“Better” is relative in this situation: both inside and outside sales are extremely valuable to any sales strategy, meaning your inside and outside sales representatives are too. Ideally, you should be utilizing both, but if you have to choose one to focus on due to time and financial limitations, it’s good to fully understand the details of both inside and outside sales representatives, in order to make the right call.
In this guide, we’re diving deep into inside and outside sales: why one might be more valuable for your company's specific goals, how to hire reps, how to structure your sales team, and much more.
Outside sales is the process of selling products and services in person, through face-to-face meetings. Outside sales representatives travel to meet their prospects. This can happen at industry events and trade shows, as well as the prospect’s office or a restaurant—it can even just be going from door to door. It all depends on what you’re selling, the industry norms, and your company’s strategy.
Outside sales is also called field sales. Although outside sales reps do sometimes have an office as their base, they spend most of their time in the field.
Unlike inside sales reps that may close hundreds of sales without seeing their prospect’s face, the success of outside salespeople depends on their ability to build and maintain in-person relationships with their prospects.
Outside reps build trust through the power of in-person interactions, body language and deeper human connection. Because of their proximity to the client, hiring the right kind of people as your outside sales representatives is crucial, but we’ll touch more on that later!
Inside sales is the process of selling products and services remotely (as opposed to face-to-face). Inside sales reps don’t meet their sales prospects in person. Instead, they use phone calls, emails, video conferencing and more to maintain relationships with their leads, prospects and customers.
Inside sales is also known as virtual sales or remote sales. It usually takes place from behind a desk and inside sales representatives have the benefit of being able to sell to anyone, regardless of how far away they are!
In the 1980s, the term inside sales was used to differentiate telemarketing from high-value phone sales that were typical for B2B and B2C sales practices at that time. By the early 2000s, inside sales became a term to help differentiate sales conducted from an office and sales conducted in the field, or territory.
Outside salespeople are often on the go. The core of their job is to meet their potential customers at events such as conferences and trade shows, or out in the field. Oftentimes an outside sales representative will have a territory he or she covers, where clients are met in their own offices or places of business. Other opportunities for a sale might be outside of a work setting, such as at a golf course or restaurant. It could just involve visiting businesses in your target market or that match your current customers.
Unlike inside sales, outside sales has a lot less structure. Outside sales reps set their own schedule, depending on the industry, and work in a more autonomous way. Their working hours may differ from the standard 9 to 5, depending on the types of meetings they’ve arranged.
Like inside sales, outside sales follows a sales process and thrives on activity-based selling. On top of standard sales tools (like CRM and a calendar) and channels (like email, phone calls, and text messages), they also often use tools to map their physical sales territories and routes.
Outside sales reps invest a lot of time into each lead they choose to meet. This is why it’s useful to focus on deals of larger value, especially when there’s a number of decision-makers involved. Correctly qualifying leads (and breaking up with prospects that aren’t a fit for their offer) helps outside sales reps make the most of their time on the field. In other words, there’s a lot of strategy involved for an outside sales representative, and quality of a deal is valued over quantity.
Throughout their sales process, both inside and outside sales reps:
Establish a personal connection with their lead
Listen to their challenges and pain points
Present solutions relevant to these pain points
Close the deal by asking for business
The difference is that outside sales representatives most often do all this all at once during meetings with their prospective clients, while inside sales reps usually split this between dozens of email, text, and phone call touchpoints.
Because of how hands-on this process is, outside sales naturally results in a longer sales cycle, built around standing relationships with clients. Unlike inside sales, the in-person relationships that outside sales thrives on can’t be scaled or automated. However, by working with less leads at once and focusing on the individual needs of each person they meet with, outside sales reps are likely to close a higher percentage of deals in their pipeline.
To sum up outside sales, here are its benefits:
Stronger customer relationships
Higher close rate (as they focus on a smaller number of leads and spend more time and in-person effort on each)
Keeping a finger on the industry pulse
Motivated sales reps due to higher commissions
If you’re wondering “what is inside sales?”, you probably also want to know what an inside sales rep does. Inside sales reps work from their home or an office, cold calling, emailing, or reaching out in various cases to generate new leads for their sales team.
