When I started in inside sales more than 20 years ago, the distribution inside sales role looked like this: Inside sellers would make or receive a call, follow up by mailing a credit application and a hard-copy catalog, wait two weeks, then call them back and say "Hey, did you get that credit app? If so, can you mail it back to me?" Then the inside sellers would have to wait another two weeks for the account to be set up before helping the customer with their first order. It was a much longer sales process from beginning to end, and as an inside seller you had to compete with an outside salesperson who would stop in to the customer once a month, take their information and set up an account in just a few days.
For an inside seller, it would take six or seven calls to build a relationship; an outside seller would take maybe three visits. The outside sales team had the advantage, which put the insider seller in more of an order-taking, almost customer service or supportive role.
Today, thanks to digital, the inside sales team’s role can be much bigger. As transactions grow more efficient — customers can go from talking with an inside seller to emailing their credit info or simply setting up an account online — relationships benefit: Inside sellers are freed up to play a more consultative role. And they can connect and stay connected with customers much more efficiently thanks to today’s digital tools, including a distributor’s website and social media.
Distributors that understand the need to allow inside sales to evolve improve their position relative to online competitors like Amazon. Here are three ways you can maximize the potential of your inside sales team in today’s digital world:
- Embrace an active selling role — Inside sellers need to play a more active and consultative role than they have in the past. Distributors that embrace and encourage a more active role for inside sales save themselves money by shifting some of the burden from more expensive outside roles, especially for customers who may prefer to interact with inside sales and don’t want a visit by a field sales rep.
- Train your team as an expert resource — Gone are the days of customers picking up the phone just to get quotes for pricing, so inside sellers are fielding questions on a much wider variety of topics as they supplement what is available to customers online. To bring more value to the customer than supply-only online distributors, today's inside sellers must educate themselves not only on how to look up pricing or on selling strategies, but also on things like ideal product applications and rules and regulations affecting their industry. They need to know where and who to go to for answers quickly.
- Invest in technology — To meet the emerging customer expectation of a seamless experience, inside sellers must be much more technologically proficient than in the past. To help a customer struggling with placing an order online, for example, inside sales must know their company's e-commerce system, their companies’ other digital capabilities and any other collaboration tool required to work with the IT team to resolve the issue. They need a CRM system that they can use to their advantage, to help not just the company but also the customer.
In today's highly competitive industrial market, distributors must realize that simply being a supplier of products isn't enough. And with that, they must recognize the importance of the inside sales role in helping them become more. With the help of the correct digital platform many inside sellers can become a prime driver of sales for the company, in turn helping the company more efficiently and more cost-effectively grow both wallet and market share.
Patrice Jackson is the Senior Inside Sales Manager for AgoNow, a Tulsa, OK-based pure industrial master wholesaler and channel solutions provider.