The Hottest Trends in Inside Sales

Giuseppe D’Angelo

Inside sales have never been hotter, and the sales field is experiencing considerable change. Much of this is due to the technology that is beginning to drive the sales process much the way it has driven marketing for the past several years. Also, we’re seeing generational changes. Millennials are entering the C-Suite and members of Gen Z, which makes up 10% of the world’s population, are entering the workforce.

Given these forces, here’s what we anticipate.

Increasing demand for skilled inside sales reps

In the five years between 2010 and 2015, the number of inside sales reps doubled. And it’s still among the fastest-growing career opportunities. Also, there’s an increased blending and crossbreeding of sales roles. Even field reps are spending almost half of their time selling remotely.

Today’s inside sales reps must be digitally savvy with in-depth technical knowledge and social presence.  Because of the high demand for such skills, expect organizations to become increasingly comfortable with outsourcing their needs to sales vendors with skilled inside sales reps.

More digital disruption

Let’s address the elephant in the room – technology. The range of sales tools is becoming as diverse as those on the marketing side. As the technology stack continues to grow and becomes unwieldy, we can expect increased efforts to restrict platforms used to those with proven ROI.

Customer relationship management (CRM) systems remain the most critical, enabling sales teams to collaborate, managers to stay on top of business, and customer-facing people in other departments to share one prospect or customer record. Mobile and cloud-based CRM solutions are making customer data even more readily available to remote workers.  

Expect analytical, sales forecasting and productivity tools all to become more powerful and sophisticated with artificial intelligence (AI).

The growing use of mobile-optimized click-to-call puts reps at the beck and call of prospects. Not only will companies need more inside reps, but they will also need people well trained in the products and services they sell, people who can talk and engage prospects without a script.

Reps and robots learn to co-exist

Expect sales’ appreciation of AI to continue to grow and AI adoption to explode by more than 150% in the next two years. In fact, high-performing sales teams are 3.5 times more apt to rely on AI than their underperforming peers. It’s a powerful sales enablement tool for digital prospecting and outbound sales calls.

But don’t expect AI to replace reps. AI and robots will take over the tedious and repetitive tasks and anything that can be reduced to a rules-based routine, thus freeing reps to focus on the human-to-human engagement.

When it comes to cold calling, AI is arming inside sales with greater insight into who’s looking to buy (including their profile and pain points) and identifying the optimal time to call.

Face-to-face meetings lose ground to more digital touchpoints

With millennials moving into executive and decision-making positions, we can expect the trend away from onsite and face-to-face meetings to continue. Younger executives prefer on-demand peer collaboration at their convenience.

We will see more virtual events and ever-greater specialization: Companies will increase their reliance on virtual sales events, webinars and web-conferencing sales calls. Video for sales is becoming essential on all platforms – Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook and, of course, YouTube. We anticipate significant growth in the next 12 months.

Podcasts, too, are rising from the ashes and gaining importance as a tool to promote individual experts and position executives as thought leaders.

Help buying teams reach agreement

While control still resides with the buyers, who are still doing 60% or more of their research before reaching out to sales, sellers may be making some inroads.

First, vendors with a rapid response rate are still favored, with up to 50% of sales going to the first seller to respond. And with sellers’ access to real-time intent data that percentage may even increase.

Second, buying teams are becoming larger and more diverse. And key decision-makers continue to be on the move and even willing to change positions and companies in the middle of the buying cycle. As a result, buying teams are finding it harder to reach a consensus and buying decision.

We’re seeing sales play a more significant role in helping these buying groups work through their questions, smooth points of disagreement and keep the process moving. Companies will increasingly rely on sales enablement training to prepare inside sales reps with the product knowledge, sales training and understanding of the buyer’s journey that they require to be more effective.

Driving productivity through work and workplace flexibility

The 9-to-5 workweek is dead. Flexible hours, remote work, virtual offices and home offices are all in vogue. But while companies are open to greater flexibility, they’re struggling with how to manage it.

For one thing, companies want to encourage collaboration and better communication within teams and between departments. The open office design was not the answer; it was too noisy and distracting. It appears employees have found a solution, and they don’t require physical proximity. They rely on new productivity and management platforms, such as Slack, Paper and Asana, as well as email and text messaging, to stay in touch.

Think life-long learning

As the pace of technology and innovation increases, the half-life of a learned skill has dropped to just five years. Employees in all departments are falling behind.

Companies are investing billions in ongoing training, eLearning, self-paced training, mini-modules, coaching and mentoring to help narrow the skills gap and stay ahead of the curve. In the case of sales reps, they need to keep current with presentation technology, virtual sales and social selling strategies, to name a few

A growing focus on customer lifetime value

Companies are beginning to take customer lifetime value (CLV) seriously. They realize that not only is it more cost-effective to keep existing customers, but that existing customers spend more.

Among the top priorities are to elevate the customer experience, improve customer satisfaction and monitor CLV more closely. As building deep customer relationships is part of this effort, expect inside sales to play a vital role.

Greater focus on productivity

In addition to relying on technology, inside sales reps are adopting processes and discipline to increase their productivity. They’re bringing greater efficiency to their jobs, committing to programs like the ten by ten rule (to make ten calls by 10 AM).

Reps are systematizing their pre-call planning process to reduce redundancy and entering the data they collect into CRM the first time. This way, follow-up calls become easier and more productive. They’re also organizing their calls by industry, issues and message so they can make more calls in a day and stay on message.

Personalization focuses on individual issues

Personalization has come a long way from addressing the recipient by name in the subject line. Today with the help of advanced segmentation, predictive analytics and data collection, it’s possible for a rep to speak to a prospect’s key issues, needs and pain points.

A first conversation that in the past might have been a fishing expedition is today a meaningful discussion of problems, solutions and actionable insight. Reps are equipped to engage customers better and close the deal.

Customer data becomes more sophisticated

Customer data will remain the most highly valued currency within sales departments. That said, expect some evolution in how companies handle their data. For example, as data vendors offer more insightful and encompassing company data, sales departments are merging their prospect lists and customer records with third-party data to gain even more competitive intelligence.

And yet, even as customer and prospect data remain highly prized, we can expect compliance with consumer data consent laws (e.g., GDPR) to have an increased impact toward the end of 2019 as the grace period ends. Going forward, we’ll see something of a tug of war between customers’ control over their data and companies’ collection of customer and prospect data.

Today, sales leadership has to cope with many challenges. These include the competition to hire the best inside sales reps, the increasing pace of change driven by technological advances, and the growing size and complexity of buying teams. Plus, there’s rising demand for workplace flexibility and a continual need to boost productivity and CLV. Finally, customer data must become more sophisticated due to pressure from GDPR, requirements to have a more personalized approach and the demands of account-based marketing.

Giuseppe D’Angelo is EMEA business development manager at 3D2B, which provides B2B customer acquisition solutions to high-technology companies worldwide.