Inside Sales: A Complete Guide [With Process, Tools & Best Practices]

The last couple of years changed everything. They changed the way we view the world; the way we interact with each other. They also changed the way businesses are run, and sales happen.

A lot changed for us at LeadSquared as well. While we had already started building our inside sales team some time before the pandemic hit, we have now scaled the team ten-fold even as the post-pandemic world continues to unfurl around us.

Sure, the journey wasn’t smooth. We fell, we rose, fell again, learned, and improved. And today, we stand as a successful inside sales-led organization with hundreds of reps selling comfortably from different parts of the world.

I’ll walk you through the nitty-gritty of the inside sales process, things to keep in mind while building a team, how to keep your reps motivated, and tools you can use to enable your teams.

Let’s get started.

In this article:

What is Inside Sales?
Benefits
Process and team structure
How to build a successful team
Tech tools for inside sales reps
How is inside sales different in B2B and B2C sectors
Job challenges
Must-have qualities of inside sales professionals

Special thanks to Hiral, Gaurav, and Sahil for sharing their experiences and learnings for this article.

What is Inside Sales?

By definition, inside sales refers to sales activities that happen from office premises. Unlike field sales or outside sales, inside sales reps don’t need to travel to meet prospects and close deals. It includes prospecting and selling through phone calls, emails, text messages, video calls (Zoom or Google Meet) and LinkedIn.

Blurred Lines

But the line between inside and outside sales has blurred. When the coronavirus pandemic struck, there was no choice but to execute sales online. Inside sales also picked up pace within the past year because, 1) the investment is low, and 2) it is easy to scale.

Broken Perceptions

Earlier, people believed that inside sales is for small-ticket deals. The perception was that in-person meetings were necessary to gain buyers’ trust. But now, even in the B2B space (and in high-ticket, high sales-velocity B2C space) customers are getting used to buying online. Sales reps are successfully closing million-dollar deals over zoom (The State of Sales 2021, LinkedIn). LinkedIn also reveals that 37% of their survey respondents had closed deals of $500,000 or more without ever meeting the buyer in-person.

Benefits of Inside Sales

I love inside sales because of its scalability – both in terms of revenue and team. The investment and budget to manage teams is also low. Let’s look at some of the other benefits of the inside sales model.

1. Scalability

Once you decode what works for your business and the math behind it, you can train ten more people to follow your sales strategy.

2. Cost-efficient

It is a very cost-effective business model.  In the absence of travel and accommodation costs, you can spend more time and money in setting scalable processes.

3. Time and resource efficient

Simply put, inside sales is most cost-effective than field sales. Imagine having to travel to every lead’s office trying to have conversations about your product. Even more, there is a probability that you may get turned away and may end up traveling all that way for nothing. The sales person would be spending time and money trying to sell.

However, with inside sales, they can sell in the convenience of their desks and if a lead is not available to talk, then all that is lost is a couple of minutes.

[Also read: Inside sales vs. outside sales]

4. Agile and more transparent

Everything moves fast in inside sales. You can test existing processes, incorporate a new one, A/B test the two, and make changes in the existing process – all very rapidly.

An inside sales process in many cases is automated completely using a CRM tool, which means that most of it would be completely visible to everyone within the team. There should be no instances where people complain of not being dealt a fair hand, which can be a common complaint among sales teams. Also, it becomes difficult for your sales teams to slack off, as constant updates are sent to their bosses 😉

5. Easier to manage

This is a huge benefit for sales managers. Mostly field sales teams are spread across locations, either nationally or internationally. This makes it a little difficult for you to keep a check on them. But, an inside sales team can all sit in the same location, and just makes your work easier for you.

6. Predict revenues

Inside sales follow a very calculative approach. You know how many calls individual reps must make or how many demos they must book per day to achieve the target.

Knowing these numbers and tracking them meticulously will help you predict revenue and plan a future-proof strategy.

