To some people, it may sound like a secret club. To others, it may sound like a fancy corporate word for telemarketing. In reality, inside sales is a unique and specialized field that offers a lot of upward mobility to those who choose to work in it.
As far as sales jobs go, there is no shortage of positions available. You could sell smartphones in a store or makeup from a kiosk. You could be a door-to-door vacuum salesperson or sell extended car warranties to strangers on the phone (good luck with that!). None of these are inside sales.
Instead, inside sales is more like what a real-estate agent does for potential home buyers. Buying a high-ticket item like a new house requires a more delicate and relational touch than many other types of sales. Add in a strategic approach to prospecting, an array of sales technology, and make the sale entirely from an office by phone or email. Now you have a more accurate picture of inside sales.
This is not some niche field used by only a small handful of companies, either. Some studies estimate that at least 37% of high-growth companies have an inside sales team as part of their main sales strategy.
However, if you’re not involved in the B2B sales world, you may not know much about how it works or how it differs from other sales teams. Let’s take a closer look at the reality of inside sales for people who work in the field every day.
To get an idea for how inside sales really works, let’s first define it. Then, we can look at it in comparison to other types of sales.
In basic terms, inside sales is any type of sales that is handled remotely via phone, email, or social media. More specifically, inside sales usually refers to B2B (business-to-business) sales. That's where one company is focused on selling their product to other business customers.
Typically these reps work in a central office. However, the COVID-19 crisis provided more work-from-home options for many teams across the world. With platforms like Zoom, reps can host meetings, deliver presentations and conduct demos without ever leaving the office. Because of that, it’s often more cost-effective to have an inside sales team than any other type of team. That way, businesses avoid the expense of having reps travel for in-person meetings.
Outside sales reps also market to other businesses. However, instead of making the sale by phone or email, these reps travel to meet the prospect in person. While the pandemic has limited some outside sales teams, companies still make use of them.
That said, companies often have smaller outside sales teams because they cost more money in travel, lodging, and transportation expenses. In general, outside sales reps are reserved for enterprise customers that need more dedicated attention.
Inside and outside sales teams are both common parts of B2B sales, like in the SaaS and tech industries. That’s because these businesses need highly skilled salespeople who can form long-term professional relationships with prospects.
Both inside and outside sales reps need to understand how a company’s complex products meet a specific need in their target market. For this reason, these teams demand a high level of research and strategy in order to work with the needs and challenges of potential customers.
Like many sales positions, both inside and outside sales reps often receive commissions in addition to a regular salary.
Not at all. Many people confuse inside sales with telemarketing because of the high volume of cold calling. But the two fields are very different.
Where telemarketers will try to sell something to a consumer in a single phone call (low-touch), inside sales reps are trained for high-touch transactions. This means that the sales process will involve multiple phone calls, emails, follow-ups, and demos before the close.
Remember, these are specialized team members who can connect intelligently with prospects and speak directly to their needs.
What’s more, telemarketing calls are often targeted toward random consumers. Inside sales reps do much more research on business leads and decision makers before reaching out to anyone. This means their communications are more targeted and more likely to lead to a mutually beneficial relationship. In fact, inside sales reps spend about 40% of their time prospecting on average.
Inside sales reps are also rarely scripted. Instead they create their own unique pitches and talking points based on a standard sales process for their team. The freedom to talk to prospects more relationally tends to produce more meaningful interactions.
Unlike other forms of remote sales, inside sales managers often leverage the unique strengths of each rep on their team. With guidance from sales engineers and marketing teams, inside sales reps will tailor their pitch to show how each prospect could specifically benefit from that product. This requires you to think both analytically and creatively about your team’s sales process.
Many SaaS (Software as a Service) companies adopt the inside sales model because their products tend to be complex, subscription-based and cost more than something like Netflix. For any company to shell out money on a regular basis for software (and all the licenses for their team), they need to be sure it's worth the expense.
Inside sales reps in the SaaS industry need to pay careful attention to the prospect’s challenges, desired solutions, design preferences and more. You can use all of this to show your prospect how the product is inherently valuable to their situation.
