A joint MDM-Real Results Marketing survey revealed that inside sales teams struggle in balancing proactive and reactive sales activities. This article examines how distributors can streamline those activities to make their inside sales teams more effective and increase revenue.
Distributors struggle to balance their sales teams’ reactive and proactive sales activities, often relying more heavily on the reactive, according to the results of a joint MDM-Real Results Marketing survey. This results in very little outbound calling or lead generation activities for blended inside sales teams.
As in the 2014 survey, the challenge of getting reactive individuals to become proactive is difficult to overcome, primarily because the skill sets of these two groups are entirely different.
The term “inside sales” can encompass a variety of activities. Based on the survey results and the activities performed, the majority of respondents’ inside sales teams perform various presale activities, including quoting and order entry, as well as after-sale support activities, all of which are primarily reactive functions.
As shown in Figure 1, 35 percent of respondents said that their inside sales teams were spending 26-50 percent of their time doing presales support activities. Proactive functions such as lead generation, quote follow-up and proactive outbound calling were not identified as key activities for inside sales. In fact, when respondents were asked to describe their inside sales teams as mostly proactive or mostly reactive, 75 percent described their teams as mostly reactive.
Inside sales teams were organized in two key ways: centralized or decentralized, with 56 percent of teams centralized at either the headquarters or a branch and 41 percent decentralized among various locations. The preference for centralization was to enable consistent training, coaching and team support, while the pluses for decentralization included the ability to tap into local sales talent and better geographic team support. Some of the challenges with decentralization included lack of consistent training and processes utilization.
Respondents ranked the importance of various functions that related to profitability and other inside sales activities, as show in Figure 2. The top response, at 53 percent, was providing an excellent level of service, which aligns with the reactive activities and skill set profiles cited by the respondents of the survey. The second most important activity was to grow sales and profit (36 percent).
While an excellent customer experience may sustain wallet share, it won’t always help to grow
incremental sales. This typically requires a more proactive approach.
When asked about how their inside sales teams were measured, respondents’ answers varied (Figure 3). Measuring gross profit dollars along with specific order entry quality and quantity measurements were most cited, while 17 percent of respondents didn’t have any measurement at all.
Measurement is key to inside sales because this group is in constant contact with customers, and even a twice-monthly session can ensure a quality experience. It is important to balance the reactive measurements with the proactive measurements, which is a challenge, if the inside team is primarily reactive.
When asked about what additional training respondents wanted to see for their inside sales teams, 73 percent wanted their teams to have more sales training. The challenge with achieving this goal, however, is the majority of the activities currently performed by inside sales teams are reactive – primarily customer service related. Proactive sales may be in direct conflict with the skill set of a reactive individual, who is not likely to excel in sales activities.
Meanwhile, 58 percent of respondents wanted training on handling difficult situations and 55 percent wanted to see additional technical training.
When asked about the effectiveness of their inside sales teams, 62 percent of respondents felt their teams were very effective or effective, 36 percent felt their teams were somewhat effective and 3 percent felt their team was not effective at all. This is a reflection of the general desire of respondents to have their teams be more sales oriented. When asked what the biggest challenge for the inside sales team was, more than 50 percent of respondents cited lack of proactivity and a lack of time to perform sales activities.
The most effective avenues for inside sales training were informal coaching sessions (57 percent), team members doing on-the-job training (56 percent) and formal training sessions with a manager (56 percent). Online training was not as popular at 26 percent.
Dichotomies exist throughout the survey. While the desire to be reactive and provide an excellent customer experience was combined with the desire to be more sales oriented, the skill sets of an individual who is capable of providing an excellent reactive customer experience is the polar opposite of the individual who excels in selling.
Managers can’t expect a reactive inside customer service person to be an excellent salesperson. It is realistic, however, to train inside sales people to exploit inbound transactions through cross-selling. One of the main complaints that distributors have is that customers don’t know the breadth of their product lines. Customers think about distributors in a very narrow way, but once they understand the additional product lines their distributor carries, additional sales opportunities arise. The inside sales rep, through their relationships and contact with customers, can be a key avenue to get customers to understand product breadth.
If companies want to increase sales in a more proactive way, they should consider creating a separate group of individuals (or even just one person) who is responsible for growing customer sales and generating leads on a strictly proactive basis.