyers face-to-face?
Based on our experience with our clients, many of whom rely in whole or in part on an inside sales team, the answer is clearly yes – but how this expertise is manifested with buyers will likely differ depending on what types of interaction an inside seller has with buyers.
When clients ask us to help improve their inside sales results, our first question is: “What do you mean by inside sales?” There is no one, uniform definition of what every inside seller does. This can vary significantly from one company to another, depending on what they sell, how they sell it, and what kinds of buyers they are serving.
James Touchstone, SPI’s Director of Learning & Development solutions, developed a framework for helping clients define the different types of inside sales interactions with buyers. In general, we find that there are four types of inside sellers:
- TeleProspecting – focused mostly on identifying potential customers, who are then handed off to another sales channel for follow-up
- Inbound – fields incoming calls from interested buyers, tends to be transactional in nature - this may also include a customer service variation
- Short Solution Sale – can be both inbound and outbound calls, may hand larger or complex opportunities to another sales channel, but generally closes shorter-cycle business
- Inside Solution Sale – mostly outbound, this kind of inside seller does everything an outside seller does, except they do so over the phone or through web collaborative tools
Generally, we find that most “inside sales teams” have a mix or hybrid of the four different types, depending on how specialized they are on different solutions, or on how they interact with outside sales channels, if there are any.
As I mentioned to Chris during the interview, there are many ways that sellers can bring value to buyers. This is true for every type of “inside sales” person, too. Even tele-prospectors can bring value by how they engage with buyers to discern their needs or potential opportunities – the helpful and collaborative nature of their conversations can differentiate them from other inside sellers who are simply polling for potential interest.
In addition, we see that there really is no such thing as an exclusively outside seller any more. In virtually every instance, outside sales professionals conduct more of their selling efforts over the telephone than ever before. They research, prospect and reconnect with buyers increasingly with collaborative web tools and on the phone, as a complement to their face-to-face meetings. It is very rare to find a salesperson who is not also using inside selling methods as part of their repertoire in serving buyers and closing business. The distinctions between what it means to be an “inside seller” and an “outside seller” are becoming increasingly blurred. In a way, all sellers are inside sellers today, at least to some degree.
We’ve put together a helpful chart that describes the four types of inside sellers – click here to download a free copy.
Tim Sullivan is Director of Business Development with Sales Performance International. He is co-author of The Solution Selling Fieldbook, and more recently, The Collaborative Sale: Solution Selling in a Buyer-Driven World.