Since inside salespeople don’t meet with their prospects in-person, they need reliable tools to connect with their potential customers.
The channels they’re using for their entire sales process include:
In other words, they can take a cold lead and turn it into a paying customer without leaving their desk. They need a stable internet connection and a way to conduct phone calls with quality audio.
Inside sales reps need the skill of picking up verbal and audible cues in their sales conversations, because they usually don’t meet a client face-to-face (video chats being the exception). Without this skill, inside sales reps will struggle to move their deals forward.
Inside sales offers a more predictable schedule. Based on their sales conversations, reps can quickly identify their prospect’s position in the sales funnel. As a result, inside sales reps can plan their daily and weekly activities accordingly.
Let’s say the inside sales representative has a goal to close 10 sales. Their ideal pipeline in this case might include 200 incoming leads for this period. They know they qualify about half of all leads, which brings them 100 good leads to work with. If they usually close 10% of all their qualified leads, they know this is enough for them to hit their goal, as that’s a lot smaller of a margin than outside sales representatives are usually responsible for!
Knowing these benchmarks, what a qualified lead looks like, and expectations helps them stay on track and meet quotas.
And if you empower them with a CRM to track their efforts, they’ll be unstoppable.
As they are selling remotely, inside sales reps have the power to switch their focus from one sales funnel stage to the other quickly. Likewise, when they disqualify a lead based on the lack of needs or budget, they can move to a qualified one right away, without wasting too much time..
On top of that, they can communicate with dozens of leads on a daily basis and automate a lot of their communication.
Because they’re in an office (rather than on the field), they can get a clearer insight not only on their own results, but on the collective performance of the team. Working towards shared goals can strengthen unity and teamwork.
“The critical skills for inside sales reps include listening and rapport building over the phone or in video calls,” explains Jaakko Paalanen, Chief Revenue Officer at Leadfeeder. “Organization skills are crucial, too, since they’re probably handling a higher volume of accounts.”
These are the main benefits of having inside sales reps:
A well-defined, strategic sales process
A shorter sales cycle
An opportunity to scale
The power of teamwork
More time to focus on selling (instead of admin, travel, etc.)
If you’re building a team of inside or outside sales reps, you want to make sure you’re offering compensation that will attract top performers.
And if you’re the one looking for a job in such a team, or you’re already in such a role, you want to make sure you get what you’re worth.
Let’s look at some key data for several countries (accurate as of 2 December 2019).
Note that salaries depend on the specific country, its standard of living and market fluctuations, different situations call for and value the types of sales representatives differently.
Shane Ronan-Duggan, head of business development for Dataships, a data privacy software company, has noticed that there’s a difference when selling into different markets:
“The biggest difference I have seen is a cultural one. For instance, here in Ireland people respond better to a face-to-face meeting—maybe once in the sales cycle. When selling into the UK, however, the end-to-end process can be done completely over the phone.”
“With new technologies, face-to-face interactions can now be achieved as inside sales through video calls,” he continues. “For me, the key to being successful is training all sales people, inside or field-based, in the same sales methodology.”
Take this cultural difference into account when hiring for either inside or outside sales roles in specific countries. Use the above numbers as a baseline for their respective countries. Notice that there’s a pattern? Outside sales professionals are paid slightly more than inside reps.
Here’s the case for higher salary for outside sales representatives:
Being out on the field requires lots of adaptability from a sales rep’s perspective. The more experienced he or she is, the easier it is to handle any curveballs and unforeseen circumstances.
Based on the PayScale reports mentioned earlier, outside sales vs. inside sales commissions seem to reflect this, too. For example:
Salaries and commissions for sales reps should reflect the value of their skillset, talent and the results they create for their team.
