Britton Manasco is a principal with Manasco Marketing Partners. His new firm, which specializes in strategic positioning and provocative sales messaging, is called Visible Impact. You can reach him at Britton@ManascoMarketing.com.
When I attend conferences, I usually come with a few questions in mind that I hope to get answered. But, when I attended the recent Leadership Summit put on by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP), I was reminded that sometimes questions can just lead to more questions.
Having recently authored a piece for SandHill.com called Mastering the Virtual Sale, I discovered that the inside sales profession is growing at a rapid clip—far exceeding growth in field sales. So I attended this event expecting to find out more about how and when resources would be flowing to inside sales teams. After all, these teams often offer a superior return on investment (relative to field sales), particularly as communication technology enables us to engage buyers in ever more rich and productive ways.
But now I have this feeling the profession still has some pretty high barriers to surmount.
In fact, here are three questions that arose for me as I spoke with conferees and attended some fascinating sessions at the event in Dallas:
Are we putting a concrete ceiling over inside sales professionals? There were several large and recognized companies at the conference offering perspectives and experiences to help guide others in the profession. But what I learned is that they generally look to "graduate" their best inside sales people out of these roles and put them in field sales. Most seem to put hard and fast ceilings on deal sizes. In other words, when a deal reaches a certain size—say, $25,000 or $125,000—it will be taken away from the inside person and given to the field person. I wondered whether this made sense. While I respect the need for specialization in a sales force, I simply don't understand why the "inside guy" can't be given more freedom to quarterback big deals and get compensated appropriately. This strikes me as an issue of convention and territoriality over talent and profit maximization.
Are we measuring stuff that doesn't matter? I had one conversation that partially explained why inside sales professionals may struggle to do bigger deals—even if there are no fixed rules preventing them from doing them. The reason is that they are getting measured on call efficiency or other factors that may not be correlated with maximum performance. It's hard to work a large deal, after all, when some manager is breathing down your neck about the number of outbound calls you've made. You can't spend the time to study your prospects and engage them in truly relevant and compelling ways when you are pressured to just smile and dial. But how much smiling can you do when someone is pressuring you to just keep dialing? Indeed, it seems like the availability of predictive dialers (and other fast-call technologies) may be leading many inside sales organizations to place volume over value at a time when sales intelligence could be marshaled to engage in more powerful forms of communication. But it gets worse: Volume-driven sales behavior may actually prove deeply detrimental in terms of brand image and perception—leading to irritating interruptions at a time when the tools and resources available to us can support increasingly intelligent interactions.
Are we playing hunger games? One marketing and inside sales executive at a large and well known company told me about how her organization is frustrated by the scarcity of sales people (inside and outside) who are capable of closing closeable business. Her organization calls this phenomenon the "hunger line"—when there are "too many leads and the reps are not maximizing them, because it's too easy to just move on to the next one." It may be that existing reps are already meeting their quotas. They simply aren't hungry (even if those generating the leads are). So what's the answer to this problem? Seems like one answer might be to hire more inside reps and give them more authority, training and support—enabling them to release and act on all those bottlenecked leads. (It may be easier and less risky than hiring more field reps, who tend to be more expensive to hire and more difficult to govern.)
Anyway, these are some of the questions that have stuck with me in the weeks since that conference. I am beginning to think much more about sales force design and how smart approaches to this issue might pay off for enterprises in the coming years. I am also interested in the distinctions between inside sales as a role and virtual selling as a medium. While the conference tended to focus on the role or profession, there's a lot more to be learned about the transformative potential of virtual selling on the sales profession in general—whether you are inside, outside or somewhere in between.
As I said, questions just seem to lead to new questions at this point. Do you have any answers to share? It would be great to hear your perspective.