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Historically, the definition of external sales was quite clear: it was a person who met all his or her customers outside the office. Since the pandemic, the line between inside and outside sales has become blurred.
Outside sales reps use virtual tools like Zoom and Teams to meet customers remotely. So people who used to do their work externally are now doing some of their work internally. In some cases, the person is expected to achieve the same level of sales, but doing their work in-house. For many salespeople, this is a big change. But in most cases, outside sales has become a hybrid model where the person does some of their work remotely.
Internal sales have changed less. People were already doing their work from the office, so saw their customers less often in person.
The biggest change is that some people now work from home instead of the office. The effects of this change are more technological. These people need to have access to software or a telephone line that enables them to work from home. But in reality, the way they work hasn’t changed.
Let’s take a closer look at these two types of sales.
Outside sales: the details
External sales are much more consistent than internal sales, as we’ll see later. Regardless of the company, we understand that outside sales require the sales rep to be out of the office to meet customers and close deals.
On the other hand, outside sales teams are becoming more hybrid in the way they work. The use of videoconferencing enables companies to expand their sales and recruitment territories. It is no longer necessary to be in a restricted geographical location to close sales. What’s more, it provides more non-verbal information than using the telephone alone.
That said, there may be some categorization in external sales. For example, there may be account managers responsible for accounts worth several hundred thousand dollars. These people will go out on the road to meet customers in their offices or factories. This hybrid model, where part of the sale is internal and part external, is becoming increasingly widespread.
Internal sales: the detail
Internal sales is a concept that varies from company to company. For example, internal sales can be :
- a department dedicated to taking orders
- customer service
- account management
Internal sales can also be a combination of these approaches.
For some companies, inside sales is considered normal sales, where reps are expected to meet a quota. However, these people are often assigned to smaller accounts.
So, in a system where accounts are categorized as A, B, C and D, inside sales will have C and D accounts, while outside sales will have A and B accounts.
Inside sales people who do account management sometimes have different expectations of the company:
- Some people are responsible for chasing new opportunities and closing deals.
- Some manage an existing customer base, but these are smaller accounts. We then combine the concept of hunters and farmers at sales level.
- The telemarketing department is also considered an inside sales department. In the Baseline Selling methodology, as advocated by PRIMA, their role is to make first-purpose appointments for external sales.
Inside sales are more often transactional and less costly. For this reason, companies prefer to assign higher-value sales to outside salespeople.
Beware of customer service sales
Some companies choose to combine the customer service role with the sales role. Such an approach requires sensitivity because, by definition, the customer service person generally doesn’t want the pressure that comes with the sales role.
To succeed with such a model, you need to attract the right profile of individual to the team. It’s important to consider the expectations and pressures of sales when defining the positioning of this role. Sales reps are expected to upsell, but sales quotas should be avoided.
It could be said that inside sales are more often transactional, whereas outside sales are more often consultative and require this skill.
Consultative skills and technology in external and internal sales
In one way or another, consultative selling skills are an asset for both internal and external salespeople. It makes them better at closing deals with customers.
Consultative selling remains an unassailable asset in sales… at least for the time being. In sales, as in many other fields, many believe that people will be replaced by technology. This is possible, but only up to a point.
Internal or external sales consultants will not be replaced by technology any time soon. The human factor is still too important in this type of selling.
The same cannot be said for transactional sales.
Thanks to technology, some companies can reduce the size of their order-taking teams. This may sound worrying, but the people replaced in this way don’t lose their jobs altogether. In general, they are moved into more consultative sales positions.
In many cases, this simplifies the composition of the sales team. Instead of having to create an inside sales team and an outside sales team, a company can give transactional sales tools to their outside salespeople. This eliminates the need for two separate sales teams.
For example, at PRIMA, we do consultative selling. When a potential customer needs an assessment, all they have to do is request one via a link to our transactional platform. It’s no longer necessary to have an in-house team to close the deal. The technology takes care of it, allowing the sales team to concentrate on the consultative side of their job.
Before the pandemic, there was a clear distinction between external and internal sales. Now, it’s not so clear-cut. Outside salespeople have integrated some of their work internally, while inside sales has not changed much.
However, faced with this new reality, companies need to determine the composition of their inside and outside sales teams. There’s no right or wrong way to organize these departments. It depends on the product sold, the type of customer, the maturity of the company and many other factors.
The creation of an internal or external sales department requires careful consideration of the company’s objectives and desires. There’s no magic formula: you need to define the sales process to be managed, the role and the skills required. Then it’s time to take action.