As well as the salaries associated with hiring inside and outside sales reps, there are also costs to consider around commissions—and the growth potential that comes when hiring for these roles.
With an inside sales team, your budget can go a long way. All these reps need are a computer, a solid internet connection and a CRM to help them always stay on track.
As you add more inside reps to your team, the cost of running your sales operations doesn’t skyrocket. New costs include a new hire’s salary, an additional CRM seat, and sales training.
With a bigger team that operates from your office, or even their own home if they work remotely, you can now reach more prospects and upscale your sales. On top of that, with a great CRM tool your inside sales team will be able to:
In other words, you’ll be able to multiply your sales results at a lower cost, with minimum risk.
Growing your outside sales team will usually cost you more than just salaries and CRM seats, but the argument is that the payoff is exponentially higher. Also, in some cases depending on the industry, product, and stage your business is in, the cost might be well worth it.
Your field reps rely on the quality of their in-person meetings. This means that for every new rep, you must ensure the budget for flights, dinners, meeting rooms, accommodation, a company car and more.
On top of that, face-to-face conversations can’t be automated. Your rep can’t have the same conversation with more than one lead at the same time. These conversations also last longer than a typical phone call or an email exchange.
In other words, an outside sales representative can only be closing one deal at a time. They spend significantly more time switching (i.e. traveling) between two leads than an inside sales rep does.
Outside sales means managing a single relationship at a time.
If you’re selling high-ticket products or services, investing in outside sales reps can yield returns for many years to come.
“Match your offering’s lifetime value to the customer acquisition cost and make sure it’s over three times higher,” suggests Jaakko Paalanen. “If you can accomplish that ratio with a repeatable process, outside sales could work for you.”
Deeper customer relationships are often behind higher customer lifetime value and loyalty. Steven Benson, the founder and CEO of Badger Maps, a route planner app for field sales reps, describes a trick to maximize outside sales performance despite the scalability challenge:
“Identify the skills that a rep needs to be successful on your team and figure out who has the deepest expertise in each of those skills. Then, prepare your top reps to ‘clone’ themselves—in other words, transfer those skills to the rest of the team.”
Benson continues by saying that “group sessions are a great way to get everyone on the same page. Top-performing reps can show the rest of the team how to utilize their techniques as part of weekly or monthly training sessions. Make learning an ongoing part of the job and maximize knowledge retention.”
“With the right cloning strategy, your entire outside sales team will start closing more deals,” he concluded.
Outside sales is harder to scale because of the higher costs that come with hiring more reps, so this sales strategy is a smart approach when you’re aiming for slower, long-term growth. When you need to grow faster, inside sales may be a good, cost-effective initial focus. Expanding your outside sales team will suit you when you’re ready to invest more into in-person customer relationships.
Looking for superstar salespeople? If you want to hire for specific roles in inside and/or outside sales, there’s one truth to keep in mind: all high-performing sales reps are great communicators who are driven by understanding their prospects and focused on results.
But the way they’ll have to use these skills in an inside sales model compared to the outside sales environment is quite different. Let’s look into both.
When reviewing the CVs of potential candidates for an inside sales job, here’s what you’ll want to look for and ask about in your interviews.
Here’s what to look for when hiring a high-performing field sales rep.
If you want to quickly review the key differences between inside and outside sales, we've got you covered.
“For us at Cognism inside sales is our predominant approach, due to the locations we target and our relatively small deal size, so we build trust online,” says Jonathon Ilett, Sales Director at Cognism.
“However, outside sales is beneficial for larger deal sizes and we actively promote face-to-face engagement for these deals, so the sales team are actually doing a hybrid role: for more transactional deals, our reps use the phone or give remote demos (inside); for complex solution sales we encourage face-to-face engagement (outside).” he adds.
Again, if you’re looking for long-term large-scale growth, and can afford it, outside sales representatives might be your way to go. If you need fast results that fit into a smaller budget, you may need to focus on inside sales only.