Inside sales is a game of volumes. You must have your numbers down to the smallest detail. And because you can measure everything in inside sales, you can make changes and improve the process frequently.

Inside Sales Process and Team Structure

Did you know that companies with sales teams dominated by inside sales reps have a 9.8% higher quota attainment than companies dominated by outside sales reps (source)? The HubSpot Sales Enablement Survey 2021 found that 64% of sales leaders who transitioned to remote work sales in 2020 met or exceeded their sales goals. McKinsey also reports that before the pandemic, 52 percent of B2B decision-makers preferred traditional sales interactions. Today, 66 percent prefer virtual sales interactions.

The above statistics reflect why you should be investing in an inside sales team. But, then how do you set it up to work properly? Having an inside sales team without having a process in place will give you no better results than setting out to blindly sell in the field. So, let me help you understand exactly how you can set this up and the various stages within the inside sales process.

The Inside Sales Process

For your inside sales process to work without a glitch, you need to have some essential components. This includes:

  • A smart inside sales team
  • A good sales calling tool
  • An intelligent CRM tool
  • An integrated analytics tool

Much like following a recipe, the above list can be considered as your ingredients that you need to prepare before you start your actual cooking. You have your components ready, now let’s start cooking!

The inside sales process

1. Lead Capture

For your inside sales team to work and show results, they need to first have leads to reach out to. Previously, tele calling teams used to reach out to random people and try to sell their products. Not only is this counterproductive, but it can also irritate your audience and have them blacklisting you.

Which is why the first step in this process is to identify your target audience and where this target audience is present. Then, you can define your lead sources accordingly and start running campaigns for them. Your CRM tool will be a huge help in capturing your leads that come from these different sources. It will also curate all your leads according to the sources so that it is easy for you to identify your best lead source.

2. Lead Distribution

I would say this is probably the most important step in the whole process. I have heard of businesses where all the leads land in an excel sheet. The sheet is open to access to all the sales folks and they can pick whichever one they want and start working on it. This is just a recipe for disaster. Humans, given a choice, will pick the best of the lot, always.

Which is why, an automated system that would distribute the leads uniformly based on preset criteria, will make your system more fair and transparent.

3. Lead Qualification

It does not stop with just distributing leads. Your inside sales team needs to also know how to qualify and prioritize leads. Not all the leads that make contact with your business will buy from you. Some may just be curious, or some are just random leads that came in by mistake. Your inside salesperson cannot be calling all of them and wasting their time when they can be chasing after more important leads.

Have a tool, that will help them to know at a glance which leads are more likely to convert. This could be done by assigning scores to them based on their activities, requirements or even demography.

4. Calling

This is where your tele-calling tool comes into the picture. They should be able to make calls to the list of leads assigned to them easily. But more importantly, it is necessary that these calls are being tracked in your CRM tool so that you know what is happening with your leads.

By keeping a track of when the calls are being made the sales manager will have a track on how efficient the sales team is. Some CRMs even go a step further to record the conversations that is happening. This is helpful for both the manager as well as the salesman. The manager can review the inside sales guy’s pitch and modify and refine it, if necessary. Similarly, the salesman can listen to the previous conversation to do a quick recap before contacting the lead again.

5. Follow-up

What a blissful world it will be when we call the lead and they agree to purchase immediately. But alas, real life ain’t so simple! Did you know that 50% of sales happen after the 5th followup (source)? Which is why you should follow-up diligently with your sales lead until they convert. But that does not mean badger the poor guy until he buys. But even a simple phone call asking them how they’ve been can tip the scales in your favor.

Use your CRM tool to set up automated reminders for your followups, so that you don’t forget. Or if emails are your mode of communication, then set up followup sequences for your leads over emails. This should be doable with a simple automation workflow on your CRM.

6. Deal Closure

This is the icing on the cake, the goal that you have been working towards. Getting your leads to cough up their money in return for your product or service. Okay, that sounds crude, but you get what I mean? Closing a deal is the sweet spot for any salesperson, and this should be the final step for an inside salesperson before he hands it on to the customer success team.


