In recent years, inside sales has emerged as a highly profitable channel for distributors. Distribution Strategy Group discovered that a proactive inside sales rep can maintain a 30 to 50% lower cost of sales than a field rep while still growing sales productivity. Inside sales reps can be more effective than traditional field reps when equipped with the right resources.
Inside sales reps need unique skills and tools that suit their jobs. In particular, these reps must possess a working knowledge of products, extraordinary relationship-building abilities, workflow management skills, and a complete mastery of remote communication. Thankfully, artificial intelligence (AI) and other technologies enable sales reps to ramp more quickly and start selling sooner, even without a deep catalog knowledge.
When distributors consistently hire, tool, train and scale proactive inside sales reps, they see improvements in profitability, sales effectiveness, and customer experience. Below are our tips for distributors on building an inside sales team.
Hire the Right People for Your Inside Sales Team
Great inside sales reps have unique skills and mindsets that set them apart from other team members. A top-performing field rep may not do well in a purely digital environment, just like a proactive inside rep may not thrive as a customer service representative (CSR). When hiring an inside sales team, distributors must consider these differences and avoid moving employees into roles they may not be suitable for.
As the need for remote work increases and external selling becomes increasingly expensive, you may be tempted to transition a field rep into an inside sales role. While this may seem like a good idea initially, it typically doesn’t work. Since field sales reps are more comfortable meeting with customers in person, transitioning them to a purely digital work environment may disrupt their performance and result in an unnecessarily long training period.
Field sales reps are paid more than inside sales reps, often with a 40% higher base salary. They’ll expect to keep the same pay when moving to a new position. Hiring a new, digitally savvy sales rep will take less ramp time and cost you less money over time.
To perform the inside sales role well, employees must excel at proactive digital communications, workflow management, and strategic account growth. Although CSRs and inside sales reps both rely on digital communications and technology, they are not interchangeable. While a CSR may prefer a position where they can listen and reactively solve problems, an inside sales rep will have the ability to think critically and be proactive about pitching new products and solving customer needs.
Instead of converting tele-sales workers or outside sales reps, distributors should start by hiring a small inside sales team of 3-5 sales reps.
Empower Your Inside Sales Reps with AI
The next step toward building an inside sales team is equipping employees with AI sales tools. AI can help inside reps within sales calls, between sales calls, and across various channels.
AI sales tools use data from previous customer interactions to predict what customers are most likely to buy and when. As a result, your team won’t need to have a deep knowledge of every product. Instead, AI will provide relevant product information during each customer interaction. This means that AI-equipped reps can sell more during each call with data-driven upsells, cross-sells, and add-on recommendations.
AI also helps inside sales reps between calls by optimizing their workflows. For instance, instead of calling accounts on fixed intervals, the AI-empowered rep will receive a notification to call priority accounts when they are primed to buy, due to reorder, or are a churn risk. This system ensures team members can spend their time chasing sales opportunities they have a higher chance of winning. Plus, this type of automated workflow management frees up valuable time so your team can spend less time on administrative tasks and more time improving the customer experience.
Finally, AI enhances sales rep performance by coordinating information across sales channels. AI-based customer data platforms use information from multiple sales channels to make better product recommendations and workflow decisions. They also improve coordination across channels so your inside sales reps can hand accounts to field reps when the time is right.
Invest in Your Inside Sales Reps
Hiring great employees and using the right tools is a must. But, to truly maximize performance, reps should also have access to quality training programs.
There are several critical skills inside sales reps must master. For starters, they need to be familiar with their product catalogs, customer base, and sales tools. However, they also need to understand value propositions and pricing, market segments, and different buyer personas.
Distribution Strategy Group also found multiple training phases are necessary to get the most out of reps. To begin, connect reps with instructors over video chat for a few structured sessions that combine content learning and sales role-play. Role-playing is an important part of training and will give new reps more confidence in their selling skills. After that, instructors can put them through in-person follow-up sessions to learn more about AI sales tools, effective selling techniques, and workflow management skills. Finally, document your training process so reps and managers can review it as needed and refer back to it for coaching purposes.
Formal training will help reps understand their strengths and weaknesses and what it takes to get better. Eventually, reps can begin to score their activity and coach themselves into better performance with the right instruction. This mix of formal training and on-the-job learning will help them drive immediate returns and long-term growth.
Scale Your Inside Sales Team
Once your initial sales team is up and running, you can expand the channel to drive further growth. To ensure effective scaling, stay focused on experimentation and process-oriented behavior. As long as they learn over time, sales teams should be comfortable attempting new things and occasionally failing.
Inside sales reps are more important than ever. They can have up to 25 customer interactions per day when given the right tools, more than five times the average number of interactions for outside sales reps. As a result, a well-equipped inside sales team will incur fewer costs per call while still providing a high level of consultative care.
Integrating AI into your workflows is one of the best ways to scale and equip inside sales teams with the tools needed to be proactive. You can improve cross-channel collaboration and data sharing with an omnichannel sales structure. This allows reps to connect more meaningfully with customers to reduce churn and enhance the overall customer experience.
Artificial intelligence can enhance your team’s workflows, interactions, and productivity in several ways, including:
- High-quality data – After connecting your sales channels with AI, your team will have access to holistic overviews of each customer, including shopping preferences, product needs, and sales histories. By accessing account information from every part of your company, inside sales reps can gain a deeper understanding of customers’ needs and make better product recommendations.
- Account prioritization – AI will analyze accounts and organize by sales opportunities, reorder needs, and churn risk. It will then provide your team with a daily call list based on priority. With this, inside sales reps won’t have to guess which accounts to contact each day – they will know exactly who to call and when.
- Personalized upsell and cross-sell suggestions – Most distributors have years of customer and product data. When AI has access to this information, it can pinpoint customer purchasing patterns and behaviors. With AI-generated insights, sales reps will know which products each customer may need and what upsell and cross-sell recommendations would be most relevant.
- More time – Sales reps spend a lot of time on manual data entry and menial administrative tasks. AI-powered workflow tools automate these processes so your team can spend more time interacting with customers and actively selling.
- Catalog expertise – Unlike B2C, most distributors have thousands of SKUs. Unfortunately, this means it can take months – or even years – for salespeople to ramp up and learn about each product. Thankfully, with the help of AI tools, sales reps don’t have to be product experts. Instead, AI enables reps to find item details, product pairings, and pricing information almost instantly – so they can answer complicated customer questions in a flash.
Ready to Build YOUR Killer Inside Sales Team?
In an increasingly digital environment, technology is vital. Building a proactive inside sales team with the help of AI-driven tools will enable your business to scale and be highly competitive. To effectively implement these strategies, distributors should start with a small inside sales team composed of new salespeople. Hiring new reps instead of moving current ones into different roles will ensure you find people with the right skillsets.
Once you have a team in place, optimize their performance with formal training and AI tools. Your team should experiment with different sales models until it finds a winning method that can be recorded as a formal process. Keeping track of what does and doesn’t work for your team will help future hires ramp more quickly.
Once everything is in place, you can hire more reps, connect them to the right people and AI tools, and drive new growth.
Proton.ai has contributed to a 10X+ increase in revenue per pitch. Learn how it can help your inside sales team pitch relevant products that convert to actual sales.