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Sales Leaders Embrace Virtual Selling Phenomenon

13 May 2015

This is a guest post by Britton Manasco.

CHICAGO–The world of Inside Sales continues to experience extraordinary growth. Once shuffled off to the corner and tarred with the term “telemarketing,” today’s Inside Sales professionals are proving to be an innovative and disruptive force on the corporate scene.

Bob Perkins, founder of the AA-ISP, estimated the Inside Sales profession is growing at three times the rate of field sales. Smashing throAA-ISP Leadership Summit Logough a ceiling of small deal sizes and restrictive management, some quota-carrying inside reps are now carrying quotas between $1 and $2 million.

And the professional community is expanding. In fact, more than 700 people attended the Leadership Summit held here.  Perkins referred to the advances in this profession as a “virtual selling phenomenon.”

Rebranding and Expanding. One of the most interesting moves at the show was the announcement by IBM that it had rebranded Inside Sales under the term “digital sales.” This action reflects a growing trend where Inside Sales leaders are trying to break out of the boxes that others have confined them to.

In several cases, they areIBM Judy Buchholz 2 rebranding and renaming their organizations in an effort to convey the predictable and powerful value they are delivering.

IBM is rolling out a series of richly supported and technology infused digital sales centers worldwide. The first of which, in Dublin, Ireland, commanded a $26 million investment.

Big Blue, which has a sales force of 5,000, is making big bets that buyers will engage its people virtually, digitally, and socially.

“Inside Sales is just sales,” says Judy Buchholz, general manager, IBM Digital Sales. “We have to change, evolve, and figure out what’s next.

The company’s new “digital sales stack” encompasses an infrastructure platform, digital talent, a cognitive operating model, and buyer and offer specialization. By deploying this stack, she says she can create a specialized selling organization that addresses buyers with appropriate messages and offerings.

Digital Sales Stackk

IBM  is reorienting itself  to “engage buyers on their journey,” adds Buchholz. “We have to draw clients to us in discovery mode. Clients are more informed these days.”

Going  Global. As sales leaders consider investments in Inside Sales, Anneke Seley and Charissa Franklin of Reality Works Group, urge executives to consider expanding territories beyond the fifty United States or outside one’s own country. Anneke, who led the Inside Sales Around the World session at the summit, used her experience as an early employee at Oracle as an example of the upside potential of a global customer perspective. When Oracle was still a young company (25 employees with 75 customers and only a few million dollars in revenue), Larry Ellison hired a VP of International Sales. Within six years, Oracle had subsidiaries or distributorships in 92 countries, had the first mover advantage over many of its competitors,  and generated more than half its revenue from outside the U.S.

In the session, Anneke and Charissa gave examples of how Inside Sales can help companies test international markets before substantial investments in staff and office space are made. This is true for American companies expanding overseas as well as companies outside the U.S. eyeing the American market. With market potential and tax and labor laws varying from country to country, it’s a good strategy to first gather market research data and test the pipeline and revenue generation capabilities of a country or region in order to understand the return on international investment.

Participants from around the world – including panelists Chris Korczowski, an American global leader from IBM, and Rafael Carmona, a French EMEA leader from SAP – discussed organizational models and how to standardize across them.  Session attendees heard that organizations vary considerably. Some companies have decentralized Inside Sales teams, residing in the countries in which they have customers and prospects. Others have centralized hubs in places like Dublin, Cairo, South Africa, China and Japan.

The largest and most advanced Inside Sales organizations have reps and managers that share the native tongue of their customers, regardless of their location. As for standardizing operations, commission plans, CRM systems, and executive reporting are good places to start.

Powering Human-to-Human (H2H) Engagement. While attendance to the AA-ISP annual conference has certainly grown, the energy and innovation on the exhibit floor has similarly advanced. One of the premier players in the “sales acceleration technology” space, InsideSales.com, recently raised its valuation to about $1 billion based on investments from Microsoft and SalesForce.com.

But there were many other interesting players stirring up buzz on the show floor.

Some bring predictive analytics to the selling profession, including Velocify,  SalesPredict, and Lattice. Some, such as SalesLoft and ToutApp, have targeted email as a lever of sales engagement. Others, such as Qvidian, DemoChimp,  Conversica, and Accuvit, are intent on raising the level of sales conversations. And still others, like  PeopleLinx and KiteDesk, seek to arm salespeople by making social media actionable throughout the sales process.

Most of these players seem to be extending the sales professional’s capabilities – enabling individuals to personalize interactions on a greater scale or obtain insights that will help them engage buyers in compelling new ways. By extending human faculties and freeing up sales people to converse intelligently with buyers, new technology is transforming the selling profession.

Analytics Get Actionable. As the event suggested, significant interest now revolves around predictive analytics and business intelligence. Companies are recognizing they not only need to be more efficient and drive down sales costs in many instances, but they also need to engage the right buyers with the right messages and offers at the right time. They also want to source and hire talent with greater precision, moving beyond gut feel.

To accomplish these goals, they’ll need the analytical engines now coming to market. Fortunately, the tools to make you smarter – whether you are an executive leader, a sales manager, or a sales rep – are increasingly accessible and intuitive. That enables salespeople to continue initiating conversations and creating buying visions as opposed to merely responding to buyers on their own journeys. “You no longer have to be a statistician to capitalize on stats,” said Rob Beattie, senior director of sales at Thomson Reuters  in one session summarizing lessons learned from the event.

Technologies featured at the show are enhancing predictive scoring and lead distribution while enabling sales at all levels to engage in data-driven decision-making. Rather than follow intuition or “a survival instinct,” companies can now apply descriptive statistics, statistical modeling, and machine learning to “bring predictive science to sales,” said Dave Elkington, co-founder of InsideSales.com in his address.


It’s clear that Inside Sales – or whatever we choose to call it in the future – continues to grow at a phenomenal pace. It’s the beneficiary of new investments and shifting budgets. Money, after all, moves to where it can find the most impressive  returns.  And the level of dialogue in this field is rich and intense. The AA-ISP, which was celebrating its 15th annual leadership event as an association, is obviously bringing the profession to new heights.



Britton Manasco has nearly two decades of deep expertise in business technology and professional services focused on developing strategic marketing and sales enablement programs to build business credibility, generate demand and enhance sales outreach. Prior to launching Visible Impact and Manasco Marketing Partners, Britton was a consultant for Prime Resource Group (which specializes in sales performance consulting for companies engaged in a complex sale) and Peppers and Rogers Group (which specializes in “one-to-one,” relationship marketing for F500 companies). Britton produces the thought leadership strategy blog Illuminating the Future and the executive journal, Elevation Quarterly. In addition, he has written for Harvard Business Review; The New York Times; CIO Magazine; Sales and Marketing Management; and many other media outlets worldwide.