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Analysts & Management Consultants Weigh in on Phone/Web Selling

04 August 2009

Having been an inside sales manager in a professional era when inside sales was typically thought of as the redheaded stepchild of the sales organization, it’s nice to know that top management consulting and industry analyst firms are recognizing the strategic nature of this oft-misunderstood revenue-producing group. In their article  “Cutting Sales Costs not Revenues,” Anupam Agarwal, Eric Harmon, and Michael Viertler of McKinsey describe how one Business-to-Business (B2B) wholesale company reduced its sales cost by more than 50% and increased the number of profitable customers twofold to 90% by moving prospecting and account management functions to a phone and Web-based sales organization. The company also implemented a dedicated telesales team to provide a better, more consistent level of service to purchasing departments than a traditional traveling field sales organization. Shifting from face-to-face to inside sales can actually increase satisfaction and renewal rates, according to the authors.

Lee Levitt, who heads the sales advisory practice at IDC, recently wrote, “the best sales executives today are reassessing the role of inside sales in their overall mix of sales resources.” Those executives who think of inside sales as “pounding the phone” and “dialing for dollars” are woefully out of touch with today’s highly trained and educated, customer advocating, and professional telesales organizations. Levitt, who claims, “IDC expects the use of inside sales to grow as sales organizations find increasing productivity and efficiency via inside sales,” is one of the most forward-thinking proponents of strategic phone and Web selling in the analyst world. Earlier this year, he released IDC’s 2009 Sales Barometer and Top 10 Predictions, a report that highlighted the importance of inside sales, both telesales and sales development (lead generation).

Levitt’s most recent research report focuses on the mid-market (small to medium-sized businesses, defined as 100-999 employees). He writes that the keys to cracking the mid-market are:

  1. to implement inside sales, and
  2. to employ remote selling strategies and tools

Mid-market companies are geographically dispersed and deal sizes are smaller, but they are an important segment because the number of prospects and opportunities is huge and growing, which can fuel market share growth.

Levitt’s sales executive brief, based on this research, Winning the Midmarket: Cost-Effective Strategies to Improve Sales Performance, is available for  download from Citrix Online. Here are some of Levitt’s key points:

  • Too many companies employ the same approach to midmarket customers as they would with larger companies with bigger orders.
  • According to IDC research, midsize company buyers want “relevant, accurate information delivered at the right time – more than they want face-to-face meetings.”
  • These buyers are willing to give up personal meetings in favor of access to information and expertise.
  • A single visit is all it takes for many customers to feel comfortable making a purchase decision, even one over $1M.
  • After the initial purchase, midmarket customers often have the confidence to buy additional products by phone and Web.
  • Many buyers are willing to communicate remotely to speed the sales cycle.
  • From a customer interaction standpoint, inside sales reps are at least four times more productive than field sales reps; in some companies, inside sales reaches six to eight times more customers.

Are you questioning the value and acceptance of inside sales in your organization and customer base? What are your concerns?