Outside Sales Are History, and COVID-19 Didn’t Kill Them
By Tim Riesterer, Chief Strategy Officer, Corporate Visions
Even before the pandemic, inside sales accounted for about 70% of all B2B selling activity. Of course, selling became nearly 100% digital for the past two years. The question on everyone’s mind is how much face-to-face selling will come back as business moves on.
The answer is probably not much. In fact, Gartner reports that 80% of B2B sales cycles are expected to permanently move to digital channels within the next few years. Here are three reasons for this transition and three things you can do to capitalize on the changes:
1. Buyer preference.
Why is inside selling becoming so popular? For one, buyers are starting to prefer it. So much of people’s lives are digital today. B2B buyers are no different, having become increasingly comfortable with engaging and purchasing digitally in the last few years. According to the Gartner report mentioned above, 33% of all buyers say they want a seller-free sales experience. For Millennials, that proportion is 44%. Remote work has also permanently changed where buyers are located. Buying committees are larger and might be scattered across multiple locations, so you will always have, at best, a hybrid meeting with some people joining via digital channels. And our research shows that hybrid meetings are not ideal.
2. Finance preference.
What’s more, CFOs are starting to prefer selling through digital channels. Inside selling is easier, more convenient, and less expensive than outside selling. Inside sales have been shown to reduce sales costs by 40% to 90% compared to field sales, and sellers can send emails and make calls faster than they could visit potential buyers in person. This is a critical benefit, as 90% of B2B sales meetings are set after at least six touchpoints. Companies with branch offices or channel partners are experimenting with converting more of those resources to lower-cost, more productive inside options — especially now that even customers are expressing comfort and confidence in a new motion.
3. Leader preference.
Sales leaders are starting to see the value, too. Inside selling equips sellers with valuable automation tools. This allows sellers to create more persistent touch patterns in sequences across multiple channels while also enforcing more consistent messaging. The average outside seller doesn’t do enough touches, doesn’t use multiple channels, and often makes up their own messaging. They lose the critical consistency and multimodality of inside selling.
Given all this, inside selling likely will become the standard practice post-pandemic. At the very least, sales will never again return to 100% outside. If you have been hesitant to embrace inside selling or are not sure how to prepare, consider the following tips:
1. Put your sellers on cadences, not expense accounts.
When your sellers are on expense accounts, you’re working on faith alone. You have to trust that they are doing their jobs and the expenses are worth it. Then you need to believe that they will enter accurate data into the CRM.
It might take time for your sellers to get used to the idea of being on cadences, not on expense accounts. For some sellers, this is an existential concern they might have about the future of selling. When you put sellers on a cadence, however, they must use a systematic set of touches guided by technology, which in turn are based on vetted and validated messaging, content, and techniques with a history of results.
2. Help your sellers support digital, self-service sales conversations.
According to the aforementioned Gartner research, buyers spend only 17% of their time speaking with sellers during buying decisions. Divide that by three sellers competing for their time, and you get 5% talk time. As a sales leader, you have to ensure that your sellers are advancing deals in between the calls, providing messaging, offering content assets, and running digital engagement strategies — including virtual sales rooms that feed the buyer’s self-service discovery and decision-making.
3. Expand the use of your sales support resources.
Much of B2B selling is team selling. You have to bring in your customer success person, your sales consultant, your subject matter experts, and others to close the deal. Formerly, when you got your team on the road to visit a customer or prospect, it often would take two days out of everyone’s schedule for a single meeting (and maybe months to get it scheduled).
Now, your support team can have five of those meetings a day, so they can expand their capacity. One SME, for example, can serve multiple sellers, stacking up their day with calls. Essentially, everyone gets more access with inside sales — and the whole team benefits.
Inside sales are the future, and why shouldn’t they be? If there is no material drop in growth or negative impact from the buyer’s perspective, then there is no reason not to embrace inside methods. Doing so will lead to more consistent communication with buyers and efficiencies within your sales team.
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