During the past few years, the challenging economy precipitated changes in approach for many sales organizations. There are two that are structural and therefore significant: a greater dependence on reseller/channel partners and a transition in revenue responsibility from field to inside sales.
The transition to alternate sales channels yields potential rewards as well as poses risks. Surely lowering fixed costs is the primary driver, but with that often comes a loss of pipeline visibility and control. Re-read this powerful interview with Braham Shneider, CEO of Channel Enablers, for a deeper understanding of the issues and solutions.
As numbers of companies changed the balance away from field to inside sales, they were seeking a similar benefit: lower costs. Some companies did well with this change in strategy. Others didn't, being unable to compete effectively in their markets.
I called on Josiane Feigon, President of TeleSmart Communications, for some insight into what's going on today with inside sales.
Dave Stein: Before we get into the challenges, what's the good news on the inside sales front?
Josiane Feigon: Inside sales is in the driver's seat - inside sales organizations continue to grow at least 30% faster than their field sales counterparts.
DS: Of course every company is different, but in a general sense, what are three pressing challenges inside sales managers are facing and why now?
JF: 1. Call Activity: As call activity continues to decline, managers are struggling to find the right metrics to measure their teams' success. Social media has become a "must-have," but managers are still not sure how to include this in their metrics.
2. Coaching: Managers have spent too much time building dashboards and attempting to rescue dead deals. They've forgotten about the basics of coaching, mentoring and establishing trust with their teams - especially now that many of them are spread out geographically. Managers need to learn how to properly manage remote salespeople. They must invest more time motivating, developing and encouraging their reps instead of embarrassing and de-motivating them.
3. Customer 2.0: Sales managers need to educate themselves and their teams on the new habits of Customer 2.0 - an independent, self-educating, slippery audience. The more they understand this new kind of customer, the better they can set new standards and coaching expectations for their team members.
DS: Is there something sales managers should be doing now to better prepare them to overcome these challenges?
JF: The majority of inside sales managers started as individual contributors, and many of them manage their teams from that hindsight perspective. They must realize that sales has undergone a massive transformation. What worked in the past doesn't necessarily work now. Managers can no longer make decisions based on metrics, deals in the pipeline, and talent they haven't developed based on information from 15 years ago.
DS: What are the biggest mistakes you see inside sales managers making these days?
JF: Most do not value the process of planning, and yet the #1 complaint I receive from managers is poor time management from their reps. Managers must reinforce the importance of proper planning with their teams. I'm surprised how many managers do not require a formal territory business plan to help understand the state of the territory, the sales challenges, early adopters, and how the rep will tackle their numbers. This is a time-consuming exercise-many managers prefer to have their teams on the phones making calls. But the planning process always pays off!
DS: Let's say you're an inside sales rep and your manager is overwhelmed with everything but managing their team. What should you be doing to increase your level of performance?
JF: I mentioned earlier the importance of building a business plan and believe this sets the focus for inside sales to work independently and as entrepreneurs-owning and developing their territories. Many reps are paralyzed these days and don't know where to focus and on what because there is so much coming at them at one time.
Josiane Feigon is President of TeleSmart Communications and is recognized as one of the world's leading experts on inside sales. For over 20 years she has provided consulting, coaching, and training solutions for hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies, including Cisco, Autodesk, Informatica, Taleo, Citrix Systems, and VeriSign. Her book, Smart Selling on the Phone and Online, is has become the source book for inside sales. I had a few good words to say about her book here.
Note: ES Research Group will be publishing an evaluation of TeleSmart Communications next month.