Outside vs. inside sales: Business and individual perspectives

Implementing the right sales strategy is vital to the success of a business. For some companies, however, deciding between an outside vs. inside sales approach is a confusing process. Though the lines are increasingly blurred, understanding the differences between inside and outside sales will help you determine which sales strategy will be most profitable for your company based on its unique characteristics and needs.

From there, you can ensure your current sales team (and future hires) knows what’s expected of them and has the proper skills to effectively carry out whichever sales strategy you choose, even if it’s a combination of both.

We’ll begin by explaining the difference between outside sales and inside sales. From there, we’ll talk about key differences between the two when it comes to:

  • Business benefits
  • Key sales tactics and characteristics, and
  • The pros and cons (from a sales rep perspective)

Let’s dive in!

What is the difference between inside and outside sales?

The line between what differentiates inside vs. outside sales is continually blurring. That being said, there are some universally accepted definitions that help explain the two concepts.

Inside sales is the process of selling via telecommunications. Essentially, the activities of an inside sales rep occur predominantly behind a desk at their place of employment. Initially, inside sales happened primarily over the phone or email. These days, telecommunication can also include Skype, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms.

Outside sales is often considered to be the “traditional” sales approach. 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 office. Because they meet with clients face-to-face in order to close a deal, outside salespeople spend the majority of their workday traveling.

Outside vs inside sales: Benefits of each from a business perspective

First and foremost, companies should base their decision of which sales strategy they implement on what makes the most sense for the product or service they’re selling.

For example, if the selling point for your company’s product is how it physically helps the customer (e.g., physical therapy tools, ergonomic chairs, etc.), an outside sales strategy may be most effective. On the other hand, if your product is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) related, it may be more cost-effective to implement an inside sales strategy.

Consider what resources are currently available to you as a business owner. How big is your team? How much can you afford when it comes to internal products such as CRMs? Weigh your resources against the benefits of outside vs. inside sales to help you make an informed strategic decision.

The benefits of inside sales

From a business perspective, inside sales processes are inherently more efficient (and sometimes even cheaper) than those of outside sales. As a result, implementing an inside sales strategy may result in:

  • Lower costs. Inside salespeople incur fewer incidental costs, such as travel and lodging. Furthermore, they only require a basic set of tools to do their job (access to a computer, Internet, and a phone).
  • More efficient sales cycle. According to an article by Fileboard, inside salespeople can spend an average of 13% more time a week selling than outside salespeople. Without having to travel and with ready access to internal tools and processes, using an inside sales approach can lead to a greater number of sales opportunities.

The benefits of outside sales

Outside selling is inherently more personal as it occurs in person, face-to-face. For that reason, outside sales reps may benefit their companies in the following ways:

  • Better customer retention. Outside sales reps are frequently meeting with prospects in person. This more personal approach to customer management is often more impactful, leading to stronger and longer-lasting customer relationships. For that reason, outside sales can lead to better customer retention over a longer period of time.
  • Higher conversion rate. While outside sales reps are more limited in how many customers they can interact with in a single day, they tend to have a higher conversion rate than inside sales reps. This is likely due to the personal nature of the pitch and the strength of the relationship attained by face-to-face interaction. Outside selling can be incredibly effective for closing high-profile deals.

Choosing between an inside or outside sales approach will depend on which benefits your company stands to profit from most. For example, if you’re just beginning to build your customer base, showing face could be a powerful tactic for improving brand awareness and generating relationships with high-value prospects.

Outside sales reps vs inside sales reps: Key tactics & characteristics

Outside selling tactics used to be much different than those used by inside sales, but access to technology in the field is blurring that line more every day. That being said, there are some tactics unique to outside sales.

Outside sales tactics

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

Audiovisual and interactive sales presentations can be uploaded online, but 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.

Inside sales tactics

What inside sellers lose in the 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 often use. This tactic is much more effective for insides sales reps than it is for outside sales reps, due to the nature and possibilities of a voice-only interaction.

While there are some sales tactics unique to inside vs. outside sales, the overarching goal remains the same. Deciding which sales approach to take will depend on the particular strengths of your sales team and what resonates most with your target audience.

Outside vs inside sales reps: The pros and cons of each

For both hiring managers and prospective sales reps, an effective strategy when deciding whether or not to recruit for or specialize in inside vs. outside sales is to look at the pros and cons of each. What are the pros of being an outside or inside sales rep? What are the challenges (cons)?

Outside sales reps pros and cons

For better or worse, 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 clients at their office or home in different parts of the city or different cities altogether. That said, the connections made during the meetings they do conduct are sometimes greater than those led by inside sales reps.

Pros:

  • Travel. For people who love travel, the lifestyle of an outside salesperson can be quite appealing. Just remember, 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 a long time, you really need to love traveling.
  • Flexible schedule. Because an outside sales rep’s activity takes place outside of the office, they have more flexibility to dictate their schedule than inside reps. Granted, this schedule will also depend on customer availability.

Cons:

  • Lack of corporate involvement. 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 in 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.”

  • Layoffs. 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.

Inside sales reps pros and cons

The daily responsibilities and work-life balance of an inside sales rep can vary greatly from that of an outside rep. Depending on your professional and personal preferences, the following pros may actually seem like cons to you and vice versa. For reps who prefer inside sales, however, the following pros and cons are generally accepted as written:

Pros:

  • Consistency. Inside sales reps tend to have regular, consistent working hours. For those with families and other obligations outside their firm, inside sales is much more appealing than outside sales. This can also be said for individuals who thrive with a daily routine.
  • Access to more resources. Because inside sales reps spend most of their day in front of a computer, they have access to a plethora of resources that outside sales reps do not. For example, an inside sales rep has the ability to interact with customers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and email, simultaneously. This is much more challenging in the field, as outside reps are generally limited to the use of their smartphone.

Cons:

  • Lack of diversification. For some, lack of diversity during a typical work week may become tedious or even unfulfilling on a day-to-day basis.
  • Harder to build strong customer relationships. Because inside sales reps lack the face-to-face interaction that outside sales reps have regularly, it’s more difficult to establish strong customer connections quickly. As a result, driving a customer through the sales funnel may take more time than it would for an outside rep.

Consider the pros and cons of being an inside sales rep vs. an outside sales rep when deciding which type of sales rep role you wish to fill (either as an employee or a hiring manager). As an employee, think about what is most important to you in a working environment. Do you thrive on routine, or do you thrive out in the field?

As a hiring manager, talk to your applicant about what it’s like to be an inside vs. outside sales rep. Ask them questions to identify whether or not their particular skill set and personality are a fit for the role to which they’re applying. This will ensure you hire the right people for the job.

Outside vs inside sales: Which is better?

It is impossible to objectively say whether inside selling is better than outside selling or vice versa. Rather, deciding to implement one sales strategy over the other (or a combination of both) should be based on weighing your company’s needs against the benefits, tactics, and pros and cons of each.

When choosing between an outside and inside sales strategy, consider the points above to ensure you make an informed decision. And remember, regardless of which strategy you pursue, properly supporting your team is vital to success. Consider the tactics, challenges, and characteristics unique to outside vs. inside sales to identify and implement the right tools to help set your team up for success.

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