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The Emergence of the Hybrid (Telesales/Field) Sales Rep

03 April 2009

In Sales 2.0, the lines are blurring between traditional telesales and field sales jobs.  Inflexible rules about what constitutes a telesales or field sales opportunity are no longer working for companies or their customers. Some companies are experimenting with their sales models, allowing sales reps that are primarily inside reps the flexibility to leave their phones and computers when customers require and warrant a face-to-face visit.
I talked to veteran sales executive, Bill Lohr, to learn about his recent successful implementation of a hybrid inside/field sales model in his last position heading sales for the global leader in on demand Web Content Management (WCM). Bill refers to the new model as the “tweener” model: in between an inside sales model and a field sales model.
AS: What do you call this new kind of inside sales rep?
BL: Given my background in professional services, I gave them the title “Client Executive”.  I think of Software-as-a-Service companies as services businesses, not software businesses. Software is the tool by which to deliver services to customers. Yes there is software involved, but the things that really matter are creating value and trusted relationships.
AS: What made you decide to employ an inside/field sales hybrid model and how do you implement it?
BL: The majority – if not all –of the sales cycle at my last company was conducted over the phone.  However, some customers needed a face-to-face visit if the first year revenue amount was very large, the customer was strategic, or the deal was complex. In general, inside sales reps could make field visits if an annual order size exceeded $500,000. One example is a major newspaper for which we went onsite twice in order to close the deal.  For our first visit, they had 25 people in the room. We were able to establish relationships with key decision makers, who championed our solution internally and allowed us to sell into other departments.
AS: What percentage of your customers required face-to-face visits?
BL: For Enterprise Accounts, probably 50%.  But other than the final closing steps, the rest of the sales cycle could still be done by phone and online.  The fact that the company has no field offices encouraged us to minimize travel.    We even closed accounts in Australia and Holland without ever meeting the client.  You can do a lot with the phone and online tools such as web collaboration products.
AS: How is your sales team structured and what are the responsibilities of each team member?
BL: Given the monthly recurring revenue model, the customer’s need for a consultative sales approach, and the company’s many different kinds of buyers, I needed flexibility. Inside sales reps in most companies don’t have the ability to leave their desks and that didn’t make sense to me. I think of the Client Executives as expert “set up” people while my role as SVP of sales was to help close sales and play a first line mentor and coach role.  I would go to all face-to-face customer meetings with my reps and provide support and education.
AS: Contrast your sales productivity before and after you implemented the new sales model.
BL: When I started, it took only 18 days to qualify an opportunity and 56 days to close. By designing a more sophisticated sales process and implementing the hybrid model, it now takes 26 days to qualify but only 42 days to close.  I lengthened the lead qualification process but ultimately shortened the sales cycle.  The monthly revenues increased exponentially as well because we were doing a better job qualifying prospects out of the funnel early in the sales cycle.
AS: What is the profile for your new hybrid sales rep?
BL: Someone who has experience in telesales (on quota sales) positions, is confident on the phone, and is able to engage customers in phone and web meetings and conduct web demos and presentations.  Our reps also need to be able to navigate an organization by phone, have meaningful conversations with all levels of buyers, and coordinate these buyers– often up to 15 or 20 –within a company.  Ideally, candidates have been in the top echelon of inside sales at a company like salesforce.com and their next step is a field sales position.
AS: What is their quota and target compensation?
BL: Quota is based on one month of the monthly recurring revenue (MRR) for a one-year deal and goes up for a two-year agreement, e.g. a deal that is $20,000/month for one year would get quota credit and the rep would be paid on $20,000.  The MRR can justify this model. Target comp is over $150,000/year at quota.

(Note: For more information on best practices in inside sales quota assignment and compensation, have a look at the annual inside sales compensation survey report conducted by Phone Works.)
AS: Would you hire someone who came from field sales?
BL: I’m not sure I would.  I don’t think they’d fit the mold I need.
AS: How did you organize sales territories? Do the reps close new business as well as work with existing customers?
BL: Sales territories are structured by industry, not geography, since we target named accounts in specific vertical markets.  The client executives just close new business. I have a separate team – Customer Success – that is responsible for customer adoption, upselling, and renewals. The reps on this team are called client managers.  Their job is to do the right thing for the customer; they are not on quota (although thy get paid on the deals they find). Once a sale is made, the customer is immediately handed off from the client executive to the client manager.
AS: Did you have technical sales engineers supporting the reps?
BL: No, but we used technical resources on the client services team to assist the sales team.
AS: What metrics did you track?
BL: My sales organizations are very metrics-driven. I tracked call volumes, activities, sales stages, time in stages, pipeline flow, weekly changes and more.
AS: What sales tools and technologies did you use?
BL: Among others, we used salesforce.com, Jigsaw, Hoovers, GoToMeeting, LinkedIn, Eloqua, and EchoSign.
AS: How did you choose those particular products?
BL: I had two reps that came from salesforce.com, who were familiar with a number of products that integrate with salesforce’s product.  I also attended the Sales 2.0 Conference last fall, which showcased new technologies.
AS: How did the Sales 2.0 technologies help you sell?
BL: Lots of ways.  Jigsaw and Hoovers helped alert us to who the players are in a given account.  LinkedIn got us to the right people faster and increases their response rate because an individual reaching out to another individual makes the outreach more personal. EchoSign accelerated the contracts cycle.
AS: How much cold calling did your team do?
BL: I didn’t want my sales team spending any more than 20% of its time cold calling.  It is too costly to use these resources for that purpose.  Instead, Marketing generated leads for us by running email marketing and other campaigns.  Also, we had sales development reps chartered with cold calling.  Telesales reps are responsible for targeted account selling into vertical industries including high tech, financial services, and media. Their calls are warmer because they are based on research and knowledge.
AS: What have your sales results been?
BL: When I started, we were producing $20,000/MRR.  Two and a half years later, with the same sales team, the productivity increased to $700,000/MRR.

What are your experiences with hybrid sales reps? How do you detemine what telesales sells and what the field sells?