How to transition from outside sales to inside sales

Inside sales refers to any form of selling that isn’t done face-to-face.

Unlike outside sales (or field sales) reps, inside sales reps connect with potential customers remotely through phone, email, and web conferencing. This is especially useful for companies that can deliver and support their products regardless of their customers’ geographical location.

Among B2B companies, the use of 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. Included in this category are CRMs, intelligent dialers, social media selling tools, messenger programs, web-conferencing programs, etc. Obviously how many and what exact tools are going to 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. The reason for 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 using 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 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. Being able to use 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:
How to Use MailChimp for B2B Sales
4 Ways to Use Slack to Motivate Your Sales Team
9 Simple Tips for Using Personalized Videos in Your Cold Emails

2. Learn to play well with others

While teamwork and collaboration are definitely important in all aspects of sales, the outside sales model affords some degree of autonomy and independence. Not so with inside sales, where alignment between sales and marketing is critical for the creation of 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 have 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-cancelling headphones

Seriously, just do it. You’ll be glad you did. One of the biggest issues inside 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 being 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 important 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’re going to need to make sure your grammar and syntax are on point. One of the quickest ways to destroy your chances at converting a client is to have typos, a wrong tone, or just generally be incoherent. We can’t tell you the number of times we’ve seen these issues come up—especially in LinkedIn messages.

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.

The process of going from outside sales to inside sales involves a bigger leap than most sales reps might realize. But swimming through the initially choppy waters can be more swift and sure by following these best practices.

About the Author: Nick Kane (Twitter: @janekpg) is a Managing Partner at Janek Performance Group. He has trained more than 15,000 sales professionals worldwide during the course of his career, and is passionate about helping sales professional improve their selling careers—and as a result, their lives as well. Nick has co-authored a book called Critical Selling: How Top Performers Accelerate the Sales Process and Close More Deals which was released by Wiley Publishing in October 2015.

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