Think back to the previous example of a real-estate agent. A house is a high-ticket item, and there are a lot of things to consider before signing the paperwork and getting locked into a mortgage. Just like inside sales reps, good real-estate agents first try to understand what potential buyers are looking for in a new house. Then, they show off parts of the home that meet those needs to see if it's the right fit.
That said, inside sales isn’t quite as 1:1 as real-estate due to the layers of strategy and teamwork. Inside sales reps also make contact at a much higher rate, but those calls can be just as personal as a house tour because of the research beforehand.
In reality, the best salespeople know that cheap persuasive tricks don’t work for business customers. Remember, they probably have sales teams, too. Instead, you create an environment for the close to happen naturally.
Why? Because no one should be pressured into making an uneducated buying decision. To be most effective, reps should aim to convince the prospect on a deeper level so that they make the smartest decision for themselves.
At Prehired, our philosophy is Clarity > Closing®. We believe inside sales reps should always create clarity with prospects and help them come to a solid decision that works for them.
While salary can vary by country, entry level inside sales positions in the United States often pay anywhere from $35,000 to $50,000. However, high-performing entry level positions, especially in the SaaS or tech sales industry, have the potential to make $100,000+ with commissions.
The path to a 6-figure sales career is even more possible as you advance. All this probably sounds great, but it can be tough to know where to start.
While companies will often structure their sales teams differently, most people break into the world of inside sales as an SDR (Sales Development Representative). An SDR (also called a BDR, or Business Development Representative) focuses on drumming up new business for the sales team. Their job is to work in a team of 2-3 other SDRs to qualify leads and send them to another rep known as an Account Executive, who then closes the deal.
SDRs can handle inbound or outbound calls depending on their level of experience and the preference of the sales manager. Through cold-calling, emailing, social media, and regular follow-up, SDRs filter out leads with no good use case and work instead on building the qualified leads pipeline.
SDRs are often the first people on the sales team that customers will talk to. They are the nerve endings of the entire inside sales operation. In a sales funnel structure, they are the wider end, generally handling a larger volume of leads. They then narrow them down to the best opportunities possible for the next stage in the pipeline.
An AE (or Account Executive) is usually the next logical advancement for an inside sales career. While many of an AE’s daily tasks overlap with an SDR’s (things like emailing, taking calls, follow-ups, and scheduling demos), the goal is different.
When an AE makes contact with a prospect, that person is almost always interested in the product already. They likely need to work out a few more details or get more clarity on the solution to make their final decision.
An AE needs to establish trust as the lead’s guide in the buying process. Part of this is overcoming any final objections, and working on customizations for the product if possible. After that, they proceed to the close, sign papers, set up payment and thank them for becoming a customer.
Some AEs may manage a customer’s account after the close, but more often this job is handed off to an account manager. This person then forms a long-term relationship with the client and supports them in whatever they need (subscription renewal, technical issues, etc.).
Once you nail your position as an AE, the possibilities really open up for an inside sales career.
Many people choose to become sales managers who lead entire teams at once. These people hold sales meetings, improve processes, and give feedback to help reps meet their goals. They ensure the success of the entire department by setting up an atmosphere that allows their team to perform best.
You might also choose to move toward outside sales, sales operations, sales engineering, or a number of other positions. With enough experience and hard work, you could even make it to VP of sales or CRO.
To start and maintain a career in inside sales, you don’t need to have a ton of raw talent. In fact, those with raw sales talent can sometimes forget how important it is to put in solid work and to continuously hone your skills over time. To do well in the field, you need to work on becoming a better salesperson and learning the craft of sales.
While you should always work on improving in many areas, inside sales reps should focus on developing confidence, good communication, and organizational skills to succeed in the field.
If you’ve ever hung up on a salesperson who called you in the middle of the day, you’re not the only one. Entry-level positions often involve a high volume of cold calling and rejection.
For this reason, inside sales reps need to realize rejection isn’t personal. It’s important that you can shake it off and jump back on the next call.
In almost any case, in-person interaction is much more powerful than a phone call or an email. Virtual communication lacks the presence of body language and other cues that can put your message across more clearly.
To succeed at selling in a remote environment, inside sales reps need to be excellent communicators. This means being comfortable and adept in phone conversations and being able to create powerful written messages via email.
You should also know the best practices for social media marketing and how each channel is unique in its use of content. No matter what medium you use, you should be able to make your message just as engaging (if not more so) than an in-person conversation.
