Inside Sales: What It Is and Why You Need It

Will Schmidt

9 min

Inside this article:

What Is Inside Sales?

Inside Sales vs Outside Sales

How to Organize Your Inside Sales Team

3 Ways to Succeed with Inside Sales

Inside Sales Will Keep Growing

Only a few years ago, outside sales reps dominated companies with over $500 million in revenue. We mainly saw inside sales reps at companies bringing in less than $50 million each year.

Even at these companies though, inside reps only made up 47% of their entire sales staff—not the majority by a slim margin. For a long time inside sales has played second fiddle to outside sales, but that’s changing.  

The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact in 2020, forcing sales organizations to either figure out a successful remote sales plan or risk depleted pipeline and revenue. It was difficult at first, but two years of fine tuning and tinkering have smoothed out a lot of kinks. 

In fact, about 68% of sales leaders say they’ll maintain a hybrid or fully remote selling model moving forward. Further, 63% of sales leaders say that virtual meetings are just as effective, maybe even more effective, as in-person meetings.  

The icing on the cake was that, among sales leaders who moved to remote work in 2020, 64% met or exceeded their sales goals. In other words, a lot of sales leaders got real smart, real fast, about the value inside sales teams could bring their companies.  

Now, this doesn’t mean it's going to drown out the outside sales process. Most likely, it’ll just shift the balance so inside teams are the majority at companies moving forward. 

However, the most successful sales organizations are the ones who can quickly adapt and re-balance their resource allocation between inside and outside sales. Below, we’ll walk you through the finer points of this balancing act and discuss: 

  • The definition of inside sales
  • What differentiates inside sales and outside sales
  • Roles, responsibilities, and job descriptions for inside sales and outside sales
  • How to Organize Your Inside Sales Team

Let’s get after it.

What Is Inside Sales?

Some confuse inside sales with inbound sales, but they’re two different concepts entirely. Inbound sales is a methodology of tactics that focuses on closing warm leads that are funneled to your sales team through inbound marketing. 

Inbound sales does have a close relationship with inside sales, but inside sales refers more to the way in which things are sold as opposed to how they’re sold (process vs. tactics). These reps sell over the phone, in emails, or through other digital channels. 

We see inside sales happening most within B2B sales teams, with heavy usage in the SaaS and tech worlds. At its core, it's simply a way of handling sales remotely.

Inside Sales vs Outside Sales

Inside sales is when your reps sell online, over the phone, on email, or through digital channels. These activities can be made from a physical office, or even from a home-office. 

Honestly, inside reps can sell from almost anywhere. I knew an incredibly successful rep who over-delivered on his annual quota from the beaches of Costa Rica. Not too shabby, right? 

The counterpart to inside sales is outside sales. Outside sales involves reps meeting clients in person and can take a lot of travel, depending on where your clients are. 

Typically, outside sales reps broker face-to-face deals at trade shows, conferences, industry events, or a clients’ place of business. However, with the ramifications from the COVID-19 pandemic, outside sales reps have had to shift their strategy in favor of digital means over in-person ones. 

While outside sales reps are technically selling remotely from a home office, if you want to split hairs, that doesn’t mean they should be suddenly reclassified as inside sales reps. That’s because, even if they’re hosting video meetings, they’re still operating differently than an inside sales rep.   

At the end of the day, inside sales isn’t inherently better or worse than outside sales and vice versa. And, much like with inbound and outbound sales, your company needs to find a healthy balance between the two. 

To help, here’s a look at an inside sales job description versus an outside sales job description:

The Inside Sales Job Description

An inside sales rep must guide prospects through the entire sales process. They deliver the right product or service that helps the customer solve a problem or overcome a challenge. 

The responsibilities are to:

  • Have deep knowledge of a product or service
  • Handle customer inquiries and questions
  • Foster relationships with new prospects
  • Build trust and rapport
  • Nurture and convert leads
  • Hit monthly, quarterly, and annual sales quotas
  • Connect with prospects, leads, and clients using digital channels (phone or email) 
  • Maintain focus on acquiring leads

Inside sales reps tend to have more predictable schedules, which allows sales leaders to assign specific targets for quota and activities. For example, they may be asked to make 30 calls a day, book one demo per week, and generate $75,000 in pipeline each month. 