Note that the inside sales process largely depends on your organization, goal, and team structure. However, you’ll frequently come across terms like BDR, SDR, and AE. Let me explain these roles and their participation in inside sales.

  • SDR stands for Sales Development Representatives. They focus on reaching out, prospecting, and deciding if a lead is qualified or not. For example, when a person downloads a document or registers for a webinar, requests a demo or initiates chat, SDRs contact them, enter call disposition and update tasks done in CRM and hand over the lead to an Account Executive or AE. Note that SDRs work with both inside and outside sales teams.   

Good conversation with good people is what I love the most about my job.

Gaurav Sharma, Sales Development Executive (US), LeadSquared
  • BDR stands for Business Development Representatives. They focus on generating qualified prospects using cold email, cold calling, social selling, and networking. Often SDRs do cold calling and pass on qualified leads to BDRs and AEs.
  • AE stands for Account Executives. They are responsible for conducting meetings, nurturing the sales pipeline, closing deals, and managing customer interactions.

Inside Sales Team Structure

In B2B organizations, there is a VP – Sales, Team Lead – Inside Sales, and then a number of SDRs and sales representatives.

Inside sales team structure

In B2C sales, there is a Director, Senior Manager, Team Lead, and sales representatives or individual contributors.

Inside sales gives me a better sales opportunity than field sales. I could listen to people around me and learn and improvise my pitch. When I was a new joinee, my manager was always there in front of me to train me and help me out.

Hiral Shah, Team Lead – Inside Sales, LeadSquared

Note that the hierarchy and team structure may vary based on the organization and their operational model.

The Role of Managers and Team Leads in Inside Sales

Managers and Team Leads closely watch the activities or the discipline of their team members and ensure the team is on track to achieve the revenue targets. They also set up processes to empower the reps – and help them achieve the best possible outcomes based on past learnings.

Training:

The inside sales managers must train new joiners or reps to execute the tasks at hand. For instance, initiate conversations, follow-up, and influence people to buy your product/service. Managers also train their team members to use tech tools such as CRM.

Targets:

Team Leads and managers have individual and team targets. However, in the B2C space, managers usually have only team targets.

Reporting:

Tools like CRM are a great aid in generating automated reports. Managers refer to the sales activity reports that state:

  • Daily/weekly calls made
  • Call duration or talk time
  • Meetings/demos scheduled
  • Meetings/demos done
  • Pipeline created
  • Deals closed
  • Revenue generated

I’m always empathetic with my team. I never scream or grill anyone. I listen to their problems and motivate them by showing the growth that lies ahead. Often, I ask them to make calls not to complete talk time but to book meetings. For me, quality is more important than quantity. If my team members make fewer calls but still could meet their targets, I’m totally okay with it.

Sahil Sansarwal, Team Lead – Sales Development (US), LeadSquared

You can help your team work more productively through technology. Now let’s hop on to the aspects that will make your inside sales strategy successful.

How to Build a Successful Inside Sales Team

1. Provide training

Even if you hire an experienced professional, sales and product training are crucial.

Sales training is important to make reps acquainted with your culture and process. And product training, of course, is necessary to help them understand your product/service and its USP better. You can also conduct tests to qualify reps to sell to a particular segment.

For instance, at LeadSquared, we have made the sales training and subsequent tests compulsory for reps who want to sell in the BFSI sector. It ensures that the sales reps have the product as well as industry knowledge.

You can also train your team members to follow the sales techniques of your star performers.

2. Track metrics and improve your process regularly

You cannot improve what you cannot measure. Keep a tab on sales metrics. Identify what’s preventing you from meeting your targets – is it the lead quality, fitment gap, competitor, or market.

Device strategies to overcome those challenges. Let me give you an example.

