Telephone selling brings with it a unique set of challenges and opportunities
1/15/2008 | by Max Pons
Max Pons Associates
As recruiting professionals, quite often our clients solicit our advice when defining the roadmap of a particular business unit within their organizations. Some of us even go so far as to become third-party consultants on subject matter with which we have particular expertise.
Regardless of the industry vertical in which we specialize, our clients rely on our guidance to assist them in reaching/exceeding their revenue goals by leveraging the benefit of our experience. Telephone selling brings with it a unique set of challenges and opportunities that, if managed correctly, can produce new incremental revenue streams and deliver an impressive ROI.
Most hiring officers and the corporate recruiters with whom they work appreciate the importance of delivering consistent, above-plan results and recognize that this is tantamount to any sales organization’s success. Here’s how you can ensure that your inside-sales team will succeed.
Defining Key Performance Indicators
Before hiring their first salesperson, most companies need to decide upon how they will measure the efficacy of individual performers.
Variables like the number of calls made, talk time, data capture, demonstrations scheduled, leads generated, sales closed, and customer conversion ratios offer a 360-degree view of the activity report and will provide upper management with the required business intelligence and performance analytics needed to make informed, strategic decisions. Metrics allow for transparency in activity-based selling and help forecast future performance based on past results. Most (if not all) of the Fortune 500 have data warehouses and legions of analysts dedicated to this very cause because they want to keep their fingers on the pulse of the business.
Understanding Their Mission and Being Accountable
The mission statement needs to justify the department’s existence and should effectively articulate the value proposition brought with it. Whether your business has an inbound customer-support call center, an outbound cold-calling business development team, or a combination of both, your representatives need to understand their accountabilities, have access to the necessary resources, and have defined protocols in place to handle customer service escalations, lead referrals, product/service questions, RFIs/RFPs, order provisioning, and more.
We’ve all had negative experiences dealing with telephone salespeople or customer service representatives who seem to adhere to a strict policy of zero accountability. It is extremely difficult to reconcile any misgivings a customer may have, so a little bit of preventative maintenance really does go a long way.
How Will They Manage Their Customers?
There are several effective approaches with regards to the best way to “carve up” an account base. The first is to segment accounts based on their relative location. Inside salespeople can individually manage customers within a defined territory (city, state, East, West, Central, etc.) and the customer base would be subsequently distributed based on geography. Many emerging companies use this method when first spearheading “greenfield” opportunities in a new market where they do not have an established presence.
Industry verticals such as health care, financial services, automotive, government, and education, are another popular method for dividing the account base. Telephone salespeople, like their counterparts in the field, typically specialize in a particular industry segment and do not sell outside of their vertical. Combining industry verticals with a specific geography (selling into the health care vertical in California, for example) is quite common and ensures that a company’s salespeople do not step on each other’s toes.
Alternatively, many companies subscribe to the “revenue threshold” system that essentially segments the customer portfolio based on annual revenues and assigns account managers at the enterprise, mid-market, and small/medium-sized business levels. This method remains widely popular among inside sales managers in established organizations because it allows them flexibility when managing incremental revenue within their sales teams.
Finally, a derivative of the revenue threshold system is that of the “named account” structure. The 80/20 rule typically applies here with 80% of an organization’s revenue being generated by only 20% of its clients. Inside salespeople frequently manage these “crown jewels” of the customer portfolio remotely and identify opportunities for up-selling or cross-selling within the account base in addition to shouldering the weight of any technical or contractual issues that may persist. These dedicated representatives normally handle a small handful of customers at the national or international level and are generally the executive liaison to the purchasing authority.
The Importance of Collaboration
This is where it starts to get tricky. The advantages of having an inside sales team are numerous; however, organizations must consider their own product portfolios, sales processes, quotas, sales cycles, and unique growth strategies before deciding to invest their resources in building an inside-sales infrastructure. Not all products and services are conducive to telephone selling, and there is no substitute for building valuable face-to-face relationships with your customers. To this end, the importance of collaboration between inside sales and field sales teams is vital.
In order to facilitate a cooperative consciousness, both teams must have incentives in place to recognize (and reward) over-achievement. Commission entitlements should be clearly defined and, to avoid confusion, account owners should be designated in advance of product/service provisioning. Many companies have detailed succession plans in place to promote upward mobility within their sales organization and to improve retention rates among their top performers.
What Should I Look For When Hiring?
As recruiters and hiring managers, we are always looking for ways to mitigate the risk of bringing somebody new on board. The essence of telephone selling is the ability to captivate an audience. Too often, it’s the intangibles or “soft skills” that are overlooked when we’re listing our prerequisites on a job order.
The most successful inside sales reps are highly self-motivated, tenacious, competitive, resourceful, charismatic, and articulate. Some companies are reticent when it comes to hiring somebody from outside of their immediate comfort zone. The fact is, however, that some of the best telephone salespeople in your industry made lateral moves from somewhere completely unrelated and have become enormously successful.
The sales skill-set is largely transferable, and the rules of engagement for hiring an inside sales rep remain subjective. I would look for a history of quota attainment, average length of tenure, motivation for leaving, and W-2 history as a preliminary screening, before “peeling the onion” and asking questions about methodology, due process, overcoming adversity, customer testimonials, and other references. The costs incurred with recruitment and training are significant, so investing some due diligence early on can yield dividends down the road.