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The Great Sales Divide

April 25, 2024
Here are some new ideas that will help your inside and outside salespeople perform as a united team.

I recently met with a client who manages a sales team for a distributor that handles a high volume of orders, almost all of them with same-day shipping requirements.

The conversation centered around the disconnect he was experiencing between his outside and inside sales teams. The outside sales staff were frustrated by the lack of collaboration and, in some cases, cooperation from their inside team members. The inside salespeople at this organization field a significant amount of phone, email and text messages throughout the day, each one with cause-and-effect consequences, from working up a quote, entering an order, expediting a shipmen, or providing technical product information, leaving little time for developing new sales opportunities with their customers. The exceptional service and product offerings of this company drives annual sales growth, and affords management the ability to hire more people to help with continued yearly growth.

Enter the outside sales team. The outside sales team at my client’s organization are hired to expand relationships and uncover new opportunities within their existing customers, by meeting with key management and salespeople while developing long-term business strategies with specific initiatives that compliment both companies’ overall growth plans.

Without having to shoulder the burden of hundreds of daily tasks, the outside salesperson, unlike their inside teammate, has ample time to meet and learn about the customer’s strategic plan, and then develop a plan that supports and enhances the customer.

What appeared to be a logical application of sales resources was surprisingly causing stress for the client and affecting the morale of his team because of an all too familiar reason. A disconnected understanding of the difference between sales-service and sales development, both of which are vital to a healthy sales organization.  

 At this company, the inside sales team is comprised of the best sales-service professionals in the business. All of their contacts with their customers revolve around some form of service, from initiating quotes, entering orders and answering technical questions. Their ability to do this so well is the horsepower that drives the company’s selling engine. Without them, there would be no reason for other departments like warehouse, purchasing or accounts receivable to exist. And yet, a highly successful organization that becomes too dependent on this type of transactional business could become vulnerable to competition, which brings up the need for an outside sales team.

As we discussed his frustrations and so-far unsuccessful remedies, I asked him if their company used a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system for their outside sales team, and what were the requirements. He told me that they used a CRM and that outside sales personnel were required to log sales call activity into the system daily. At this point, the conversation took an unexpected turn, as I asked him who reads the sales call reports. His eyes bulged and he immediately began defending how he doesn’t question the work ethic of his outside sales team, and how the reporting tool is for their benefit as it helps the salesperson to keep track of meeting developments over time.

I smiled and suggested that using a CRM as a private detective to determine someone’s work ethic would be a pretty poor use of resources, and a red flag to a perspective employee. However, that does not excuse the manager from reading his salesperson’s call notes. Quite the contrary, it’s one of the most important business development tasks that a manager can complete, because sales call reports are a meaningful teaching/coaching tool that can be used to connect inside and outside sales in ideology and mutual growth goals. 

Understanding how they fit together as a team will encourage greater collaboration and communication on projects, with an eye towards helping each other to meet their budget and compensation goals. 

Another point of divide between inside and outside sales happens when one individual draws false conclusions about the skills and requirements of the other person’s job title. Missing out on news and events that occur in the office are frequent complaints of outside salespeople. They can feel detached, ignored, forgotten and even unnoticed as they travel within their geographic territory from week to week.

On the flip side, inside sales team members feeling the burden of transactions can fall into the trap that they are doing all the work, and the outside salesperson is free and clear of responsibility.

A good remedy to sooth this divide is found by scheduling days when the sales teams can shadow each other in their role responsibilities. Having an outside salesperson spend two to three days sitting alongside their inside counterpart helps to foster a greater respect and understanding of the burden the inside salesperson bears. 

Similarly, when an inside salesperson goes on the road and travels with the outside person for several days, they will experience the reality of travel and its challenges, while participating in strategic sales meetings that emphasize the important role the outside salesperson plays for the growth of the company.

However, because of our human nature, the potential for friction between roles can still linger. It’s up to the manager to communicate and reinforce the established definition of roles and expectations to all members of the team. Defined roles and defined objectives are the foundation for a united team.

 As the founder and president of formed Sincerely Speaking LLC, Mark Serafino coaches and mentors individuals and groups in personal communications, leadership and management skills. He spent more than three decades working in wholesale distribution You can reach him at [email protected].