Once we found it difficult to sell in one of our target regions. So, we immediately built a team to identify product use cases, market demand, and regional competitors. It helped us uncover a lot of opportunities that we couldn’t have otherwise.

3. Automate as much as you can

Automation is at the core of a scalable business. Identify manual processes where your team members are spending time that can be better invested elsewhere. Figure out if there’s a way to automate this process.

People generally don’t realize how much time they spend doing paperwork or data-related work. For instance, data collection, approvals, and updates are the top productivity killers. According to Smartsheet, workers could save at least six hours a week with automation.

At LeadSquared, we rarely ask reps to prepare reports. Neither do they have to spend time entering data into the system. We fetch their activities and tasks from the CRM software itself. We have also integrated our system with all the tools they use, such as Google Ads, LinkedIn, Zoom, and more.

4. Align sales and marketing

Sales reps are the ones who interact with the buyers. They can bring practical understanding to the marketing. Utilize their knowledge to curate your marketing message. For example, when your sales reps identify a buyer’s challenge that can be resolved through your product/service, let the marketing team write blogs around it. Share them on social media, distribute them via email campaigns. This way, you’ll be strengthening your inbound source, and buyers’ inquiries will start coming in automatically.

Make sure the messaging is consistent across teams. Marketing folks must know what’s happening in sales, the market they’re trying to penetrate, ideal customer profile, buyer’s persona, etc. And sales teams must:

  • Provide the required info
  • Utilize the efforts of marketing to expand their reach.

[Also read: Sales and Marketing Alignment Best Practices]

5. Invest in technology tools

If you think a particular software can make your reps’ lives easy – go for it. Apart from LeadSquared, we use several other tools for prospecting, meetings, calling, and more.

In the next section, I’ll list the tools that my team generally uses.

6. Develop a healthy competition and keep motivating you teams

You can use a leaderboard to recognize your star performers. Reward and incentivize them weekly, monthly, or quarterly – based on your organization’s policies.

Use this strategy to identify the hurdles that reps face. Are they not getting quality leads, is there a problem in their pitch, is the tool not easy to use, do they have access to all the relevant tools, so they know the best practices, and so on?

Remember, in sales, success will be compounded when the entire team performs. Train, handhold and empower them to do this.

You must scale your success. Imagine the additional revenue you could bring by replicating the strategies of your top salespeople.

Tech Tools for Inside Sales Teams

We use LeadSquared CRM and LinkedIn Sales Navigator (as some of our team members do prospecting as well).

But apart from these two tools, some team members also use a couple of other software to make their tasks easy. Here’s a list of tools you can use to enable your inside sales teams.

1. CRM software

There are several reasons why salespeople need CRM software:

LeadSquared is one of the world’s best cloud-based CRMs that helps organizations execute high-velocity sales. (You can request a free trial here)

People (Team Leads especially) who have joined us recently, and have used Salesforce before, say that LeadSquared is much easier to use than Salesforce. Let me explain.

People join sales from different educational backgrounds and may not know simple computational logic such as “if-else.” And they shouldn’t have to (their expertise is building relationships.) That’s where LeadSquared comes in handy. Reps can easily filter data (without any code). They say – “The “Smart Views” feature of LeadSquared is all we need.” With this, they can:

  • Manage leads, marketing activities, and sales tasks all in one place.
  • Setup views based on their favorite/most required filters.
  • Get daily reports on the views they create.

Administrators can also create Smart Views and show specific users/teams the accounts, leads, opportunities, activities, and tasks relevant to them.

Want to see Smart Views in action? Book a free demo.

2. Prospecting tools

Reps need to reach out to the right buyer and understand their business and process. Only then can they propose a solution to improve these key processes.

LinkedIn Sales Navigator is a good choice as it helps target, track, and engage with leads. Plus, it is easy to integrate this tool with LeadSquared CRM to get a complete picture of leads as soon as they enter the sales funnel.

Another tool that many reps use is Getprospect. It helps find email ids from the LinkedIn database.

