There’s been a lot of debate around whether digital acceleration, fueled by a pandemic, has led field sales to meet its (timely?) death.  

On a recent ‘The Rev View’ podcast episode, durhamlane’s Marketing Director Sean Ball sat down with Yasmin Wilkinson (Marketing Manager) and James Middleton (Business Development Manager) to discuss how businesses globally can better manage their field to inside sales transition. 

Buying in the Digital Era 

Digital acceleration in 2020 marked a change in the way field sales reps reach prospects. 

In the past, B2B sales people would meet with their prospective buyers to diagnose their challenges and needs, and prescribe an effective solution. Today, decision makers have a lot more choice in where, who and how they buy products or services. There is no longer a need or (in many cases) want for B2B buyers to engage with sales agents face-to-face.  

With endless digital platforms (literally) at their fingertips, buyers can complete the majority, if not all, of their research online. The internet provides access to a wealth of content that educates buyers on their problems and enables them to evaluate the solutions. But this has made us impatient; we want relevant information and we want it yesterday! 

Yasmin: “67% of the buying journey is done digitally.” 

Technology has transformed the way buyers make their B2B purchase decisions. 

When they are ready to buy, they can interact with sales reps over the phone and online, through conversational marketing tools like Drift and remote communication platforms such as Zoom or Teams – without the need to travel to ‘do business’ in person. 

Buyers will often look favourably upon a vendor that can assist them with the least effort required like via email, or in real time via online chat. Furthermore, the pandemic forced worldwide adoption of remote working and people are now comfortable with communicating online. In fact, it’s been dubbed ‘the new normal’ for some time. 

Transitioning from Field Sales to Inside Sales

As we move to an increasingly remote and digital-first world, businesses which relied on field sales are having to shift to online capabilities. 

In its simplest form, inside sales is the process of selling from ‘inside’ an office (whether that be corporate or home) via phone and online. Inside sales functions are often responsible for the full sales cycle, from initial prospecting to deal close. 

James: “The last 12-18 months has been a catalyst for change.” 

Sales is a challenge for every business, since revenue is the lifeblood that businesses need to survive and thrive. With 67% of the buying journey being digital (Forrester Research, 2018), inside sales reps are able to engage with buyers later in their journey or when they are demonstrating active buying signals.  

Not only is the digital environment more effective for engaging in-market customers, but it also manifests a more cost-effective inside sales strategy in comparison to traditional field-based sales. 

James: “How much does petrol influence your spend cap?”

Total miles travelled (by field sales teams) per annum x cost of fuel = X amount of £££’s added to spend cap per annum + environmental damages 

Building an Inside Sales Model

There are 6 key steps to building a successful inside sales function: 

inside sales model

1) Align sales and marketing 

There’s no doubt that an aligned sales & marketing strategy is in the best interests of your inside sales team. And here’s why… 

With the majority of the buyer journey taking place digitally before engaging with a sales rep, your marketing efforts will have an incredible impact on the success of your sales team.  

Since both teams mark a direct footprint on your bottom line, they should be working towards achieving the same, revenue-centric goals. By combining strategies, you can: 

  • Better understand your prospects challenges and needs 
  • Optimise your customer buying journey 
  • Capture active demand to generate high-intent leads 
  • Improve your win rates and revenue 

2) Set revenue goals and sales KPIs 

The next step is to define your sales team’s revenue goals by setting key performance indicators (KPIs). Some of the most common revenue-focused KPIs to measure the performance of your inside sales team are: 

  • Volume of sales qualified leads (SQL) 
  • Inflow/outflow of sales qualified opportunities (SQO) 
  • Pipeline stage conversions (e.g. SQL to SQO to Closed-Won) 
  • Pipeline growth (annually, quarterly, monthly) 
  • Average deal size 
  • Average sales cycle 
  • Forecast accuracy 
  • Win rate 
  • Total revenue 

For a more holistic measurement upon which to report on, you can calculate your pipeline velocity. This measures the speed at which deals move through the sales process based on KPIs such as number of sales qualified leads (SQLs), average deal size, win rate and average sales cycle.  

