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Comparing Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales: Which Process Should You Use?

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When determining the best sales model for your business, conducting a thorough inside sales vs. outside sales comparison may be helpful.

In your grandparents’ day, the word “salesman” usually invoked images of men showing up at people’s doors with a range of products hidden in their briefcases or under their abnormally large coats.

This sort of door-to-door salesman is in stark contrast to more recent depictions of salespeople, like the characters in The Office. These salespeople mostly stay in their office, making sales to customers remotely via phone or email (when they’re not pulling pranks, at least).

As it happens, both of those types of salespeople represent a real-world sales strategy—inside and outside sales, to be more specific. But what are inside sales vs. outside sales? Keep reading to find out.

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What is inside sales vs. outside sales?

Inside sales happen remotely, where communication occurs via digital channels, while outside sales occur in person. 

But let’s dig a little deeper by defining each of our key terms and explaining what they might look like for a company.

Inside sales

Inside sales refers to a sales process that takes place remotely, without face-to-face contact. Inside salespeople make sales while working from home or in an office, and they communicate with prospects and customers by talking to them virtually.

As you might imagine, inside sales relies on many different tools. Phone calls are one of the oldest and most common methods of making inside sales, but video calls are growing more prominent. Many inside sales reps also frequently use digital mediums like email.

Inside sales often overlap heavily with marketing as companies aim to move prospects through the pipeline and toward conversion. 

Related: 6 things salespeople should know about inbound marketing

Outside sales

Outside sales, as the name suggests, refers to sales processes that take place face-to-face. While few companies still use door-to-door salespeople, outside sales still rely heavily on traveling and meeting up with prospects in person.

Business-to-business (B2B) outside salespeople will often travel directly to their potential clients’ offices to meet with them. However, outside salespeople also frequent conferences, conventions, and other industry events to find prospects.

The use of outside sales is older than inside sales, but the power of in-person communication keeps it relevant, so many companies still rely on it.

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Benefits of outside sales vs. inside sales

Now that we’ve covered what outside and inside sales are, let’s look at how each one can benefit your business.

Inside sales

One of the most significant benefits of inside sales is convenience. Inside sales enable you to stay in your office, saving you the hassle of traveling. Similarly, since you don’t have to spend hours traveling from place to place, you have more time to make sales.

Another way inside sales benefits you is through your budget. Travel is expensive, particularly when you have to shell out money for it regularly. But those expenses are nonexistent when you make all your sales from your office. That frees you up to invest that money in other parts of your business.

Related: How to transition from outside sales to inside sales

Outside sales

The most significant benefit of outside sales is how personal they are. Emailing someone or even calling them on the phone lacks a certain element of closeness and familiarity—understandably, since the person you’re talking to is often miles away.

But with outside sales, you have the benefit of speaking to them face-to-face. In-person interactions encourage trust and friendliness on the part of the customer, ultimately making them more likely to buy from you.

Another benefit of that personalization is that it gives you a chance to show off any physical products you might sell. If you sell a physical item that performs a particular function, it’s much easier to demonstrate that function in person than remotely.

Typical inside and outside sales models

Although the result is the same for the customer and company, the sales processes for outside and inside sales team members are somewhat different. The following is what you can expect to find when exploring inside and outside sales models:

The outside sales approach

Once the sales rep makes first contact with the customer, usually by phone, you can expect the following:

  • The rep will meet with the customer in person.
  • They will work towards nurturing those leads, primarily through meetings.
  • The sales process will usually take much longer.
  • This approach typically costs more and is more challenging to duplicate when the business expands.

The inside sales method

 An inside sales rep might make first contact with a prospect or lead through email. After that, the process generally includes these elements:

  • The salesperson will reach out to the lead through email or set up a call or virtual meeting.
  • They may employ more automated messaging and marketing tools that help nurture leads through the pipeline while focusing on gathering more leads.
  • An inside sales cycle often involves closing deals faster than an outside sales model.
  • Inside sales are more cost-effective and allow for scalability when your business grows.