The deal cycle here tends to be less than 90 days, and inside sales jobs typically cost your company less to maintain and are easier to scale over time. 

The average annual salary for an inside sales job in the U.S. is $44,482. 

The Outside Sales Job Description

An outside sales rep spends the majority of their time “on the road” meeting with clients, connecting with prospects, and nurturing long term relationships. In fact, outside sales reps typically have 25% more calls and 50% more email activity than their inside sales counterparts. 

The responsibilities for an outside sales rep are to:

  • Travel to meet clients face-to-face, or as close to face-to-face as possible
  • Focus on nurturing leads and converting them
  • Identify potential customers and get in touch with them
  • Host product or service demos 
  • Maintain long term relationships with existing customers
  • Hit up all the industry trade shows to identify new leads
  • Discover new opportunities and channels for selling
  • Partner with marketing on targeting strategies for specific regions or demographics

This position is perfect for outgoing self-starters who like to work independently, manage their own schedules, and get any kind of face-to-face interaction they can. You’ll frequently see them at industry events, conferences, or even taking public speaking engagements.  

The deal cycle for outside sales is usually longer than 90 days, and outside sales jobs typically cost your company more money to maintain and are less scalable over time. 

The average annual salary for an outside sales job in the U.S. is $57,696.

How to Organize Your Inside Sales Team

When building out and organizing your team, you’ll need to focus on filling these roles: 

Most sales organizations will hire one SDR for every two or three AEs. The logic here is that an AE spends more time working a qualified lead than it takes for SDRs to qualify them. 

You don’t want your AEs bottlenecking the sales process—they’re supposed to bring home the bacon.  

The build of your specific team might be different than the 1:3 SDR to AE ration here. Take some time and evaluate what the right fit is to keep your sales engine healthy and moving.

3 Ways to Succeed with Inside Sales

If used properly, inside sales processes have the potential to reduce the overall cost of sales for your company by 40% to 90%. In order to help, we’ve put together a quick list of tactics that can help you succeed. 

1. Learn Your Audience

Since your inside sales reps are responsible for nurturing relationships and building rapport with prospects, it’s crucial that they understand every nuance of who these people are. You need to have clearly defined answers to questions like:

  • Who are you trying to sell to?
  • What are the biggest pain points or challenge you come across?
  • What is the primary object for your prospects?
  • Are there any people who will stonewall the final sale?

These questions can help reps decode the inner workings of a company, learn who the decision makers are, and tailor their outreach accordingly. And, once they understand the organization’s goals, they can come ready to rock with a pitch that shows how their product helps achieve those goals. 

2. Build an Effective Tech Stack

There’s no getting around it anymore: you have to invest in software for your inside sales team if you want to be the best and beat out your competitors. The key is to invest in the right software. 

For example, if you want to help your team expedite their outbound phone dialing, you can investigate getting a dialing software. But you don’t want to get an auto dialer or predictive dialer, because those can actually hurt more than they help. 

What you want is a power dialer, which helps maintain call speed without sacrificing a human element. Further, your can look into other tools like:

  • CRMs
  • Sales intelligence platforms
  • Prospecting tools
  • Team performance management software
  • Productivity solutions
  • Deal-closing tools

3. Work with Marketing, not Against Them

In many companies there is a wonky connection between marketing and sales. I’ve seen it before in my career, and I’m sure you have too. 

Marketing generates leads for the sales team, but they don’t convert. Sales says that the leads aren’t high quality enough. Marketing fires back and claims sales isn’t making the most of what they get. And on, and on, and on. 

It’s crucial that you foster a healthy relationship between your inside sales teams and the marketing department. The key here is implementing strong processes that ensure open communication between both entities. 

For example, instead of complaining about the leads generated, encourage your inside sales reps to sit down with marketing and educate them on who they need to attract. That, in turn, can actually help marketing be more targeted in their approach, bring in the best leads, and drive more revenue for the company. 

We’re all on the same team here.

Inside Sales Will Keep Growing

As the world continues to become more digital, inside sales will become more valuable for companies. Many sales leaders already realize that implementing a strong inside sales team will ensure they can meet prospects and savvy buyers on their digital turf. 

Like so many other elements of the sales environment, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for making inside sales work with your company. Use the basics outlined in this post to help build a foundation, try new models, test structures, and find the right fit.

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