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The Advanced Guide to Inside Sales: Strategy, KPIs, and Tools for Success

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Sales Development

Inside sales jobs are growing at a staggering rate, and it’s not hard to see why.

Most companies offer uncapped commissions for their inside sales positions. Almost any lifestyle you can imagine for yourself is possible with an inside sales role.

Whether you’re paying off college debt, saving to pay for your child’s tuition, or simply trying to hit your own financial goals, here’s what you need to know to have a competitive edge when selling by phone.

The What and The Why

First, let’s look at what inside sales is.

Inside sales means you, the seller, are stationary. Your position does not require you to travel and meet prospects face-to-face to do business. Instead you do business over the phone or via the internet and video calls. Inside sales can also be referred to as “phone sales” or “tele-sales.”

Why inside sales?

Inside sales opportunities continue to rise quickly, with LinkedIn’s 2020 Emerging Jobs Report revealing that inside sales roles grew by 34% over the last year. The continued growth of technology services relies on inside sales representatives (ISRs) to find new customers and keeps this job on the hotlist.

Another benefit of choosing a career as an ISR is the education requirements, or lack thereof. The education requirements for ISR roles are low, if existent at all.

You won’t need to be riddled with college debt to get started as an ISR. If you are already carrying debt, with the right mind and skill set, you’ll be able to pay that off in record time.

The top benefits (in no particular order) for a career in inside sales vs outside sales is simple:

‣ Earning potential. With uncapped commissions, the better you are at your position, the more money you can make

‣ Low-entry barrier. Top outside sales jobs often require high degrees. For example, an outside sales job for Boston Scientific requires a BA (Bachelor of Arts) or BS (Bachelor of Science) just to be considered for an interview.

Most companies (start-ups to enterprise) are less restrictive when it comes to hiring for inside sales positions.

Home at night. No missed family dinners or long trips away from home. You get to be home on weekends to watch your kids’ sporting/acting/drama events.

What does an inside sales rep do?

The inside sales role can vary a lot from company to company, but most organizations have adopted the SDR (sales development rep) model as a starting point.

In this model, junior sales reps make initial calls and set appointments for more experienced sales reps (often account executives) or “closers” to finish the deal.

Contrary to popular belief, the SDR model is not “new.”

Case in point, in the 2006 movie The Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith portrays the life of Chris Gardner, a broke, homeless single father who takes an unpaid (straight commission) inside sales development job offer.

His job was to get prospects on the phone, pique interest, and then hand the phone over to an “experienced” sales rep (also known as an AE or Account Executive).

Even though the movie came out in 2006, the real-life events happened back in 1981! So this formula has been around almost since the start of tele-prospecting.

However, even though this method is common, it’s not universal. Some companies will require their inside sales reps to handle the entire process from start to finish. Meaning, the inside sales rep handles their prospecting, qualifying, presenting, and closing (the four principal aspects of selling).

Inside Sales Strategy

There are two main inside sales strategies: Inbound and Outbound. We’ll look at both in turn.

Inbound

Inbound means that your leads are generated via marketing efforts. Prospects “raise their hand” to be contacted by a sales representative. When the prospect chooses or wants to be contacted that’s a “warm lead.”

A warm inbound lead can be created via a phone call (the prospect calling in), or they could fill out a form (as an example) on your website and request to be contacted.

Outbound

Outbound sales is just the opposite. Instead of waiting for a prospect to come to you, you go to them. You research and look for potential clients and customers who you think will be a good fit for your offering.

Outbound outreach is considered cold because the prospect didn’t choose or ask to be contacted. This isn’t a bad thing, especially if you’ve done your research well. It just means that you may need to take more time to build up trust with that potential client before moving them on to the next step.

Don’t Skip Steps

Speaking of steps, don’t skip any. Ever. Don’t think, because a lead is already warm, that you can jump ahead in the sales process.

It’s critical to understand that warm inbound and cold outbound sales calls should be handled the same way!

The sales steps (qualifying, presenting, closing) are exactly the same, no matter the “temperature” of the lead.

Many articles have improperly called “researching” a prospect “warm calling,” but this is incorrect by a mile. Others have said they “email” a prospect first as a way to warm the prospect up before they call, but this too is a misuse of the term “warm calling.”

The definition of the term cold calling is “contacting any prospect who is not currently raising their hand asking to be contacted.”

You can do all the research you want on a prospect, but if you contact them (via phone or email) without them first raising their hand, you are cold calling. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just call it what it is.

Another popular misbelief is that picking up the phone and randomly calling prospects is “cold calling.” This method is one way to cold call – and it’s not a very good one – but this method itself is not the definition of cold calling.