If you want more details, such as phone number and mailing address apart from email ids, Lusha is a great aid.

3. Conversation intelligence

It is very human to miss out on the details of the conversation, especially when reps are making hundreds of calls every day.

Outreach’s Kaia is a good tool to record meetings, prepare notes, and capture key moments. It frees up the manager’s time as they need not be in every sales call and instead can go through the notes generated by the tool.

Another similar tool is Fireflies.ai. It helps you record, transcribe, and search across your voice conversations.

If you don’t want to invest in additional tools, you can also use LeadSquared’s call-disposition feature to make notes during the call. You can use the default template or customize the fields based on your requirements.

Call disposition pop up in LeadSquared

4. Automated dialers

You can use cloud telephony or cloud-calling solutions to make calling easier for your reps. Some of the good systems out there are RingCentral, CallTrackingMetrics, Ozonetel, CallRail, and Exotel.

You can also integrate them with your CRM software to make calls and manage dispositions from one place.

5. Competitive intelligence

Vapalizer chrome extension takes you a step further in your prospecting journey. It tells you about the software tools the company is currently using when you visit their website. It helps reps understand the competition and prepare their proposal accordingly.

6. Schedulers

Meeting scheduling tools such as Calendly are also helpful for reps to schedule meetings, send reminder emails, and more.

7. Revenue intelligence

Signing a deal is just not sufficient. Building long-term relationships with customers is more important. You have to cross-sell or upsell to increase your customer lifetime value and increase revenues.

Gong is a great platform to discover deal risks, identify churn signals, and take measures to prevent them.

Note that you may not need all the tools mentioned. Depending on your business and requirements, you can choose the software. For instance, our B2C clients can manage and enable their inside sales teams just with CRM software.

How is Inside Sales Different in B2B and B2C?

I have sales professionals from both B2C and B2B sectors in my team. And I’m often thrilled with the energy and understanding they bring.

I wanted to put this distinction to help reps understand the sales process in both sectors and accordingly make a choice. Just like you want to grow and flourish in an organization, we also look for the right talents and help you grow.

Inside sales in B2B and B2C sectors

Difference between B2B inside sales and B2C inside sales:

 B2BB2C
Prospecting requiredYes.
Reps may have to do prospecting – depending on the organization’s needs.
No.
Reps work on the leads provided by the team (for example, marketing campaigns, list import)
Email marketingYes.
Email marketing plays an important role in nurturing B2B leads, and often inside sales reps make use of this channel.
No.
There’s usually a dedicated team for email marketing.
TargetsQuarterlyWeekly or monthly (depending on the company’s velocity of sales execution.)
Decision making for dealsReps must take approvals if the deal requires additional discounts.Individual contributors can offer discounts and close deals on the spot.
Number of calls per dayReps make a smaller number of calls per day.  Reps generally make more calls per day. (Depending on the business, targets may range from 50 to 100 calls per day)
IncentivesQuarterly or half-yearly – depending on the sales cycle.Monthly
GrowthUnderstand that targets and performances are usually evaluated quarterly. The growth opportunity is huge in B2B but takes time.Fast.
Reps can get promotion within 7-8 months based on their monthly performances.
PressureRelatively Less.
There is daily cadence, but activities are checked weekly or at most once in a day.
Huge.
There’s always a person on top who is tracking your activities everyday – sometimes even twice or thrice in a day.
Sales ProcessRequires extensive follow-ups. Reps must be subtle. They must present a solution to the business’ challenges and should not hard-sell.Reps can either counsel or pitch the product/service directly on the first call itself.
Deal closure timeSlow.
Reps must be patient and understand the stakeholders, their objections, and accordingly propose a solution.
Fast.
B2C deals can close in one or two interactions.
ReportingCan be automated or manual. However, sales-led organizations generally use CRM software for reporting and analytics.Managers get automated reports from CRM software. Because reps already have targets for the day, they don’t have to prepare reports.