It also puts more focus on the levers that can be pulled from a joint sales and marketing perspective. 

pipeline velocity infographic

You should also consider setting activity and outreach KPIs to identify opportunities to improve and optimise your sales team’s performance.  

3) Define sales lead metrics e.g. SAL, SQL, SQO 

When it comes to sales lead metrics, everyone in your organisation needs to be speaking the same language. Here are some of the most widely known acronyms and their definitions: 

  • Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) – A lead that marketing has determined is ready for sales. 
  • Sales Accepted Lead (SAL) – An MQL that has been accepted as good-fit by sales. 
  • Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) – An SAL that has confirmed an identifiable need for your offering. 
  • Sales Qualified Opportunity (SQO) – An SQL that has indicated readiness to buy, been issued with a quote or proposal, and is now involved in an open deal with your business.  
  • Closed-Won – The deal has closed and the prospect is now a customer. 

Both your sales and marketing teams should be aligned and in agreement as to when a lead is ready to hand over to your inside sales reps. 

James: “Creation of a seamless handshake between sales and marketing.” 

4) Optimise your hiring process 

Most people have the potential to become great sales reps (emphasis on most and potential). Here’s how to attract (and hire) the best sales talent for your organisation: 

  • Define the performance requirements for the role e.g. communication skills, problem-solving skills, experience using specific CRMs, platforms or channels like LinkedIn. 
  • Determine the level of training you are offer your new hires and promote the coaching, mentoring and development opportunities on offer. 
  • Offer transparency on salary expectations and be willing to pay more for sales people with a proven track record of success. 
  • Conduct phone interviews to get a feel of the person’s telephone manner, identify their skill strengths, and weaknesses that will need to be developed. 
  • Look for positive traits like enthusiasm to learn & develop, customer-oriented behaviour, resilience, patience and curiosity. 
  • Hire multiple new starters at the same time, where possible, to encourage peer interaction and learning.

5) Initiate training and development

Sales is a business art form, but with the right training and development in place, it can be taught.  

Having a framework in place like the Selling at a Higher Level methodology and toolkit will help your reps develop the skills and proactive sales mindset needed to perform effectively in complex B2B sales environments. 

6) Implement effective sales enablement 

Sales enablement describes the process of equipping your sales function with the tools and knowledge needed to effectively sell your products or services.  

You need scalable materials, be it in the form of content, technology, or training – whatever enables your salespeople to shape positive buying experiences for your customers. 

Maintaining BAU with a Hybrid Sales Model

Concerned that your pipeline will suffer whilst you move from field to inside sales? Many companies prefer to keep the wheels of their business turning with a hybrid in-house & outsourced sales model.  

At durhamlane, we’ve re-purposed the term ‘co-sourcing’ to describe this successful sales model in execution for around 30% of our client base. This setup allows you to build your own in-house inside sales team, whilst maintaining ‘business as usual’ with an outsourced sales team. 

Here’s how it works: 

co-sourcing infographic

In-house, outsourced or both, it’s important for every sales leader to ensure your short and long-term revenue goals can be met. 

Sean: “Outsourcing allows you to move quicker and make fewer mistakes.” 

Developing your inside sales capability is taxing on people and resources. It takes time to find the right talent to help build your internal function, which can also be expensive. 

When you need to generate sales faster, or more effectively, sales outsourcing is a powerful option. Engaging an inside sales service provider reduces your short-term risk, removes talent challenges and provides a faster time to market – providing ongoing business development support whilst building your internal team.

The Future of Field Sales 

Whilst there would likely be a resurrection of face-to-face field sales in a post-pandemic world, we predict this will feature much later in the sales cycle. 

After all, the majority of the sales cycle – from demand generation to customer prospecting to deal close – can now be completed remotely by your inside sales and business development reps. 

For an in-depth look at the rise of virtual sales, check out Episode #1 of The Rev View Podcast. 

Let’s talk

We’re always open to hearing from ambitious organisations that are looking to scale but are unsure how. Get in touch to see how we can help overcome your sales challenges.