One from the Road, Why CRM for Inside Sales is Different

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I’ve been spending a lot of time on the road with clients this year and there are a few reoccurring themes I’ve seen thus far.  Several of them probably resonate with more than a few organizations and are worth sharing.  For this post, I wanted to focus on one that is becoming more and more prevalent in companies that are either growing rapidly or trying to improve the effectiveness of the sales team in managing a large number of customers – especially when many of those customers are small.

For the past 20 years the common trend was to leverage CRM to enable and improve performance of field sales team members by standardizing processes, pricing models, lead qualification results and focused nurturing of open opportunities that may otherwise be forgotten about.  For many companies, this worked – quite well actually. The results were increased customer acquisition rates, bigger order volumes at higher margins and more consistent results from sales teams vs. having a small number of high performers and a larger group that was sporadic at best.

As customer bases for these companies grew, the existing field sales were tasked with managing their existing named accounts and then continuing to drive growth through new customer acquisition.  Then, with the rapid growth of ecommerce, digital marketing solutions, online advertising, many companies found that the base of existing customers continued to grow and their field sales teams could only touch, manage and service a finite number of customers. The results? The sales teams focused on their biggest, most profitable accounts and the long tail of valuable, but smaller and less strategic companies went untouched.  The potential of that increased customer base therefore isn’t being realized as a result of the limitations of what a typical sales person can manage.

So, in response to that phenomenon, companies began to build and grow inside sales organizations. These teams were responsible for taking volume transactional orders, calling on the next tier of accounts not currently being serviced (but in this case literally calling on the phone vs. visiting in person) and ensuring that a greater percentage of the existing base was engaged and that the increased flow of new leads and opportunities from the web and other channels didn’t get ignored.

One of the first challenges many companies have found is that sales and marketing solutions they designed to support their field sales using CRM doesn’t work well for this new team and model.

Consider these differences I’ve abstracted from one of my customers:

Measure Field Sales Rep Inside Sales Rep
Number of assigned clients 50 250
Mean expected number of orders per week captured 5 25
Average order size $12,500 $1200

The field sales reps are clearly focused on fewer, higher value clients in terms of gross dollars and likely margin.  These orders are more complex, often quoted, and take more time to develop (and are often competitive).   The inside sales team is focused on processing high volume, lower complexity transactional with an almost retail / distributor like approach. Pricing is not specific, complex quoting is not required and the time between a simple quote and order can be measured in hours or a few days vs. weeks and months.

Both are important, both add value, but the processes and approach for servicing these two sides of the business are very, very different. As a result, the tools used have to be configured differently to be able to address the needs of the inside sales team uniquely from the field sales group. There is a need for a customized CRM for inside sales.

What an Inside Sales Team Needs

Here are five examples of what an inside sales team needs desperately that many field sales team members don’t value as much (or at least aren’t impacted by as much).

  1. They need very simplistic, quick processes for executing common tasks. In this case, a few extra clicks aren’t just a user experience draw back, it affects performance to goals because this is a volume play.
  2. They need Quoting and Order Entry directly from CRM as opposed to logging into a separate system like ERP or Point of Sale to process orders. Taking an additional step with CRM & ERP integration will further quicken this process.
  3. The ability to capture payments while entering orders in CRM (such as credit cards, bank transfers, e-checks). For a field sales team, they’re focused traditionally on getting a contract signed and invoiced – that’s their mission accomplished moment. The inside sales team needs to quote, order and capture funds, often in the same conversation. If they have to login into three systems to do this, or worse yet, get someone in accounting to process a credit card for them, not only will they not perform at high levels, customers will stop calling back because of the long order entry time. A custom CRM dashboard is an easy fix for this issue.
  4. Remove everything that isn’t part of their daily view – completely suppress sections that aren’t related to their role by customizing CRM for the inside sales team.
  5. A custom CRM configuration is crucial. When they are viewing an account, a quote, an order, they need to see as much detail in that customer as possible. While they may not have need to see project details, or even in some cases customer service cases, they likely need to see order history, invoice history, accounts receivable details, etc.

An inside sales team’s member’s chance for success drop significantly every time they have to tell a customer they will go find something out and call them back. Not convinced – consider your reaction, and that of everyone behind you in line at the grocery store when the clerk calls out “Dave, I need a price check on…”.

CRM Strategies for Inside Sales Team

One of the common strategies we are employing for users involves the creation of automation of workflows between quoting, ordering and opportunity management.  The creation of a new quote for a client can trigger the automated creation of an opportunity and when an order is processed, the opportunity is automatically updated and marked closed won (or lost if the quote is rejected). This way, the inside sales team is focused on quoting, ordering and taking payment, but pipeline characteristics key to measuring business health and account value are maintained consistently with fewer steps.

Similarly, for another client, we are implementing SWYPE payment processing, directly integrated into SAGE CRM so that inside sales and customer service can process order payments (and collect payments on pending AR items) inside one single system.  Authorization and capture along with ledger updates in ERP are integrated as well and the time to process orders by these team members is being reduced by more than 50%.

So, if you have an inside sales organization, how does its day in the life compare with some of the thoughts above? Does it need to improve? Are you hearing rumblings about how hard it is for them to get basic things done? If so, please contact Net@Work. We are experts at turning these sorts of challenges into competitive advantages.