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The guide to inside sales vs. outside sales


Calendly, June 08, 2020

Every sales professional has heard the terms “inside sales” and “outside sales” at some point in their career, but the distinction between the two isn’t always made clear.

The basic difference between inside sales and outside sales is where the sale takes place — inside or outside the office, respectively. The jobs are fairly similar and involve many of the same responsibilities — generating leads, turning prospects into clients and so on—but there are slightly different expectations that come with structuring a team one way versus the other.

Fully understanding the differences between these two sales models can help inform your sales strategy and make better choices about your organization’s marketing and staffing needs. Here, we’ll cover the basic differences between inside sales and outside sales, defining each term and answering common questions about each role.

What is inside sales?

Put simply, inside sales is remote sales. As opposed to traditional, face-to-face sales meetings, inside sales teams conduct business almost entirely online or over the phone.

How it works

Inside sales reps use a variety of methods and technologies you're probably already familiar with, including emails, phone calls, social media and video conferencing services. They work with leads from just about every point in the sales funnel and are expected to close larger quantities of lower-value sales compared to their outside counterparts.

Inside sales is becoming one of the primary ways of doing business in the 21st century. Even before the coronavirus pandemic made working remotely a necessity for many salespeople, companies all over the world have been transitioning to an inside sales model.

Studies have found that inside sales is growing 15 times faster than outside sales. With many offices still shut down and others shifting more permanently to a remote sales model, it’s likely that inside sales will only gain a firmer foothold over time.

What is outside sales?

An outside sales model, by contrast, has salespeople primarily making deals outside the office. Outside sales is also often called field sales, as sales are conducted "in the field."

How it works

If you have an outside sales team, sales reps will travel to their leads for face-to-face meetings at offices, trade shows, conferences or even over a game of golf. Though inside sales is gaining traction across industries, in-person meetings are still a valuable part of many companies’ sales models.

Outside sales reps are usually focused on leads further down the sales funnel, who have serious interest in buying but need more information and motivation to do so. They tend to prioritize making strong connections with current or potential clients and building long-term relationships with leads.

This kind of relationship-building is possible to do remotely, but meeting prospects in person remains an important part of making big-ticket sales and fostering a human connection with clients.

Outside sales may not make as many sales on a regular basis, but it allows reps to cultivate valuable leads over time. They work with fewer leads but typically have a higher close rate compared to inside sales reps. Those deals are also typically worth a lot more than the ones inside sales reps churn out on a daily basis.

Put simply, this model relies on the principle of quality over quantity — putting in extra time and effort to close fewer, high-value deals.

Related reading: How sales is (and isn’t!) like football: lessons sales pros can take from the gridiron pastime

What inside sales reps do

As you might expect, there’s a lot of overlap between the two positions and salespeople in either type of team will have similar responsibilities. There are, however, some key differences, both in how employees will function and how the departments will be run.

The most important job of an inside sales rep is to work remotely with potential clients and assist them through the sales process from pitch to deal. Inside sales reps work to help clients find the best solution to meet their needs, even if they never meet face-to-face.

Here’s how inside sales reps typically spend their time on the job.

Finding new leads

As the scope and range of communication available online expands on a seemingly daily basis, inside sales reps are in a particularly good position to find new sales opportunities. Inside sales reps have the opportunity to conduct in-depth market research, ensuring that every lead is a good fit for the product they’re selling. With tools ranging from mailing lists to social media platforms, inside sales are now a key way to find and reach new clients.

Building client relationships

Many people are accustomed to building relationships online or over the phone, and that approach applies to the business-customer relationship as well. Inside sales reps can use phone calls, emails, texts and other remote forms of communication not for customer onboarding and to connect with potential clients, but also to maintain strong relationships with existing customers.

Conducting product demos

Especially if your company is selling tech-based products and services, inside salespeople will often be asked to guide prospects through a product demo. It may seem counterintuitive to have demos without leaving the office, but with the popularity of Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms, there’s less of a need to visit a client in-person to deliver product demos. In fact, virtual demos of tech products can actually give sales reps better insights about client experience. By tracking the customer’s interactions with the demo in real-time, your team can adjust their strategy as needed to address pain points and individual concerns.

Negotiating deals

Inside sales reps can now customize services and product packages and negotiate terms with customers completely online. Of course, outside sales reps will do plenty of negotiating as well, but ironing out the details of a sale digitally or over the phone can help streamline the sales process and keep prospects from responding with knee-jerk pushback to sales terms.

