Leveraging Contact Center Technology for Inside Sales
Leveraging Contact Center Technology for Inside Sales
Placing emphasis on both field sales and inside sales organizations can be a balancing act that is difficult to master.
By Donna Fluss
Inside sales organizations are increasingly popular because of the proven cost benefits of using inside sales people instead of field sales representatives. During the past few years, the drive to reduce operating expenses has caused a great deal of corporate restructuring and forced many companies to build inside sales organizations. The challenge is to optimize the performance of these unique contact center- based sales organizations. Classically, contact centers measure their success based on productivity. When these same criteria are imposed on inside sales organizations, the result is lost sales, lost customers, lost revenue, lost opportunity costs, lost inside sales representatives and large expenses for companies. However, at their most fundamental level, contact centers operate based on queuing theory and are intended to be optimized for productivity.
By improving each inside sales agent’s ability to reach and be reached by customers and prospects, contact center technology is an important productivity tool, even if the primary objective should not be the traditional standard of keeping average talk time down to 180 seconds. (Of interest, contact center infrastructure can be used to identify when inside sales staff does not spend enough time on calls with customers). The challenge for inside sales organizations is to find the right blend of sales best practice and contact center productivity and quality standards.
The market recognizes the value and importance of inside sales organizations. There are a variety of numbers floating around the market, but based on what I’ve seen in the last couple of jobs I’ve worked on, an inside sales person costs at least 50% less than a field sales person and the price differential can be as high as 75%. Additionally, companies do not incur travel related expenses for inside sales folks.
There are many types of inside sales organizations. Some have characteristics similar to classic contact centers — service, technical support, help desk, collection, fraud, etc. — but many do not. Many companies are struggling with how to use their inside sales organizations. Some companies want their inside sales staff to act as administrative assistants for their field staff, others want them to resolve customer inquiries (from billing questions to technical issues); there are companies that want their inside sales organizations to generate leads and some want them to do telemarketing (even when they don’t call it that). Still others assign their inside sales staff quotas and compensate them for selling, just as they do their field sales representatives.
INSIDE VS. FIELD SALES
Inside sales have many advantages over field sales. Inside sales representatives are readily available by phone, whereas a good field sales person generally spends more than 50% of his/her time in customer meetings and is therefore very hard to reach. Inside sales people also have access to a great deal more customer information than a field sales person, even one with a sales force automation application. Another advantage of an inside sales organization is that it is often located at a company site, allowing immediate interaction with operations and production to resolve customers’ issues on a timely basis.
Customers want to reach their sales representatives when they want to do business, not when a sales person decides it’s time to reach out. Customers are increasingly demanding and view most products as commodities. Using the technology of real-time contact centers, sales organizations can optimize the performance of their sales staff — whether field sales, inside sales or partners — by allowing contact center adaptive analytics tools to locate the most appropriate sales person at any given moment of the day. This will allow every customer to speak to a sales representative when they want to and minimize the cost and expense of reaching customers. When empowered by management and given the right tools, inside sales personnel are positioned to provide customers with an outstanding customer experience and this will result in increased sales.
The cost benefits of using inside sales are compelling. The service and customer satisfaction value proposition from inside sales are also strong. So, what’s the issue? Why are so many companies confused about how to manage their inside sales organizations?
The answer is that field sales organizations are the life-blood of many companies. Inside sales organizations can cause channel conflict within organizations. A strong inside sales organization may be used to contact prospects being pursued by field sales staff or a company’s partners.
In many enterprises, inside sales organizations are actually created to take sales away from partners, as companies make greater margins when they sell directly to customers. At the same time that executives know the benefits of using inside sales, they are often so concerned about disturbing their field sales force that they end up tying the hands of their inside sales organization by presenting them with conflicting goals and objectives.
Field sales staff and inside sales organizations should have similar goals, although this isn’t the case in many companies. By definition, an inside sales organization should spend the majority of its time involved in activities that generate revenue — otherwise, it is not fulfilling its sales mission. Inside sales organizations should be viewed as essential corporate contributors and assigned revenue goals. Their agents should be motivated and compensated for meeting departmental and corporate revenue objectives.
Like all contact center functions, inside sales organizations need to have a primary goal and then use the contact center infrastructure to help them reach it. Inside sales’ primary goal is revenue generation. Each inside sales representative must understand his or her role in achieving this essential corporate objective. All other activities, such as resolving customers’ inquiries, providing technical support, assisting the sales staff, are secondary but important in building relationships with customers that facilitate sales.
Field sales, partners (distributors, value added resellers, etc.) and inside sales departments need to co-exist in a way that allows all three organizations to optimize corporate profitability. The interaction among these groups is going to get even more interesting once field sales organizations realize all they have to gain from being tied into their contact center infrastructure, even though they are rarely going to take live calls (although, inside sales may chose to receive them during specific times of each day).
Contact center technology has evolved. While it’s taken a few decades for contact center technology to mature to this point, this is the easy part. The real challenge is convincing sales organizations that it’s time to change.
Donna Fluss is the Principal of DMG Consulting LLC.