The seven (no, make that eleven) deadly sins of inside sales
“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” So reads the sign above the entrance of Dante Alighieri’s version of Hell in the Divine Comedy. Thanks to the relatively recent phenomenon intertwining popular culture with medieval history, whether in the form of a taut Dan Brown novel (Inferno) or a big screen thriller starring Messrs. Pitt, Freeman, and Spacey (Seven), Dante is enjoying a modern-day resurgence that would have likely eclipsed even his own wonderfully vivid imagination.
Dante was extremely instrumental in shaping the concept of sin in the Renaissance mind. One of the reasons the Divine Comedy was (and remains) so wildly popular is that it turned traditional dogma on its head; rather than attempting to combat sin with a chaste laundry list of things one must not do, Dante provides us with vivid examples of how the fallen have, in fact, fallen. In effect, Dante decided that cautionary tales might be the more effective device to bring about the avoidance of sin than omnipotent, judgmental, “finger-wagging.”
With Dante’s modus operandi in mind, I began compiling a list of the seven deadly sins of Inside Sales. Fairly quickly, I knew I was in trouble. I realized there are more than seven sins of Inside Sales. Immediately I thought of Dante’s nine circles of hell, hoping that construct would be sufficient. As it happens, there are 11 Deadly Sins of Inside Sales. Put another way, there are at least 11 Deadly Sins of Inside Sales which I have committed during my career of building Inside Sales programs. I share these human frailties with you in the true Renaissance spirit of learning from one’s mistakes and atoning for my wayward Inside Sales ways. The elements of the list appear below in order of the amount of angst they caused me and my clients over the years:
Inability to quantify the value of Inside Sales – The field alleges they would have found the deals anyway, and the Inside Sales organization can’t prove otherwise.
Lack of programmatic activity – Inside reps are left to their own devices to figure out what to do next rather than having the activity clearly defined.
Business Unit contamination (flavor of the month) – Lack of consistent focus or prioritization of Inside Sales across the business leads to corrupted Inside Sales roles. BU leaders use Inside Sales for whatever hot-button issue they face in a given quarter or month; Inside Sales reps are unable to specialize and become proficient. This is the biggest reason why placing IS reps in the region is usually a bad idea.
Lack of professional Inside Sales management – Effective Inside Sales management requires a set of unique skills that are distinct from those required to successfully manage field sales teams. I have discovered that simply migrating a field leader to the Inside Sales organization almost always results in suboptimal program performance.
Inside Sales as an admin dumping ground – The average Inside Sales organization will handle more than its fair share of administrative activity, but if that’s the extent of what IS is allowed to do, revenue uplift will not materialize.
Account poaching or hoarding – Inside Sales covers all the low opportunity accounts while the crown jewels are protected by the field. I once had an Inside Rep describe this to me as, “It’s like the Outside Rep I’m working with is offering to share a doughnut and giving me the hole.”
Undirected outbound prospecting – i.e., dialing for dollars. Don’t do it. Even if you have IS reps covering early sales cycle activities, they must have a more data-enabled strategy than dialing against an undifferentiated phone book.
Business processes not scalable – The volume intensity of Inside Sales can break manual or inefficient processes. Business processes that are not stress-tested to withstand the influx of Inside Sales activity can compromise the promised productivity gains associated with programmatic Inside Sales.
Subordination within the sales organization – When Inside Sales lack voice and representation on par with field counterparts, they will inevitably be subjugated. Inside Sales can be an assistive channel to the field and can even work at the field’s direction, but its leadership should have an equal seat at the table.
Overall channel efficacy often depends on field – In a paired inside/outside model, productivity uplift is the responsibility of both the field and Inside organization. If the field does not materially change its behavior (e.g., seeking out more complex opportunities with the time afforded it by Inside Sales), productivity gains will be absorbed.
Faulty sales compensation plan design – The inside sales compensation plan objectives must be aligned to, rather than in conflict with, other sales channels (field and/or business partners). Additionally, inside sales compensation plans based solely on in-process activity measures rather than production can be problematic.
This list is admittedly daunting, and committing any one of these deadly sins can compromise the efficacy and funding of an Inside Sales program. Some companies go through multiple iterations of Inside Sales activity, often failing several times before finding the right design mix for their organization and the markets it serves. An informal poll of my clients over the years indicates companies go through an average of three inside sales iterations before finding success, often adding cost-of-sales along the way with little or no incremental revenue to show for their efforts during the first few attempts. But, success can be powerful, increasing productivity by up to 25 percent or more while actually decreasing overall cost of sales significantly as a percent of revenue.
Lest ye abandon all hope, take heart, and take heed as we, in future posts, explore several vivid and tangible examples of how organizations have both committed and also averted these 11 Deadly Sins. In so doing, we intend to share both what not to do as well as a vision for a path to success that might unlock the power and productivity of Inside Sales and drive profitable revenue growth.
Sean Ryan is a principal in the New York office. He is a leader of the Technology practice on the east coast. Sean focuses around leading software, hardware and technology services companies through the difficult challenges of sales transformation, from traditional selling models and building the sales effectiveness and sales compensation structures required to effectively transition. Sean works primarily with technology clients in areas such as sales and marketing strategy formulation, sales transformation, direct, indirect and inside sales channel management, and sales compensation. Increasingly, Sean’s focus has centered around working with companies attempting to establish a presence in Cloud/XaaS markets for both traditional technology players and “born-in-the cloud” companies. Sean has significant experience working with both large companies and start-ups, with all forms of ownership including public, private equity-funded and privately held companies.