Tracking client communications

Remote sales allows for greater accountability throughout the sales process. Communications between sales reps and prospects are more easily tracked through an inside sales process, which means easy data gathering to improve future communications and fewer deals falling through the cracks. Especially when integrating virtual meetings with CRM software, inside sales reps can keep an eye on the progress of current prospects and improve their technique for future sales.

What outside sales reps do

Even though inside sales are on the rise, outside sales remain an important way to attract top-paying customers. Outside sales reps create memorable experiences tailored to their clients, which leads to a higher level of customer trust and big sales opportunities.

Here’s what an outside sales rep spends most of their time doing.

Meeting with prospects

Outside sales representatives do a lot of traveling. Salespeople who work locally typically spend about 11% of their working hours on the road. For those who do overnight or cross-country sales meetings, that percentage is even higher. Outside sales representatives literally act as the face of your organization, so their time is often filled with meet-and-greets and one-on-ones with clients.

Planning and maintaining a schedule

While most inside sales reps work what we would typically think of as a nine-to-five office job, outside sales reps are largely responsible for planning their own schedules. They arrange their own meetings with leads, decide which prospects to pursue and are often out in the field, working directly with clients within their sales territory. That requires a whole lot of scheduling and calendar management, ideally with the help of an easy-to-use tool designed to make meetings easier.

Monitoring sales goals

Just as outside sales reps are responsible for their own schedules, they’re largely responsible for hitting their own sales goals too. Though a team leader or manager might set goals, outside sales reps typically aren’t subject to much oversight in terms of how those goals are achieved. That means outside sales reps need to spend time tracking their progress toward department goals, as opposed to inside sales reps, who can get daily feedback on their progress.

Networking with clients

Outside sales requires a great deal of networking, with both current and potential future clients. It’s not enough to pitch to your lead and call it a day—growing networks and establishing connections in the industry means showing up to events, keeping up with past clients and meeting as many of your clients’ colleagues and coworkers as possible. You never know when a casual introduction over happy hour could lead to your next big sale.

Learning about client needs

The hands-on nature of outside sales means that these reps have a greater opportunity to dive into the nitty-gritty of customer needs and concerns. Both independent research and facetime with clients are critical for figuring out what products or services to pitch and which features to highlight to particular clients.

Deciding between an inside or outside sales structure

In the age of online communication and video conferencing, most sales teams today rely on a hybrid of inside and outside sales.

Maybe day-to-day deals are typically struck over the phone or online, with only a few big sales made at industry conferences. Or maybe your teams are split down the middle, with some reps keeping in touch with clients remotely and others traveling for in-person meetings. Either way, most offices will use both methods to some extent, so it’s important to understand how both roles work.

Despite their many differences and applications, inside sales and outside sales are still, at their core, sales. To succeed at either, it's important to know your product or service, listen to both your customers and colleagues, learn from your management team and develop strong plans to develop client loyalty.

Frequently asked questions: Inside sales vs. outside sales

Even though the basic difference between inside sales and outside sales is fairly straightforward, there are still plenty of details that even the most seasoned sales teams might be unclear on. Here are a few common questions that come up when discussing inside sales and outside sales

What is the difference between inside sales and telemarketing?

In the 1980s, business professionals coined the term “inside sales” to distinguish valuable phone sales from less valuable telemarketing.

Telemarketing usually involves a scripted call where the goal is to close the sale in a single conversation. It doesn’t involve much in the way of relationship-building and companies that use it are almost always in business-to-consumer (B2C) industries.

Inside sales, on the other hand, is not a scripted or single-call sales strategy. The best inside sales reps make lasting connections with potential clients, using creative thinking and a dynamic sales strategy tailored to the individual prospect. Inside sales is more commonly used for business-to-business (B2B) sales, though it can sometimes be used for B2C sales too.

What is the cost difference between inside sales and outside sales?

The cost of these sales strategies can vary as widely as the budgets of the companies employing them. For instance, a small company may conduct an outside sales meeting with a local buyer over a cup of coffee at a relatively low cost, whereas a large company may travel out of state or even out of country to host expensive dinners with clients.

Across the board, however, inside sales tend to be cheaper. Inbound Seller estimates that inside sales cost 61% less per lead than outside sales. It's important to remember though that outside sales strategies are often deployed by industries (such as real estate) where a single client can make or break a business. In situations like these, it can be worthwhile to invest more in landing that single client.

