Outside vs. Inside Sales: Business and Individual Perspectives

The sales team is a vital component of any successful company, and having top-notch personnel in this department can make or break a company. Though the lines are increasingly blurred, sales roles are typically divided into two types, inside sales and outside sales. Someone who is well suited to an inside sales role may not like outside sales at all, and vice versa. Companies who hire inside and outside salespeople should make sure their applicants know the difference, and place new hires in roles that suit their skills. Companies should also know which sales style works better for their company so they can hire and train salespeople accordingly.

Let’s start with some basic definitions, even though most these definitions will likely be mixed or downright muddied in many real world sales roles.

Outside Sales: According to the Department of Labor, an employee is considered an outside salesperson if their primary duty is to make sales and they spend most of their work time away from the company’s place of business. Anyone who travels most of the time to meet up with clients and make sales face-to-face is likely qualified as an outside salesperson.

Inside Sales: Inside sales once happened mostly over the phone. Now they might happen over Skype, email, or other online communication services as well, but the principle is the same: inside salespeople work at a desk. Their main channel for making sales is through telecommunications.

The Business Perspective

Companies need to figure out what kind of sales process works best for the product they’re selling, and hire salespeople who meet the company’s specific needs. For many businesses, inside salespeople offer two distinct advantages, as discussed in a blog post from Fileboard:

  • Lower costs, since inside salespeople are typically paid less, and also incur fewer incidental costs such as travel and lodging.
  • Better conversion rate on high quality leads. According to Fileboard, “Inside sales sits at the intersection of sales and marketing, with dedicated prospecting teams generating qualified leads for your closers.”

With good enough lead generation, you don’t need the expensive and high-touch services outside sellers are known for.

Sales Tactics for Outside & Inside Sellers

According to a Forbes article by InsideSales.com founder Ken Krogue, the majority of sales are done remotely. However, traditional outside salespeople who have more meetings in person with clients have a wider range of presentation tactics at their disposal to close the deal, such as:

  • Visual presentations, such as slide decks
  • Interactive demos or walkthroughs on a laptop or tablet
  • Brochures, handouts, business cards, and other paper collateral

While audiovisual and interactive sales presentations can be uploaded online, a skilled outside salesperson can make these tools much more persuasive during an in-person meeting. According to Inc., one of the Seven Deadly Sins of Sales Pitching is to be too boring, and an in-person sales presentation offers many more opportunities to keep things fresh and surprising than a phone call.

What inside sellers lose in richness of interactions, they make up for in volume. Inside sellers can chase down many more leads per day with their phones than outside sellers can in person. Developing a unique and compelling sales persona to inhabit during sales calls is one tactic that inside sellers use often. According to Matt Heinz, founder of Heinz Marketing, the tactics that work on the phone just don’t always translate to working in-person, and vise-versa.

Daily Schedule and Long Term Career Implications

Outside salespeople tend to have less predictable schedules than their inside sales counterparts. It is much more difficult to shoehorn multiple sales meetings into a day when you are meeting the client at their office or home in different parts of the city, or different cities altogether. For people who love travel, the lifestyle of an outside salesperson can seem appealing, but it takes an incredibly energetic person to hop off trains and planes and go straight to sales meetings for days or weeks at a time. If you’re going to stick with outside sales for long, you really need to love traveling.

Inside salespeople, by contrast, tend to have quite regular hours. The likelihood of having a regular 9-5 schedule is much higher for inside salespeople, which makes inside sales more appealing for many salespeople with families and other obligations outside their firm.

Career Arc

The travel schedule, trade shows, and expense accounts that are associated with outside sales positions may seem prestigious, but there are downsides as well. In an article from Business Insider, Ken Sundheim discusses the lost opportunities for networking and immersion in a corporate environment that outside sales reps suffer from.

“Due to the fact that most outside sales jobs are work from home positions,” Sundheim writes, “the young sales representative misses out on the corporate experience, and because of the remote location they are much less apt to be promoted within the company and, if so relocation is probably in the cards.”

Sundheim also notes that outside salespeople are often the first to go when layoffs are necessary, since they haven’t been able to develop the personal relationships around the office that would make them a desirable member of a diminished team.

Even as the lines between inside and outside sales roles go blurrier, it is worth examining the differences for both individuals and companies, and making a conscious decision about which path to pursue.

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