Vital tools for inside and outside sales

Whether you’re involved in outside sales or inside sales, a few crucial tools are needed to bolster your sales efforts. These include:

  • Contact management tools: A good CRM lets you organize customer information, communications, and other data in one easily accessible system.
  • Lead generation tools: Today’s CRMs comprise powerful lead generation tools, including intelligent web forms and information gathering from third-party sources to capture lead and prospect information.
  • Engagement tracking tools: With a great CRM by your side, you can track every customer interaction, from calls to emails and more, with the ability to view this engagement history with ease.
  • Collaborative tools: Your CRM helps you retrieve and share critical customer information with your marketing and customer service departments to elevate your customer’s overall experience.
  • Marketing tools: The ideal CRM comes with built-in email marketing tools, allowing you to nurture prospects, leads, and customers and develop stronger relationships through drip sequence emails or broadcast messages.

Nutshell provides a broad spectrum of tools to reinforce and streamline the sales process, including all of the above and more. Regardless of whether you use it for all sales activities or merely track deals and email communications through it, your CRM stands as an essential tool for more efficient sales and increased revenue.

Looking for an easy-to-use CRM with all the features you need to boost sales?

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Inside sales vs. outside sales: Which should you use?

Both inside and outside sales have the potential to drive up your company’s revenue, and both are very effective when done well. Therefore, it could be a good idea to try using some of both. However, it really depends on your situation.

If your company doesn’t have a very large travel budget, you’ll naturally want to stick mostly to inside sales. On the other hand, let’s say you have a decent travel budget and you also sell specialized physical products that sell better when people try them out themselves. In that case, outside sales could really help you.

When considering which type of sales to use, be sure to consider factors such as your budget and your industry. That said, bear in mind that the two types often work well when paired together.

Merging inside sales and outside sales

When talking about outside sales vs. inside sales, one point to be aware of is that in recent years, the two have started to grow less and less distinct.

The 2010s already saw an uptick in the use of digital communication for sales. But when COVID-19 arrived in 2020 and led to a massive increase in remote work, it changed the game even more. All at once, it became apparent that you can handle many face-to-face meetings just as effectively through video calls.

That realization has led to many companies transitioning outside sales work to remote environments, conducting formerly in-person meetings over Zoom or other video platforms. These meetings are still technically face-to-face, but they require none of the expenses or hassle of traveling.

Some sales prospectors in the COVID era have even experimented with cold video calls instead of traditional phone calls—but use that strategy at your own risk.

Transitioning from outside sales to inside sales

Among B2B companies, using inside sales reps has exploded in popularity. According to one Salesloft study, inside sales reps are hired more frequently than outside sales reps by a ratio of 10:1. It’s where the tide is turning due to higher productivity and the ability to reach more prospects.

What that means for field sales reps is that they’ll likely find themselves moving to inside sales at some point in their careers, resulting in a transition in their workplace environment and lifestyle. Transitioning from outside sales to inside sales is a major move—but it can be much less disruptive by following these practices:

1. Familiarize yourself with the technology you’ll be using

Sales reps use an average of six enablement tools, according to Sales for Life. That number is naturally higher for those in inside sales. This category includes CRMs, intelligent dialers, social media selling tools, messenger programs, web-conferencing programs, etc. Obviously, the number and type of tools will vary from company to company.

Also important to note: Even if you think you’re already familiar with the technology you’re using from your time as an outside sales rep, relearn it when you move to inside sales. This is because, in outside sales, you were most likely using a mobile version of the program or app. As an inside sales rep, you’ll probably use the desktop edition.

In many cases, the desktop version of a software tool is much more robust in its features and ability to do things because of the greater processing power. And even in instances where the features are exactly the same, the layout and arrangement of mobile-optimized formatting is going to be significantly different from their desktop counterparts. So there’s a learning curve for figuring out where to do something on the computer monitor versus the “wheres” and “hows” you’re familiar with on your phone or tablet.