What are the average salaries of inside and outside sales reps?

Salaries for inside and outside salespeople will vary widely based on location, level of experience and size of the organization. Even with that in mind, however, outside sales reps almost always earn more than their inside counterparts.

Indeed estimates that outside sales reps in the United States earn an average base salary of $68,000 per year, plus approximately $20,000 per year in commissions. Inside sales reps, by comparison, can expect to earn an average base salary of $50,000, with annual commission earnings of around $10,000.

This discrepancy can be attributed in part to the fact that outside sales reps are often tasked with closing higher-value deals. Many companies also expect outside sales reps to have more experience in the industry when hiring them.

Is outside sales or inside sales a better strategy?

There’s no clear-cut answer to which sales structure is better. It all depends on the situation, the resources available to you as a sales team and the overall goals of your company or organization.

Each business and organization is as individual as the people who compose it. Outside sales and inside sales plans will need to be tailored to fit the individual products and services being sold, as well as the skillsets of the existing team. Don’t think of it so much as a question of “Which strategy is better?” but rather, “What strategy, or combination of strategies, can best fill my company’s needs?”

Keep in mind that most successful businesses and organizations deploy both outside sales and inside sales strategies. A healthy balance of the two can lead to a stronger overall sales method.

What tools do successful sales reps need?

Whether they’re part of an inside or outside sales team, there are a few key tools that can help salespeople close more deals and bring in more clients.

A good work management tool, for example, can help keep the whole team on track, no matter where they are. A powerful CRM platform is also important for keeping track of interactions with current and past clients, as well as planning future communications with new leads. One of the most important things for a sales team to invest in, though, is a great scheduling tool.

Sales is all about making connections. It’s hard to do that effectively when wires keep getting crossed between your team and your prospects.

Research shows that 50% of deals go to the company that gets their foot in the door first. A scheduling tool like Calendly lets your team get connected to prospects even quicker, closing more deals and helping your company grow. Calendly even offers team scheduling, allowing for more convenient collaboration within your organization.

How can inside sales reps make the most of virtual meetings?

When it comes to setting up meetings and sales pitches, it’s important to make things as easy for your prospects as possible. This is especially true when tech is involved. If your scheduling system requires too much work from potential clients, not only will your company make a poor first impression, the lead might decide the meeting isn’t worth their time after all.

Rather than sending a series of emails, voicemails or chat messages to iron out the details of a meeting, Calendly lets prospects pick a time slot directly from your email. This can help eliminate unnecessary back-and-forth and maximize the time your team can spend building relationships and helping clients.

Calendly also offers a number of integrations with popular sales and communication tools. When you plan a virtual sales call with prospects, you can include the Zoom link and login details directly in the description of your event, so leads can join easily. You can also incorporate data from meetings with your Hubspot and Salesforce accounts to improve future sales strategies. 

This kind of rich, streamlined experience can be make-or-break when meeting with busy clients virtually.

What is the future of inside sales and outside sales?

Even armed with the best research and industry knowledge, we can never know exactly what the future of sales has in store, especially in today’s turbulent economy. That said, most business professionals agree that inside sales will continue to rise quickly, while outside sales will remain relatively flat for the foreseeable future.

Inside sales is largely becoming popular because it’s cheaper and can be conducted from almost anywhere. That means it’s more agile and resistant to economic fluctuations than other sales models.

Additionally, more and more Americans are asking to work remotely, making inside sales a desirable choice for both employers and employees. Even as stay-at-home orders are slowly being lifted across the country, many salespeople have started to recognize the benefits of remote sales in terms of time and money saved.

It's true: we can't control what the future will bring, as this global health crisis demonstrates. But armed with an understanding of these strategies and the constantly emerging innovations in selling technologies, we can be prepared to adapt our businesses and organizations more quickly and painlessly.

Building your sales strategy

Knowing the difference between inside sales and outside sales makes a huge difference when it comes to formulating a sales strategy. Armed with a bit of knowledge, you can make wiser decisions about staffing and marketing, as well as adapting your business model.

Whichever sales approach works best for your company, Calendly can help your team build stronger customer connections and improve client retention. Calendly provides the best automated scheduling software for you and everyone you need to network with, which can be a key ingredient to your sales team’s success.

Get started with Calendly today for free, and empower your team to meet and exceed your goals. Whether you're coordinating inside sales teleconferences or high-end customer dinners, Calendly has the tools to make scheduling easier.

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