Inside vs Outside Sales: Definition and Strategy

March 17th, 2021

Inside and outside teams help a company achieve its sales targets in different ways. Each is suited to a different environment. Understanding the difference between the two is crucial to understanding how to get the most out of each. It is also critical to know the tools available to help those reps succeed. Overall, both inside and outside sales teams are an effective means to achieving your goals. 

What is Inside and Outside Sales?

The difference between inside and outsides sales largely boils down to location and method. Inside sales teams work at their offices, selling via remote means. This can be through email, phone, video conferencing, or any other form of online communication. Outside sales teams travel directly to prospective customers and clients. This type of team is also called field sales. They do their work in person.

These two sales methods are effective at achieving different goals. They also have key differences. When deciding which type of sales team to build out, you may find one more suitable than the other. A combination may be appropriate. 

For a more in-depth, visual overview of the definition of the two, consider watching the video below.

How Do I Run Inside and Outside Sales Teams Effectively?

Managing sales teams involves knowing when to use the right resources for the objective. This includes using inside and outside sales reps where they are best equipped to succeed. It also means giving them the right tools for the job. 

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Outside Sales

Outside sales are historically a more personal form of customer service. Between 70 and 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. Many of these unspoken cues are missing in remote communication forms. For many skilled salespeople, face-to-face interaction is vital. 

This form of sales is best for high-dollar prospects where the personal connection helps make the sale just as much as the product. Field reps will work on more flexible time, sometimes creating their own schedules. These types of sales cycles tend to be longer and involve more decision-makers. Complex negotiations, products, and services all lend themselves well to outside sales. 

Your outside sales team will tend to be more experienced. These individuals need very strong interpersonal skills. Sales tactics go beyond relaying product information and answering questions. These are the teams that will be talking with c-level executives and managers for large quantity sales or high-cost purchases. Outside sales teams will have to present themselves physically to the client or customer, as well as the product or service on offer. 

Outside sales teams are a costlier venture, generally. Transportation and lodging costs can add up fast. Even more than monetary value is the opportunity cost that comes with sending sales reps to customers in person. The best outside salesperson can still only be in one place at once. For deals with shorter cycles, this is a problem. If you have a geographically spread out customer base, this problem increases. More time will be spent traveling, and less time selling. 

Outside sales are excellent when the product or service is complicated or outside of the customer’s expertise. If your salesperson will have to explain the use, implementation, and benefit of the product, an outside rep is likely appropriate. 

Outside sales reps historically have a higher base salary than inside teams. Trade shows, industry events, and customer meetings are staples of the outside sales job. Using face-to-face meetings to close deals is a great way to take advantage of salespeople’s natural charisma. 

When Will Outside Teams Thrive?

In summary, outside reps are well-suited to sales where interpersonal relationships are a must. Higher dollar deals and slower sales cycles are the target. The salesperson targets a larger number of decision-makers or more senior management. For industry and circumstance where this is needed, outside teams will thrive.

The Benefits and Drawbacks of Inside Sales

When there are a lot of prospects and customers to be reached, inside sales teams are often the way to go. Some of the most obvious benefits of inside sales come from not having the time and monetary cost of business travel. An insides salesperson will spend more time selling and less time on the road or in airports. This means more leads generated, increased open opportunities, and fewer cots. In the right circumstance, this can mean more revenue. Now for the caveats.

Insides sales teams will do better with lower dollar jobs. The lack of in-person connections can limit their ability at some types of relationship building. Often a sale will be completed without trying for a personal connection at all. This can be referred to as a transactional sale and often works better when the product or service has a lower dollar value. 

Historically, this type of sales rep would rely heavily on phone calls. As mentioned, cold-calling and emailing have become less effective. This is especially true compared to more personalized forms of communications. Video conferencing and social media have added new tools to remote sales. These allow for more of the customization and interpersonal benefits that internal sales would have lacked a few decades ago.

Despite the lack of direct contact, inside sales reps still need strong communication skills. They will take advantage of phone and internet technologies to reach customers across the country or even the world. A successful salesperson will use the information they have to tailor their sales approach in a similar way an outside rep would. This may be more research-based, rather than personability-based.

These types of sales often have faster deal cycles. There are two major product areas where this will work well. The first is if the customer already knows the problem they are looking to solve. Tech and software buyers, as well as B2B transactions, fit this description. In these cases, the buyer already knows what they need. The seller’s duty is to explain why their service or product is the best fit. The second is direct product sales, like subscription and cold-call sales. These have become less common

As a rule-of-thumb, inside sales reps rarely will sell a problem and a solution. The buyer already has a desire, the goal is to help them see why their product is the best fit for the buyer’s business. Complicated products and services where the lead needs extensive explanation are less suited to this type of sales.