Video conferencing tools are particularly important, given that many sales teams today utilize them as the primary means of making final presentations

Video conferencing tools are particularly important, given that many sales teams today utilize them as the primary means of making final presentations to save time and money on travel costs. Related technology includes screen-sharing for product demos.

Keep in mind: Not only will you need to learn this technology, but how to create a smooth-flowing online presentation/webinar/etc. around it. After all, being able to use video conferencing is one thing. Using it to deliver a succinct, polished product demonstration in a 30-minute window (as an example) is something else altogether.

For more on sales technology strategies, take a look at these related posts:

2. Learn to play well with others

While teamwork and collaboration are definitely crucial in all aspects of sales, the outside sales model affords some degree of autonomy and independence. That’s not the case with inside sales, where alignment between sales and marketing is critical for creating effective collateral and messaging. As a field sales rep, your personality and in-person presence did a lot of the work of creating impressions and credibility. With inside sales, the content you’re using becomes far more important, necessitating the fusion between sales and marketing.

Related to the theme of teamwork: the transition period of adjusting to having people constantly around you. In outside sales, you’re alone on the road a lot, and just like going from living by yourself to having roommates or moving in with a partner, there’s give and take in the sharing of space and communicating with people therein. You’ll also have to become acquainted with company culture much more intimately than you did as an outside sales rep, and part of that is dealing with the possible bugbear of office politics. The latter is a potential stressor, so it’s something to keep an eye on.

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3. Buy yourself a pair of noise-canceling headphones

Seriously, just do it. You’ll be glad you did. One of the most significant issues that sales reps face is difficulty hearing for either themselves or their clients on a call due to the noise and distractions from things like fans, cell phone notifications, or background conversations (magnified in a call center situation).

It cuts both ways—background noise can also prevent your customer from hearing or understanding what’s said, and some might consider a noisy environment a sign of an unprofessional (and hence not credible) company.

4. Become a better active listener

Somewhat related to the above point, listening will be more critical in inside sales than it was in outside sales (and it mattered then, too). Whereas outside sales has the advantage of other sensory inputs, such as body language and facial expressions, with inside sales, the voice is often the only input you’ll have (video conferencing aside).

To be able to get the reads and tells you had before, you’ll need to be aware of vocal fluctuations, such as volume changes, tone shifts, the nature of pauses, and so on.

5. Refresh your reading and writing

Remember those composition classes in college where you might have skated by on Cliff Notes and Wikipedia? Well, those pigeons have come home to roost with an inside sales job. Because so much of your communication is now text-based—whether email, chat, messaging, or most likely some combination thereof, you’ll need to make sure your grammar and syntax are on point. One of the quickest ways to destroy your chances of converting a client is to have typos, use the wrong tone, or be incoherent. We can’t tell you the number of times we’ve seen these issues come up—especially in LinkedIn messages.

Being skilled at textual analysis also opens a window into a client’s thought process about the sales process

Reading comprehension will also be vital. Sometimes, it’s figuring out the jigsaw puzzle of a prospect’s own writing issues, and sometimes, it’s needing to read between the lines to get what a customer is actually asking for or desiring. Being skilled at textual analysis also opens a window into a client’s thought process about the sales process and where they might be leaning.

Going from outside sales to inside sales involves a bigger leap than most sales reps might realize. But following these best practices can make swimming through the initially choppy waters swifter and safer.

Use Nutshell to revitalize your outside and inside sales efforts

Regardless of whether you rely more on outside or inside sales, you’re going to have to keep track of your customer data. It’s important to know who your leads are, what kinds of people to market to, and how successful you’ve been at driving sales.

To keep track of that information, you’ll want a customer relationship management (CRM) tool—and you won’t find a better one than Nutshell. Not only does Nutshell possess all the essential CRM features, such as sales automation, but it also comes with our top-tier customer service team to help you through any questions or concerns you have.

Want to try out Nutshell? You can start with a free 14-day trial!

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