Add Inside Sales…Fix Sales Problems

"serving customers with inside sales"

by Mark Allen Roberts

In my last post I shared how salespeople need to learn their A B C’s in terms of account segmentation to insure their salespeople  are spending time in areas that match your sales plan and insure sales goals are achieved. Nothing drives your CEO crazier than finding out your sales team is not hitting plan, and six months into the year he discovers sales is not executing the go-to-market plan everyone agreed to follow. One way I have used to insure sales teams execute sales plans is the implementation of inside sales. The first reaction I always receive when presenting inside sales is:we can not afford it. My answer is always;

You Can Not Afford Not To Have Inside Sales to Hit Sales Goals

In this post I will share my thought process on why inside sales is even more critical in today’s selling environment than ever before, how inside sales can turn cold calls into warm calls, increase sales with your C accounts, increase new customers, and reduce your current cost per sale and add more profit to your bottom line. Inside sales also offers a number of other benefits we will discuss, but I hope the above mentioned benefits are enough to keep you with me.

How has the sales environment changed in the last 5-8 years?

I used the same process I would use in a market trying to determine shifts, I interviewed a number of sales people and listened to what they are experiencing selling products in today’s market. Some of the common comments included:

My buyers have to justify each expenditure to the “higher ups”

C-level executives need to sign off on all orders

About 70% of what marketing gives me I do not use.

I have to speak with all kinds of people I never had to sell before; CTO, CMO, CEO, CFO…

Customers are not stocking up and they are taking much longer to buy, while our marketing programs try to reward customers to buy volume, but they are buying Just In Time

My buyers have the C-suite recommending competing vendors to our products and my buyers are spending time chasing these leads the C-suite read about or heard about at the country club…

My buyers say they are “cautiously optimistic” about our economy and therefore are not cutting Purchase Orders

Couple some of the above with the studies that indicate 70% of buying is occurring before the buyer makes contact with a salesperson even the most adamant skeptic must agree buyers are buying differently today and the sales process must adapt if you plan on hitting your sales numbers.

Inside Sales can turn Cold Calls into Warm calls

In addition to staying in contact, touching, your C Accounts, inside sales can establish trigger alerts through Google Alerts that give them a heads up when a trigger event occurs that may indicate a sales opportunity. For example, let’s say a manufacturing plant expanding has been proven to be a trigger event for turning suspect customers in to prospects and even quotes. Inside sales can establish a limitless number of Google Alerts to let them know when a trigger event occurs in the market. Your alert would look something like; “Ohio Plant expansion”. When that alert is triggered inside sales can search Linked in by company, make phone calls and send your product information to the right person ant the right time. Marketing should provide template tools to insure the communication connects to possible buyer pain points for this type of buyer by market. If the alert is for one of those large accounts, in your market sweet spot you have wanted to sell, inside sales will send information and make contact then introduce the field sales person. A common transition would sound something like ; “ as we have discussed it sounds like you are exploring products to support your plant expansion, we have our product specialist in your market on September 15th, would you like me to set up a time for him to meet with you and better understand how we can help you? “ I recommend providing inside sales a finder’s fee bonus on accounts they feed to outside sales that turn into orders. I often use some % of the first order’s profit.

Increase sales with your C accounts

Working with the VP of Sales and marketing you can establish strategic touches. Some that I have used include;

  • “thank you for your recent order, people who purchased ____have also purchased _____”
  • “I noticed you have not ordered since __________ and I wanted to check in on you”
  • “You asked to be kept in the loop on new products, did you see our _______ click the link in this email and it will send you to product information”
  • Promotions – I recommend a quarterly product focus, and have inside sales send an email and within 7 business days call to follow up, “did you see we are running a promotion on _______”

The key focus is service not sales. Inside sales tone and voice should be about helping the customer. All communications must feel relevant to your buyers and timely. When I say timely I am referring to communications that feel like they came just when the buyer needed them, like you know them.

Increase new customers

As we discussed above, inside sales will be constantly being alerted to triggers that may lead to new business. In addition, now that field sales have only A and B accounts, they can work the targeted accounts in their market opportunity profile.

Reduce your current cost per sale and add more profit to your bottom line

What does it cost your company to have a field salesperson call on an account?  For years I have used $500 as the cost of a call, but it may have gone up. You need to add the salesperson’s base, expenses, medical and all overhead to determine a cost. I have heard some people tackle this different way by having a daily cost of a salesperson model. Whatever you use, there is a cost. What is the cost of losing a key customer? The cost of losing a C account? What does an inside salesperson cost? In most cases their targeted compensation is 1/2 that of a field salesperson, and their only expenses are added phone calls and postage.

If you do not have inside sales today, I recommend a phased approach with regards to field sales commissions. In some cases, which will be an eye opener to many, the C accounts are the vast majority of your field sales commissions. Let me say that again in a different way; the majority of the commissions you are paying your best and brightest field salespeople who are not growing current accounts or opening targeted new accounts would have probably come in anyway, even without a field salesperson. I often implement a split commission structure in the first year as we transition to inside sales and this gives field sales time to refocus and not realize too much of a hit on their targeted compensation in year one.

