The inside sales team is not the same as it was a few years ago. The importance of field sales and the opportunity to influence buyers through one point of human contact with the customer has been declining for years, and COVID-19 accelerated that trend. Three trends are driving significant changes in how inside sales teams are configured and deployed and resulting implications.
The number of buyer touches from discovery to sale have increased dramatically in recent years, and the nature of those changes is very different. Meanwhile, the number of individuals influencing a B2B sale has risen to where stakeholder management is an essential competency for the seller.
The significant shift in volume and complexity of interaction clearly illustrates how buyer behavior has transformed. More specifically, buyers have wholeheartedly adopted new tools, technologies, and information services that list, qualify, and even validate solutions and vendors. All of this begs the question, what are they not able to discover online, and how can customers best determine optimal product or service fit?
Success depends on the salesperson's speed and quality of response to an emerging opportunity. Nothing new there, but a more complex landscape of buyers and influencers moving quickly and effectively takes on a whole new meaning. Four things are now critical to positioning an inside sales professional for success:
Quickly discover where the "buyer" is on their journey so that you can understand the business problem and context to identify relevant gaps in the buyer's knowledge
Mapping the buyer/influencer landscape (the stakeholders) to provide insight into the different responsibilities, decision rights, authority, and motivations of each role
Positioning the solution to best align with the stated business problem, making a clear connection between the solution and overall enterprise strategic imperatives
Redefine the sales process around the current realities of how customers want to buy by segment
Sales and marketing have a long history of contentious interaction. These functions often were at odds in the past because they often viewed the world differently. Most organizations' inability to determine which marketing dollar provides a good return has been the source of contention as the two functions often disagree on where and how to invest.
However, technology plays a more significant part in each step of the qualifying and sales process, so the boundaries between sales and marketing roles are blurring. By tracking the buyer journey, we can more accurately measure sales impact today. Many field sales teams are spending more time at "home base" as buyers value in-person interactions but only under certain circumstances (e.g., capturing detailed requirements).
Sales accomplishments achieved with great individual talent or heroics are less effective in the long run as it is nearly impossible to scale, and insights become more valuable in targeting opportunities, discovering needs, and closing deals.
The net effect is that all roles influencing the sales process must partner more effectively around critical dependencies and necessary handoffs. For inside sales professionals specifically, the world has evolved, and so have their responsibilities (such as more upselling, greater ownership of relationships) and capabilities (such as being more data-driven).
In addition, while solid execution of repetitive tasks is often part of the job, much of that work will be automated over the next few years. As a result, inside sales roles can no longer depend on discipline for success. Instead, they will need insights from people and systems to make fast, effective decisions on reprioritizing accounts and opportunities in real-time. Significantly, this will increase inside sales' influence over the customer experience and deal conversion.
Building relationships and developing trust is critical to sales success; nothing has changed. Great salespeople do this by quickly and casually building an appreciation for the buyer's values and interests, roles and responsibilities, business opportunities or priorities, and personal ambitions. However, as the number of touches increases and the breadth of human interaction between company and buyer becomes more distributed, "connecting the dots" is increasingly reliant on data and analytics.
Inside sales roles cannot simply depend on their interactions to understand how best to influence the sales process; they need context to intervene more effectively. Utilizing enterprise systems and the data they collect is better than ever before, and with the right analytics, they can put insights and suggested actions in front of the sales team at the right level and time.
We helped a B2B manufacturer facing severe growth challenges to change how it went to market. Historically, this company was able to leverage its deep customer relationships to call on accounts when its sales team chose to. Still, the pandemic and its knock-on effects stopped in-person meetings.
We worked with the manufacturer to repurpose its outside sales team to operate more like an inside sales team and changed the sales process. This effort required more than just sales reps getting comfortable with virtual meetings and phone calls; the sales team had to reposition messaging on products to bring more value-based focus to customer conversations.
In doing so, the business could set more appointments, which helped open previously closed-off accounts, connecting with more customers and prospects through shorter, virtual meetings with the added benefit of severely curtailing time and expense related to travel.
As buyer behavior changes, the distribution of responsibilities by role and the activities that lead to sales success are changing too. The new sales dynamic is blending traditional responsibilities between the field sales, inside sales, and marketing teams.
Technology and analytics provide the best opportunity for businesses to navigate these changes, build a better partnership between functions and positions, and offer a new model for sales effectiveness that is more data-driven and less person or superstar dependent.
Originally published by the Association of National Advertisers on ana.net