Face-to-Face vs. Phone-based Sales: Who wins? Ring, Ring!

March 3, 2010

When you think of an outside sales rep, what comes to mind? Perhaps a well-dressed, smooth-talking, jet-setter who’s responsible for wining and dining clients to close deals?

When you think of an inside sales rep, what comes to mind? Possibly a casually-dressed, headphone-equipped, junior rep who is still trying to prove his/her worth?

If you agree with these descriptions, you aren’t alone, and yes, these two distinct types of sales professionals in their purest form do still exist…but on a much lesser scale. If you don’t agree, then you most likely have experience working with/for a business where the two traditional sales categories have morphed into a single role. The title now is simply: Sales Rep. If you actually dig deeper in the composition of the modern day sales rep’s role, you would probably find that regardless of this individual’s level of seniority and/or deal-closing abilities, they are on the phone a lot more than they are face-to-face with clients. If you ask me, that sounds more like inside sales than anything else.

In a recent article posted in InsideSales.com, the site’s CEO Dave Elkington states, “For the last four years the remote selling trend has grown. Remote selling offers cost savings and time efficiencies that make it the method of choice for many companies. In addition, business is going green by cutting the carbon footprint from unnecessary travel. We are finding that buyers are increasingly asking for a remote web demonstration rather than a face-to-face sales call to save time. Add to that the lifestyle enhancements of a sales force that does not have to be on the road all the time and you have some compelling reasons behind this remote sales trend.”

Look at Salesforce.com for instance, arguably one of the most successful, and fastest growing businesses in the recent decade. Mark Benioff, the CEO, built his company on the inside sales model. It wasn’t until years after their doors opened that they added Outside Sales Executives as a very small proportion of the team, to close business in-person (if need be) with the most lucrative clients. Even still, these rep.’s dedicate the biggest chunk of their time to building their business on the phone.

OpenView, a Boston Venture Capital Firm, was able to organize a forum for its portfolio companies at Salesforce.com’s HQ in San Francisco last fall. Why? Salesforce.com is the ultimate SaaS success story, and any technology company at the expansion stage can use its business growth strategies as an industry role model. At the event, a number of veteran Salesforce.com executives shared details of the enterprise’s best practices process, and not surprisingly, many of the discussions gravitated towards the highly effective inside sales model.

OpenView recognizes the value of the inside sales rep. In the last year, OpenView Labs, the strategic consulting services arm of the VC, has built a scalable Lead Qualification Specialist model (aka “cold caller”) that is suitable for the expansion stage companies in the portfolio. The position has proven to be indispensible to many of our investments’ businesses, and the hiring continues. Many companies are now using OpenView’s recruiting support services to bring on new Lead Qualification Specialists to open, nurture and (eventually) close deals on the phone.