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What’s in a name? Inside sales versus telesales

Inside sales seems much the same as telesales, only dressed up for the modern age. What's brought the change about and is it really so different from what we already know?

I was scratching my head a little as I read a story on TechCentral, the Irish website, entitled “The rise of inside sales”. Maybe I’m just old, but it seems to me that inside sales sounds a lot like telesales, just upgraded for the internet age.

The definition of inside sales provided by Investopedia is: “The sale of products or services by personnel who reach customers through phone, email or the internet”. It adds that inside sales can also be classified as “remote sales” or “virtual sales”.

According to the article, inside sales is the dominant sales model for reps in business-to-business (B2B), technology, software-as-a-service (SaaS) and a number of business-to-consumer (B2C) industries, and has grown 15 times faster in the US than outside sales has.

While it’s dressed up as a leaner, more automated approach, I’m guessing that one of the reasons inside sales is becoming so popular is that it’s cheaper than field sales, just as telesales was always lower cost.

As with telesales, it can be harder to develop a rapport with the customer using inside sales compared to regular contact and face-to-face meetings with field sales reps. It’s also more difficult to differentiate yourself if everyone is deploying an inside sales model, because there’s no personal relationship.

But it struck me that the rise of inside sales says something else about the industry. The thing I remember most about telesales was that it was mainly used to sell high volume, commoditised items – products where the sale required little “added value”, and that someone could sell over the phone (or on the printed page).

In our more modern times, we’re talking about products that can be sold over the phone, email or internet. But when it comes down to it, the presumption about how those products can be sold is the same – namely, from a distance with a voice, not face to face.

Should we be surprised? Probably not. After all, what we’re talking about with inside sales is something that has been around for a long time, but in a different guise. Fair enough, but is it normal for inside sales to have grown so much faster than external sales, as has happened in the US?

That suggests there’s a marked realignment taking place in the sales models being deployed. Is it because the technology has become easier to sell? SaaS, for example, theoretically requires far less of a personal engagement.

Or could it be, possibly, that more people now prefer to be sold to using the remote model rather than dealing with someone face to face? After all, we as consumers buy many of our goods remotely over the web, which has replaced a significant proportion of the purchases we would have made in person on the high street or in shops.

Are we witnessing two separate but interlinked trends coming together – that is, more automated and virtual solutions combined with the ability of people to purchase those products and services in a more remote manner?

But here’s a strange thing: as customers buy more products and services remotely, the companies providing those products and services need to employ more people internally to sell them.

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