Challenges

The discussion would be incomplete if I don’t talk about the job challenges that the inside sales team faces every day.

  • Target pressure. Yes, reps are given weekly, monthly, and quarterly targets. 41% of reps feel that target pressure is the most challenging aspect of their job (source: LeadSquared survey). There is pressure to perform because the company’s revenue and growth depend on the sales you make.
Sales challenge statistics
  • Motivation. Many times, people will not respond to calls, and sometimes they may even hang up either in the beginning or halfway through the conversation. Reps may even have to spend a day without any fruitful conversation with the prospects. At such times, you need to keep your spirits up and welcome the next day with a positive attitude. Remember, not all days are the same in sales. Tomorrow may open a window of opportunities. You must be persistent in your efforts and keep going.

  • Product Knowledge. You’ll not know the product completely from the very first day. But the customer will ask you about the product/service on the first call itself. Be patient, attend the sales training and learn, listen to your team members’ demo/meeting recordings, and practice for all possible scenarios – questions, objections, hesitations and more.

As Kobe Bryant would say, “Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.”

You’ll have ample opportunities to grow and shine in this profession. But make sure you give your 100% to the work.

The Must-have Qualities in an Inside Sales Professional

Inside sales jobs can be emotionally draining for some. Especially in the first few months, when reps are given churned leads to practice calls, understand tools, and processes – they may feel disheartened. But very soon, the jobs become exciting when they learn and start closing deals. Inside sales also requires reps to adapt to a fast-moving environment. They must match the frequency, or else they’ll be left behind.

For me, an ideal inside sales rep has the following qualities.

  • Communication skills. At the core, inside sales is all about making conversations. The candidate must have great communication skills and should not hesitate to talk to strangers.

  • Positive attitude/Perseverance. The job of a rep could be tricky. On one of the calls, the prospect may be reluctant to talk. But the next call could be the opportunity to sign a deal. I look for a positive attitude in people, who will not get disheartened, who can compose themselves after a bleak conversation and show up with a smile every time.

  • Discipline. As we’ve discussed before, inside sales is a game of volume. Reps must make X number of calls per day to achieve Y result. And this requires discipline.

Don’t procrastinate and follow up on time. If you delay one call, a lot of things will get delayed because of it.

Hiral Shah, Team Lead – Inside Sales, LeadSquared

Concluding Remarks

To sum up, inside sales is a wonderful profession. You have the luxury of working from the office (now home 😊) and win big. The secret to success in this job lies in:

  • Targeting. When you target the right set of prospects, ask the right questions to qualify them, the chances of you making a sale will also increase.
  • Messaging. Prepare your battle cards. Make sure you effectively deliver the message. For this, you must know your product/service thoroughly. You should also be able to translate your knowledge (about the product) into individualized solutions based on each of the prospect’s problems, asks, or requirements.
  • Discipline. Be on top of your game always. The moment you slack, somebody else might grab the deal.
  • Motivation. Of course, incentives are the biggest motivation for salespeople – even in inside sales. However, our reps also say that they love to learn and understand perceptions while conversing with people.

If you’ve any questions or suggestions, please feel free to write to me. Before I wrap up, here are some FAQs – in case you are seeking answers to those questions.

FAQs

Is inside sales cold calling?

Inside sales involves making sales from an office via phone or email rather than meeting the clients in person. Cold calling is just one of the aspects of inside sales. At other times, inside sales reps also work on inbound leads – address their queries, qualify, and nurture them to build the sales pipeline.

What are the examples of inside sales?

The inside sales model is applicable in both B2B and B2C sectors. For example, SaaS (Software as a Service) companies and B2C firms, such as EdTech, insurance, and more widely use this strategy.

What is the difference between a CSR and an inside sales rep?

A customer service representative or CSR deals solely with existing customers. But inside sales reps pursue leads and make sales. They also remain in touch with the customer post the deal.

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