Recently I had the opportunity to speak virtually at the InsideSale.com Sales Acceleration Summit. This one day online event featured over 80 sales and marketing experts and attracted over 24,000 visitors. The focus of my presentation was best practices for developing great frontline sales managers (Watch Video).
Why focus on sales managers? Well, as we have previously blogged, great frontline sales managers are a real differentiator in maximizing the potential of sales teams. This is particularly the case with inside sales which has been the fastest growing segment for a number of years with some research reporting 17% year-over-year growth. These teams are becoming much more sophisticated often selling complex products and services which only a few years ago were being sold by traditional field based reps. It is now common to see inside sales teams sell at the enterprise level, something that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.
The Rise of Inside Sales
The key driver of this shift to inside sales, of course, has been rapid advances in technology. Robust and easy to use virtual meeting platforms, new sales enablement technologies and better sales force automation systems, are all making inside sales teams more productive. Moreover, customers are now much more accustomed to making complex buying decisions over the phone or virtually without ever seeing the sales professional face-to-face.
What this means for sales managers of inside teams is that they are now managing extremely sophisticated sales teams with all of the management challenges that come with that. Compounding these management challenges is the added dimension of selling sophisticated solutions over the phone. So given these challenges, developing highly skilled frontline sales managers for inside sales organizations should be a top priority.
Managing an Inside Sales Team
Of course, there are numerous advantages to managing an inside team, including, productivity, accountability, and coaching opportunities. Inside sales professional who aren’t constrained by the need to travel to visit a prospect or customer can engage in more sales conversations in a fixed period of time than field based sales professional. From an accountability perspective, a sales manager of an inside sales team can see exactly what his or her team is doing every single day, a level of accountability that sales managers of field based sales teams never have. In addition, sales managers of inside sales teams have significant opportunities to coach and develop the skills of their teams. Contrast this to the manager of a field based team whose coaching time may be limited to field visits.
While these advantages are compelling, sales managers face unique challenges when managing a team of inside sales professionals. Inside sales professionals do not have the benefit of living in their territories, and meeting the key influencers and decision makers in person. Traditionally, face-time in front of prospects has driven deeper understanding of the prospect’s organization and needs, better competitive differentiation, and higher win rates. LinkedIn has leveled the playing field somewhat by enabling inside sales professionals to build rapport more effectively by using information on a prospect’s LinkedIn profile. Nevertheless, inside sales professionals still face significant challenges managing large, complex sales opportunities with multiple decision makers without the benefit of face-to-face meetings.
For a charismatic field sales rep, they can typically work through the rough spots in the sales process by leveraging their interpersonal skills or relationships. For the inside sales rep, there is very little margin for error. The customer can simply disengage without any of the awkwardness associated with doing this in person. This means that sales managers have to be rigorous in following a structured sales process, managing sales pipelines and coaching their reps.
To fully capitalize on these advantages and address these challenges, sales organizations need to focus on developing the skills of their frontline sales managers (Watch Video). In particular, training sales managers on how to effectively manage, coach, lead and inspire their teams.