There’s been a lot of talk ever since our 2009 InfoUSA study revealed that the inside sales industry was projected to grow at 7.5% per year over the next five years, while outside sales industry jobs is stagnating at 0.5% growth.
bNet Business’s Geoffrey James even sounded off on the topic, questioning the reasons behind the slow obsolescence of outside sales when the sales process and buying cycle have become even more “touch” intensive and complex.
In my mind, however, the trend is significant, but hardly inexplicable. The Web has made one of sales’ primary functions—distributing information to prospects—a much different activity than before. Even for complex purchases, there’s a wealth of information about available products and services, and the average prospect has significantly less of a need to rely on a sales rep to provide actionable information.
By the same token, the rise of Web 2.0 applications like real-time Web meetings / seminars, legal e-document services, and digital collaboration software have reduced the need to be “on the road” in face-to-face selling situations. In some cases it’s just as easy to build a trusted vendor / client relationship without physical presence. Add cheap long distance phone rates into the mix, and suddenly the thought of driving to a crowded airport, fighting with baggage and TSA regulations to hop a three-hour flight to Whereverville loses a lot of appeal, from both a cost perspective to the vendor, and in convenience and stress-levels for the traveling rep.
While it’s proven that face-to-face selling has a much higher close rate per deal (between 45-55% vs. 20% on average), inside sales teams can effectively target six to seven times more prospects in the same amount of time. Inside sales tools also provide sales management teams with accurate, actionable data about the sales process itself, leading to a greater ability to develop and train reps to be more productive.
All in all, inside sales is growing as an industry because it’s a win-win-win proposition—win for the vendor, win for the rep, win for the prospect.
The vendor saves costs while making reps more efficient with their time, the rep enjoys a more “normal” lifestyle by not having to spend 50-75% of their time away from home and family while still being effective at their job, and the prospect wins by having the sales process align more closely to their time constraints by handling meetings, demonstrations, and documents remotely.
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