Earlier, we talked about the cost and scalability of inside and outside sales teams, but what about when you need both teams to work together? How can you ensure they work in sync instead of stepping on each other’s toes?
The State of Sales report from InsideSales.com revealed that:
On top of that, the apparently clear distinction between inside and outside sales is becoming a bit blurred—outside sales spend almost half of their time selling remotely.
The same report revealed how companies approach inside and outside sales based on their size:
Your current company size may help you see which sales approach fits you better, but let’s look into ways you can combine both.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to structuring your sales team—it will always depend on your market, company goals, industry, and many other factors.
There are only a few ways you can approach inside and outside sales for your team:
In this setup, there’s no real overlap between your inside reps and field reps (outside sales representatives). Everyone works on their own leads. Each team has separate daily, weekly and monthly quotas.
If you choose to go this way, you enable everyone to do their best work without depending on the other team. You can assign leads based on their size, which is quite an expected approach in B2B sales.
You can assign small and medium-sized companies as leads to the inside sales team. These deals move through the sales pipeline faster and fit the nature of remote inside sales.
Large companies—potentially large deals—can then be assigned to field reps who can invest more time into relationship building that requires face-to-face interactions.
This approach still keeps the sales teams separate—all the reps still only do inside or outside sales—but they collaborate and help each other move leads forward and close deals.
For example, your inside sales team can work with leads that are located far from your office before outside sales reps plan to visit them. Inside sales reps have a refined process to identify more specific pain points and potential objections and help your field reps prepare—or save them a trip if the lead turns out to be unqualified.
With outside sales teams spending almost half of their time selling remotely, a hybrid sales team seems to be the direction many sales organizations are taking.
So how do hybrid sales reps organize their time and take proper action with their leads?
When they’re in the office, hybrid sales reps make the most out of their time at their desk.
When they head out, they focus on the leads of highest value. They’re well prepared based on the pain points they uncovered when qualifying these leads, and they have a plan on how to approach them. They’re adamant about tracking their activities on the field the same way they do in the office.
Brian Forrester, the co-founder of Workshop Digital, an SEO and digital marketing agency, describes their hybrid approach to inside and outside sales this way:
“We don't need dedicated inside sales reps and we don't need dedicated outside sales reps, so consolidating the responsibilities allows us to operate a very lean sales team and still hit our sales goals. For our small business, this hybrid model is more cost-effective. Our internal sales are scalable as we close them entirely over the phone or via web conferencing, and we do this for about 80% of our new business prospects.”
“However, certain key accounts, as well as local businesses near Richmond, VA, require outside sales functions including more in-depth and personalized strategies and face-to-face meetings,” he added. “While we aren't "pounding the pavement" and knocking on doors to generate prospects, some of the prospects do require an outside sales approach. We've become more adept at assessing those needs and layering on the right approach over time.”
Whichever team structure you decide is right for you, you need the tools that will allow your sales reps to work at their best and collaborate efficiently.
As Stan Masseueras, Intercom’s sales director for European region explained: “The democratization of productivity and communication tools has been extraordinary over the past five to seven years. It has never been easier and cheaper to sell to, manage and support your customers wherever they are and connect with them at a deeper level.”
“We’ve evolved toward a world where inside sales reps travel to meet customers strategically and field reps are boosting their productivity by making the most out of modern communication solutions,” he adds.
Here’s a list of our tool suggestions:
With everything you know about your company, lead types, deal sizes and industry, you can use this guide to identify the budget and skills you need to build a high-performing sales team that suits your business.
If you’re low on budget and want to scale, or have a shorter sales cycle, you should consider hiring inside salespeople. If, on the other hand, you sell a product or service that would benefit from face-to-face engagement with prospects, where your salespeople build long-lasting relationships, consider focusing on hiring a team of well-qualified outside sales representatives.
You may think that you would benefit most from the best of both worlds, with a hybrid sales team able to kill it on their cold calls and charm potential clients in person. The important thing is that you focus on the most valuable goals for your company and choose a sales strategy that caters to them.
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