Competencies for a Growing Inside Sales 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 are including mid-tier customers who 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 your organization’s inside sales force, sales leaders need to consider and train for specific competencies. They need to think about how they build and manage the growth of 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 whom 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 with someone. Establishing this kind of connection over the phone is a tough challenge, and your inside sales force needs 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; however, 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 strong 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.
Finding the Right Talent to Build Your Inside Sales Team
When building an inside sales team, the hiring process itself should provide ample opportunities for candidates to demonstrate how they would sell to customers. While this holds true for any sales position, it is even more important for inside sales in which sellers never meet customers face-to-face. There are three relatively simple ways to test a candidate’s skills in action: video, role play, and voicemail.
Skype and other video chat services allow sales leaders to see how candidates would interact with prospects and customers. Sellers can no longer shy away from video; it has become an accepted and even expected communication channel. Everyone in sales should get themselves comfortable with video chats. There are a few tactical issues with a video call vs. a phone call — such as removing distracting backgrounds, paying attention to posture, and making eye contact — but video can be the next best thing to meeting in person. You can also use a Skype call to role play with a candidate. They should be able to handle the pressure and give you a sense of how articulate, composed, and compelling they are.
Cold calling is always an asset for those in an inside sales role, and sales leaders should require candidates to leave them a cold-call voicemail. From this, they can assess how well candidates engage prospects, gaining insights from tone as well as the message.
One question the Richardson Sales Training team would advise asking candidates for inside sales positions is about their career aspirations. Specifically, inquire as to their expectations for eventually moving into a field sales role. If the sales organization has shifted its strategy to close off this career path, make that clear from the start. Candidates, then, should be those who want to work in inside sales and can thrive in an environment of talking on the phone all day, every day. This can be an exhausting job, so look for candidates who are resilient and have high energy. They have to be able to move forward and bounce back after hearing no over and over.
When growing an inside sales team, it is possible that an experienced field sales rep may be interested in taking an inside position under the right circumstances. Maybe they are tired of traveling or have other reasons for seeking a change. While this kind of transfer was more unusual in the past, don’t discount it — or the person — if they were sincerely interested, and there was a good fit.
Just as technology is changing the sales environment, it can also help sales leaders find the right people for the right inside sales roles. Pre-hiring assessments can be invaluable in teasing out the competencies and differences in candidates. At Richardson, we use an online tool called TalentGauge®, a predictive assessment and sales force readiness tool that works both in the recruitment process and in assessing the talents of the current sales force.
In changing their channel strategies to expand inside sales, sales leaders have clear expectations for improvements in productivity, outcomes, and success. The proper attention to training and development, both with new hires and current sales reps, can lead to more meaningful customer dialogues, better engagement, cross-selling opportunities, and more efficient and successful sales. The potential return is well worth the investment in talent.
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