In the era of COVID-19, remote sales became the norm for many outside sales professionals. Many inside sales teams have found themselves doing the work of outside reps. Even those who would normally be part of field sales teams have found their work turned inside. Whether this goes back to “normal” is a far bigger question than this piece. You can check out our piece discussing the future of telecommuting here.

When Will Inside Sales Team Thrive?

Inside sales revolve around speed and efficiency. Reps will help match prospects with the right products for them, and answer their questions as they arise. Businesses have a  shorter sales cycle and a higher quantity of customer interactions. The right sales software tools and incentivization are crucial. 

The Evolution of Sales in the Tech Sector

The world of sales has changed dramatically in recent years. Social media, social selling, and background research have become more and more important. In a B2B environment, the average buyer consults 6.9 sources before purchasing. This is without even mentioning the impacts of COVID-19 on sales.

 As these impacts change the environment, so too must your sales strategy. For sales teams driven to work from home by the pandemic, or who were already there, there are tons of resources available. Consider checking out this productivity toolkit, designed to help get the most out of remote workers. 

In the B2B tech sector, TrustRadius conducts industry research on the evolving state of B2B buying and selling each year. Our 2021 B2B Buying Disconnect report outlines the way buying software is changing. 60% of the buyers are now millennials. 

Old strategies that once worked are becoming increasingly ineffective. 93% of buyers are unlikely to respond to cold calls, 95% won’t respond to non-personalized messages. Even solutions that were supposed to be “modern”, like chatbots, are struggling to attract leads. Tech marketers see chatbots as a method of success, yet 90% of our buyers say they are unlikely to respond to these tactics. 

Crucially, 87% of buyers want self-service options. This includes free trials, demos, and online purchasing. Make sure you’re building a sales team that’s ready to meet the buyers of today, rather than yesterday’s leads

Getting the Most Out of Your Sales Team

Whether it is inside or outside, the crux of sales is customer relations and human interaction. Ilan Kasan, co-founder and CEO at Exceed.ai says:

“Whether you’re talking about inside or outside sales reps, the inherent personalized nature of the human-to-human interaction is the crux of the matter. Doesn’t matter if the conversation is over the phone, Zoom, or face to face, because without noticing it, we ‘personalize’ our word choice, tone of voice and even body language based on the responses we get from the other side. And that’s exactly what is missing from the nurturing, qualifying and converting of leads – the CRM is devoid of human touch. Finally, we now have the technology to inject a human-like flair into pre-sales-call engagement with leads. I believe that AI’s ability to mimic human behavior is a game changer for the pre-sale processes of lead nurture and qualification.”

Ilan Kasan │Co-Founder and CEO │Exceed.ai

No matter the industry, the goal of a sales reps is ultimately to win more deals, meet their quotas, and drive more revenue for the business. Here are some methods and tools you can use to support reps. 

There are tons of guides that exist on how to help your sales team perform better. Here are some tips for managers on how to structure and motivate sales teams.

Overall, the most important thing to remember is to use the right tools and people for the job. Incentivize and reward high performing reps. Take advantage of non-traditional sales channels, and be fluid. Sales environments are constantly changing and iterating, and managers must be as well. Using salespeople in the right role is vital, as are the tools you give them. Thankfully, these tools are where TrustRadius shines. 

Software for Any Sales Team

Here are some must-have sales tools that will improve your team’s productivity. Time tracking software is vital for helping outside sales teams keep track of their hours. Look for those with invoicing capabilities and expense reports. If you are on a tight budget, check out this piece on free time tracking software

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems are a salesperson’s bread and butter. This software helps track and store contact information. CRM also handles active leads and sales opportunities. Smaller businesses can get an in-depth comparison of the 4 best CRM for them here.

Email marketing and sales email tracking tools are great ways to automate sales email outreach.

For further assistance turning prospective clients into customers, sales engagement platforms exist. This software is focused specifically on helping sales leaders and reps improve every part of the sales cycle. The end goal is to nurture leads and increase earnings. Proactive outreach programs can help sales managers unlock the potential of their employees.

For managers looking to boost sales, sales incentive compensation management software exists. This will allow you to create a system of commission and rewards. Inside and outside sales teams will equally appreciate this. 

Finally, it is worth exploring the broader categories of sales enablement and sales acceleration. Sales acceleration software aims to help make sales cycles shorter and streamline the overall sales process. This is done by automating repetitive and administrative tasks. Sales engagement software aims to improve their selling strategy and for the job

Tips to Share With Team Members 

No matter the type of sales team, the sales process has many similarities. Good salespeople require confidence and skill that not everyone has. Consider looking into the science of persuasion to help you or your team be better at what they do.