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Inside Sales Success: Competencies for an Expanding Channel Strategy

One thing we at Richardson are hearing from many of our customers in sales leadership roles is that they are, or are considering, expanding their inside sales channel strategy. They see the shift in buyer behavior, with more customers conducting research online before engaging salespeople.

They also see that an increasing number of customers are willing to interact with sales organizations, and even willing to make buying decisions, over the telephone. As a result, they are moving beyond utilizing inside sales for just their small-size customers and simple sales and including mid-tier customers that might also be serviced well by inside selling teams.

There are certainly cost benefits with this strategy, as well as the potential to reach more customers more quickly. In making this shift and adding greater demands for productivity from inside sellers, sales leaders need to consider and train for specific competencies. They need to think about how they develop an inside sales organization differently than field sales.

Obviously, many of the same selling skills are used in telesales as in the field. All sellers need to build rapport, ask great questions, listen actively, share insights, and articulate value. They need to position their solutions persuasively and close the deal. But when selling over the phone rather than face to face, sellers face higher barriers to engaging prospects and building credibility.

Among Richardson’s Six Critical Skills are establishing presence and relating. Not only are these skills more difficult to master over the phone, they become even more important. It is a lot harder for customers to warm up to somebody they can’t see or look in the eye. They don’t get the personal warmth that can come through when sitting across the table. Establishing this kind of connection over the phone is a tough challenge, and sellers need to be able to build rapport by projecting a sincere interest and warmth from the first “Hello.”

Presence is all about projecting confidence, conviction, and interest through body language and voice. Over the phone, body language is a moot point, unless the seller is making a video call; although, these rarely occur in first meetings. So, sellers must rely on their voice, their tone, and their conversational skills to show interest. They need to be concise, clear, and intentional in their words, even more so than when meeting in person because people can be less forgiving when they’re not face to face.

To relate to customers, inside sellers need to be skilled at using acknowledgment, rapport, and empathy to connect. They must be competent enough to ask really good questions and then to listen and pay close attention to the timing and cues for how fast the customer wants to proceed. Sellers have to recognize when customers get antsy and distracted, all without the benefit of visual cues. They must check more often to elicit feedback, and they have to be sensitive to the customer’s tone in order to understand the content and the emotional message.

In both inside sales and field sales, asking questions takes proficiency. Customers have little patience for a litany of questions that leaves them feeling interrogated. They have even less patience when being questioned over the phone. Inside sellers must take care to preface their questions to generate interest, setting the stage for why those questions need to be asked. The conversation should evolve to share information, insights, ideas, and other customer experiences. It is important to ask questions at a pace that leads to a good give and take with the customer. If this doesn’t happen, customers get bored and become distracted. It is much easier for them to multitask on the phone, turning to other tasks on their desk, because customers don’t feel as committed to giving sellers their full attention as when meeting face to face.

Inside selling can be an effective way to engage more customers in today’s changing selling environment. To be successful, the inside sales organization needs the skills and behaviors to overcome the lack of in-person connection that occurs with field sales.

About the Author

As Richardson’s Chief Marketing Officer, Andrea is responsible for demand generation and value creation through strategic marketing, brand awareness, digital optimization, product launch initiatives, and market-facing thought leadership to drive sustained, organic growth. With a passion for sales and customer-centric activity, Andrea and her team work to inspire customers across the engagement lifecycle and support them in their journey to market leadership by delivering fresh perspectives to their sales challenges.

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