Inside sales helps focus  on creating the greatest return on sales investment

Quick numbers…. Let’s say your field sales team member is costing you $700 per day. Let’s assume, because the field sales person has time to work current customers they increase their base key account sales by only 3%. Let’s also assume you reduce your account attrition by one key account per territory, and the salesperson only opens 4 new key accounts per year. In addition, as I experienced personally, your C accounts are now feeling you care about them , that they are important , and you are reaching out frequently with solutions to problems they were surprised you knew they had and C account sales grows over 10%. Inquiries from the internet speak to a live person and have their questions answered quickly and all inquires are treated like they could be customers. Your cost to support C accounts has decreased by 50% increasing your ROI on sales compensation invested…..I’ll say it again ;

You Can Not Afford Not To Have Inside Sales to Hit Sales Goals

The last benefit I also realized from inside sales is it often becomes your farm team for field sales. Your inside salespeople gain valuable experience often dealing with some of your most demanding customers. They learn your product lines and the problems they solve, your markets, and as your team grows often they can be called on to serve in a field sales capacity. They also learn to rely on the buying process you have taught them and when they venture out into the market follow it because they have experienced how having a sales process that mirrors how customers want to buy drives sales results.

So how about you…do you have an inside sales model?

What benefits have you realized from having inside sales?

What do you do strategically to insure inside sales and field sales work well together?

Given the shifts in how buyers are buying today, an inside sales position is key to insuring your sales team makes quota.

Does Your Sales Compensation Plan Create “ Commission Junkies”?

by Mark Allen Roberts


For as long as I have been in sales and sales leadership I have heard  true sales velocity is about carefully balancing the carrot and the stick to manage your salespeople. If your sales compensation program relies on unrealistic goals and heavily weighted sales compensation plan based on a carrot too far away or too big…you are creating “Commission Junkies”.

Commission Junkies are slapping their cell phones and typing follow up “where’s my order” emails as fast as their fingers can move hoping to find their next fix.

Let me ask you….Who would you prefer to help you buy something? Would you prefer someone who takes the time to truly understand your problem to be solved and understands the costs associated with that problem? Or someone who is obviously all about making his sales number” and “making his commission”? Do you want a professional sales person asking questions to understand your needs, or someone so focused on closing the sale they seem desperate? You might say;

“Mark that’s a dumb question…I want a sales consultant who helps me solve my problem, who understands my problem to be solved as if it were their own”.

(Quick look at your sales compensation program, and ask is that what you are rewarding?) …Really?

There is an old Native American saying: “the wolf we feed is the one that grows.”

What behaviors does your current sales compensation program feed?

OK….then why do so many sales compensation programs create what I call “Commission Junkies” who are desperately chasing that next fix of commission because their total compensation is heavily weighted on objectives that do not match your (published) culture?

Poor sales compensation models create bad behaviors in the field that can result in Brand Damage for your overall product offering.

So how do you know if your sales plan is poorly designed?

  • sales rep goals do not align with corporate overall strategy
  • your reps feel the goals are unobtainable
  • your reps feel the activities to hit their goals are out of their control
  • too many goals
  • a commission plan that requires a CPA to understand it
  • “commission claw backs”
  • commissions are not weighted based on corporate objectives
  • sales goals built from the board room and sent down to sales team to “make it happen
  • it is the same plan you have used for the past 2 years
  • the variable portion of total sales compensation is weighted too high
  • goals that change frequently
  • you have a targeted compensation plan with a commission cap

As I shared in my last post, leading salespeople is not as complicated as we often make it. The very essence of most salespeople is to take the path of least resistance that drives their desired income. Put another way, we have a high Utilitarian characteristic that makes us wired to want the maximum return on our efforts in the shortest amount of time. .Salespeople are competitive and welcome stretch goals that are obtainable.

Sales Goals created with Market Opportunity Profiles drive results and the sales behaviors you want in your market.

The wrong sales compensation plan creates “Commission Junkies” only out to make their next fix… their next commission. They become so about the next commission and who can create the next order the fastest they often fail to execute the sales plan. As I shared in a previous post, nothing drives CEO’s more nuts than finding out the sales plan is not being executed six months into the year.

A few questions for you….

How are your sales to plan Year to date?

Are you at your targeted sales and profit goals?

Is your sales team meeting and achieving their new product sales?

Are you opening the targeted new accounts you forecasted (needed to) open this year?

With has high as 50%- 70% of sales people not meeting plan this year, if you answered “no” to any of the above you are not alone. Last year alone the average sales team had 50-60% of salespeople not meeting plan and their goals this year went up on average 33%. Knowing you are not alone does not solve the problem or make you, your boss, owner, and or investors happy. Far too often a leading reason sale execution fails is due to your sales compensation program creating commission junkies and not consultative sales partners.

Do you want to quickly assess if you have sales consultants creating great experiences with your brand or Commission Junkies causing Brand Damage?

Ask your buyers if they believe your salesperson understands the problem to be solved and is in the process of presenting a total solution.

If you find some of your team are Commission Junkies there is still time to rehabilitate them by creating Market Opportunity Profiles. You can find a good article about creating sales compensation plans here if this is an area you plan to work on.