Why You Can’t Manage All of Your Sales People the Same Way

There are some profound differences between and among sales forces that work for the same company. Some are selling different products and services, some have different buyers, and some have tougher markets.

But the most profound difference within a single organization is the difference between “inside” (telemarketers) and “outside” (“feet on the street”) sales forces. Many small businesses insist on viewing these people as identical, and therefore attempt to hire, train, incent, develop, and manage them in the exact same way. That is a huge mistake.

The differences between internal and external sales forces include the factors below, which ought to influence how you deal with each segment, regardless of the numbers of people in each category.

  1. Nature of the buyer. The inside people are generally pursuing an individual customer rather than an organizational one. When they are pursuing an organization, it’s more common for the buyer to be a purchasing manager or other relatively low level person. The outside people generally call on organizations, and at higher levels. When they are calling on individuals, they are pursuing higher priced sales (because it’s much too expensive to have external people selling low-priced products and services to single buyers).
  2. Buying cycle. The inside people generally have short buying cycles and they’ll know within a brief span whether or not they are going to get a sale. This might be a single phone call, or it could be several over a few weeks. On the outside, the reps may have to work for months to establish who the real buyer is and then to gain that person’s trust. (This is another reason that outside sales have to be in higher amounts, since the cost of acquisition and length of acquisition are both so much longer.) 
  3. Influence factor. Over the phone, product features and benefits hold sway. There is no interpersonal influence, except among the most adept telemarketers. In person, client results, confidence in the sales person, and ability to form a relationship are as important as the product in many cases. This is why personal calls are much more than mere product demonstrations, except among the most inept outside salespeople.
  4. Competitive presence. For the telemarketer, the competition is always present because the buyer is focused not on the sales presence, but on price comparisons and competing features. In person, the competition can be effectively removed, or at least subordinated, because the sales person has the buyer’s sole attention and focus.
  5. Nature of the sales person. People who sell “in person” must have much more highly defined relationship building skills. Their grooming, vocabulary, sophistication, flexibility, and speed of response must be more highly developed. Inside sales people need more assertiveness, since it’s so easy for someone to say “no” over the phone or avoid taking calls. Internal people must be more focused for short periods, possess influential and concise arguments, and have great persistence.

What does this mean for the business owner or sales manager? For one thing, you should create two entirely different profiles and job descriptions against which you hire. Don’t use a single set of criteria for all sales hiring.

Don’t measure the same levels of activity. An internal person might legitimately produce dozens of quality calls a day, and an outside person only two or three.

Consider different incentive plans. You might want to reward inside people for number of pieces of business and average size of business. However, it might make sense to reward outside people based on type of business, improvement over prior year, new markets penetrated, and so on, based on the company’s strategy. Outside people have more potential to influence the overall business thrust than do internal people.

Finally, never mindlessly transfer people between internal and external sales. They are discrete and different pursuits, requiring separate skills. Few people possess both, and I’ve seen too many excellent people in one area ruined when transferred to the other. Consequently, do not build a system wherein an internal person must transfer to outside sales if he or she is to advance or make considerably more money. You’ll ruin two jobs as well as your own well-being.

If you have internal and external service people, many of these dame distinctions apply. Don’t mindlessly view all of your people by overall function. Take a look at what they really do and you might just be surprised by the diversity.

Visit www.acteva.com/booking.cfm?bevaID=9983 to enroll in Alan’s workshop for consultants on March 31 in Oakland, CA.