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Terrible Sales Tactics...

Inside sales ‘Inside’ sales refers to selling by staff who don’t leave the office, and who rely primarily on email and phone calls to qualify leads and make sales. This isn’t sales support — using a call centre to prospect leads for field sales to follow up — it’s a separate channel. Its proponents argue that its lower cost structure supports a better sales channel for cheaper products, or a higher margin sales channel for more expensive ones. The cost advantage comes from eliminating travel costs and time, and increasing the call rate of sales reps. Call rates can be increased with incentives or targets (sit people at a desk and make them “dial for dollars”). Or call rates can be increased with technology, that lets reps automate communications that look to the recipient like they were personalized. More on that in a second. I took a class last fall that featured a guest lecture about inside sales fromMark Roberge, the CRO of Hubspot. Mark built and scaled an incredibly successful inside sales team at Hubspot. And in the lecture we looked in a lot of depth at Qualtrics, who it seems did the same thing. I have no reason to doubt that both companies (and no doubt many more) have done lots of highly effective inside sales. In particular, it is undoubtedly a good thing to use inside sales where it allows you to reach out to customers that it would be uneconomic to sell to via field sales channels, but for whom lower-touch channels won’t work. But as someone who has done inside sales work (before I knew what it was) and who has been the receiving end of a fair bit of it in 2015, I think something is amiss. I think it’s less effective than it seems and that as it becomes more common, it is both being practiced less well and is becoming less effective.

Does inside sales work? This is the third email I’ve received from ‘Dan’ in the last two weeks (I’ve removed full names, emails and company info for the sake of not being mean):

Will inside sales keep working or go the way of the stranded prince scam? This is the problem as I see it: inside sales tactics become less and less effective the more companies use them. And that happens even faster when some companies use irritating or sloppy tactics. It’s likely that the first stranded prince scam or penis enlargement spam emails work pretty effective at first. But as that ‘channel’ got saturated with poorer and poorer imitators of the originals, I bet the success rates for everyone fell. And that would be true if those emails still work sometimes, which they probably do. This channel saturation isn’t a new thing in marketing. It happens in paid and free channels. Take search. Paid search ads get more expensive as more companies use them, while consumers notice and react to them less. On the free side, SEO was the way to get in front of customers, until everyone started doing SEO on the best key words, and it became harder and less effective. None of this, I think, argues that inside sales is a bad channel. I’m sure that done well and for the right products it’s good. But it does suggest that some of its success might have been due to its newness. And it suggests that we have reason to believe it will become a less effective channel over time. That points it the way of the next fad, not the next big thing.

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