Inside sales reps are also incredibly busy people. To make the most of their time at the office, they tend to structure their days so that they can put in as much work as possible. This is why staying organized is key to an inside sales rep’s success.
Often, your day will be filled with back-to-back interactions, and it’s important to avoid wasting time trying to find an email address, remember a prospect’s position or find your notes from the previous call.
Modern sales technology has made salespeople more powerful than ever before. Sales reps can use software to not only stay organized and keep track of communication, but also find the most qualified leads more quickly and visualize the sales funnel of the entire department.
That’s why it’s important for anyone looking to start a career in inside sales to be familiar with modern sales technology, such as CRM software, lead generation and more.
CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. A CRM is a program that inside sales reps use to keep track of the sales pipeline.
The most widely adopted program in this category is Salesforce. When an SDR qualifies a lead, that information (name, title, authority level, persona, etc.) gets logged into a CRM for the rest of the team to work with. Then, when that prospect gets transferred to an AE, there is already important data about that potential customer available in the CRM. Teams can then use this information in their sales strategy for leading that customer to a close.
Lead generation software like ZoomInfo and Pipedrive help gather leads automatically based on certain criteria. It also locates contact information quickly so that you don’t have to spend as much time looking for it. Inside sales reps use this software to make their research and prospecting workflows more efficient.
Like many other industries, AI is also revolutionizing the field of inside sales. Chatbots and other programs allow reps to automate much of their sales process for speed and data-driven effectiveness. Sales reps who constantly learn how to best use new sales technology definitely have an advantage over the rest.
While it may seem like succeeding as an inside sales rep is a pipe dream, it isn’t. Becoming a good sales rep of any kind won’t be easy, but you can get there a lot faster with the right training.
Sales training goes beyond just learning the technical aspects of finding leads online. It also teaches you how to think about sales in a better way while equipping you with the right skills you need to make an impression on your new team from day one.
Although companies almost always put their new reps through rigorous training and onboarding before putting them on the floor, many jobs will post prior sales training as a prerequisite to being hired.
Imagine stepping into an office and learning not only a brand new complex product, a new target market, how to use a CRM and how to make calls to people you’ve never met. By the way, you’re also expected to ramp up to meet your metrics within about 90 days. Good luck!
If that sounds a little daunting, you’re not alone. But imagine how empowered you would feel once you had mastered it. Sales training goes a long way in helping you not only learn the basics of inside sales, but also take in valuable insights from experienced mentors.
In case you haven’t realized by now, inside sales isn’t quite what most people think it is. It's ultimately a field that requires unique skills and training to succeed in. It also calls for a more personal touch than other forms of sales (which is why you'll find it often pays better).
For anyone willing to put in the work, inside sales also offers plenty of opportunities for advancement. Yes, this means more money, but it also means having a more fulfilling career where you can do work that truly impacts other people.
To start, you will almost certainly need to have great sales training. If you’re thinking you don’t have what it takes to succeed in this kind of thing, that’s fine. You can build them. At Prehired, we can get you started on your journey toward a 6-figure tech sales career. Our members average landing their first jobs in only 12 weeks. And we, along with our community, support you for life with mentoring, job opportunities at hiring partners and more.
If that seems like it might be a big investment that might not pay off, don’t worry. You don’t have to pay us anything until you get a job at a SaaS company of your choice. Even after that, you’ll only pay us in proportion to how much you make.
If that sounds fair, find out how you can take the next step toward a new career today.
As Prehired's Founder & CEO, Josh Jordan is leading the mission to help 10,000 people launch 6-figure software sales careers by the end of 2024.
How? With Prehired's Science-Based Sales® process -- born from helping dozens of software companies build their sales teams...
...and then consulting with hundreds of Software Sales Managers on exactly what they wanted new hires to know...
...and then helping hundreds of regular folks break into software sales in 12 weeks, on average.
Josh created Science-Based Sales® to help nearly anyone succeed in software sales, because it creates clarity for prospects. No killer closer instincts, charisma or kissing up to decision makers needed.
A guide to training and onboarding your new sales team with the best practices for cold calling and emailing prospects, and the psychology behind Science-Based Sales.