Going back to the Pursuit of Happyness reference, Gardner had to get creative with his cold calling efforts to succeed.

“Disadvantaged by his limited work hours, and knowing that maximizing his client contacts and profits is the only way to earn the broker position, Gardner develops a number of ways to make phone sales calls more efficiently, including reaching out to potential high-value customers.”

This last line is one of the great inside sales secrets to successful selling.

You have to know who your target audience is. When you learn to identify what your best clients look like (those who have the greatest to gain, ability to purchase and the most likely to buy), and focus your energy on those prospects, rather than just calling (and emailing) any and every lead, that is when you will have the greatest success.

That is also why I said the sales process is the same for inbound and outbound sales. Just because you get an inbound lead, doesn’t mean they are qualified for what you offer. The prospect still needs to be appropriately qualified.

Jumping right to setting up a demo or doing a presentation would be a mistake.

If we use baseball as an analogy, you always have to go from first base to second base to third base to home plate — even if you hit a home run, you still have to touch all the bases in order.

Inside sales is the same way.

Skipping sales steps will only hurt you in the long run.

Just ask any sales veteran who was riding high and closing everything in sight, but then started skipping steps just to get to the close. Eventually, their luck runs out, and then they’re stuck with having no pipeline.

That’s how sales slumps get started.

Inside Sales KPIs and Metrics

This is a hot topic, and lots of companies have KPI’s (key performance indicators) and metrics they require their inside sales employees to keep track of and hit. However, the only stat that really matters at the end of the day is revenue.

Are you hitting your revenue goals?

Too many inside sales managers are worried about “open email rates,” but open rates don’t pay the bills.

That being said, there has been one metric that has been my “go-to” sales metric for over 20 years, and it continues to produce top sales revenues month after month after month.

It’s straightforward: 60 dials a day, and/or 3 hours of talk time.

If you properly build your list of high-probability prospects, and if you commit to doing 60 dials a day, and/or having 3 hours of legitimate talk time per day, every day, week in and week out, you are going to be in the top 10% of your sales class — even if you only possess average inside sales skills.

Sales is often a numbers game, but it’s not a ONE number game. Some days, you will only have 28 dials despite more than 3 hours of talk time with amazing conversations. Other days you will have 60 dials and only 90 minutes of talk time.

Both are acceptable, and both mean you’re putting in the time and the work to keep the pipeline full.

What is unacceptable is 25 dials a day (as an example) and only one hour of talk time. What did you do with the other 7 hours in your day?

Whatever your KPIs, if you’re an inside sales rep, you need to reevaluate your priorities asap and focus on actions that are driving revenue.

If your numbers are below 60 dials or 3 hours of talk time, you’re probably suffering from call reluctance, and your sales skills likely aren’t where they need to be.

Improving your inside sales skills will boost your confidence and raise your talk time and overall sales numbers.

Tools and Technology for Inside Sales

A solid CRM is a must for inside sales reps, and SalesForce is the 5,000-pound gorilla.

My two other favorite sales tools are:

1. LinkedIn.

What I love about LinkedIn is the Salesforce Navigator. Because it auto pulls in a lead’s LinkedIn profile, I can quickly see what their real job title is.

As an inside sales specialist, one of the top requirements of your job is to know what the top 3 job titles are in the decision-making process for your product/service.

With LinkedIn Salesforce Navigator, I can view the profile of the prospect right in my CRM without having to open another browser. It’s quick and easy.

2. Calendar Links!

No more email or phone tag with potential prospects. My outbound process is to call, and if I get voicemail, I leave a message followed by an email.

In the email, I include a link to my calendaring app, so the prospect can pick a date and time that works best for them. This has boosted my set appointments by 26%!

Several companies are already offering this service (Calendly, Timetrade, ScheduleOnce, and others), and I would encourage you to look into them asap.

The 2 Keys to Inside Sales

I’ll leave you with a few keys to inside sales success that I’ve picked up over the years.

Be competitive. Use your ego to your advantage. I believe that being self-motivated and goal-oriented are true character requisites for top inside sales performers, and a healthy competitive drive is an asset when channeled properly.

On the other hand…

Don’t let your ego keep you from learning. Too many inside sales reps have stifled their earning potential because they were too insecure about learning from others who knew better than they did.

Be competitive, but use your ego and drive to build you up, not hold you back.

Now, go set your goals, pick up the phone, and hustle. There’s never been a better time than right now to be an inside sales rep.

Michael Pedone teaches inside sales teams how to pick up the phone and close business. He is the CEO/FOUNDER of SalesBuzz.com – A live, online instructor-led inside sales training company.