It isn’t very often that I cover the
topic of inside sales. Although I am experienced in managing inside sales
teams, I tend to get more questions about the outside sales process. But, I
recently had an opportunity to meet with a company that is built around the
inside sales team. Outside reps are simply in place as client relationship
managers, whereas the inside sales team handle 80% of the quoting and order
So, the question posed to me was, “what
do you do when your inside sales team is so dysfunctional that we are losing at
least 5 deals per month?”
My immediate reaction was to clean house
and start fresh. Unfortunately, this was just a simple reaction, certainly not
based in any reality. The reality of the situation is that the inside sales
team simply has too much knowledge about their products and processes, and when
I learned the whole story behind the dysfunction, my recommendations for
improvement became much more clear.
Setting the stage, without a doubt, the
inside sales team are the lifeblood of the business. It has been this way for
over 25 years. Local management understands this situation, but the parent
company (executives) either are not aware of the issues or they don’t care to
understand what is going on. It wasn’t always dysfunctional, rather there were
times when the company was the leader in their market. They could manage client
expectations, turn quotes around same day/next day, and closed 70%plus of the
deals quoted. Customer service, an extension of the inside sales process, was
considered premier, they set the industry standard.
The company was acquired about 10 years ago.
Technology was on the brink of changing how business was being done. The
Internet was driving the quoting process. Email was overtaking the telephone.
Geographic markets began to expand because of search engines. Outside sales
reps found themselves traveling more and more. Request for quotes almost
doubled in approximately 2 years. The world around this business was changing
dramatically, at a running/sprinting pace, while this business was walking with
Fast forward now 10 years. The internal
IT systems have not changed. New systems have been attempted to be introduced,
but without much user buy-in or success. Outside reps are in many ways
disconnected from the internal corporate systems. Quoting is being done on one
native system while orders are processed on an unconnected ERP system. Yep,
duplicate manual data entry. And the parent company wants to know why they can’t
keep up the pace of 10plus years ago. Try this one on for size: in a cost
management approach, personal printers were removed from the desks of the
inside sales team, and centralized in the department. Every quote and every
order is “required” to be printed. This means each and every inside sales team
member must leave their desk every 7 minutes to retrieve materials from the
centralized printer. Dysfunctional from beginning to end.
As I reviewed the various components to
this company’s sales process, it did not take long before I realized another
glaring issue – the inside sales team have stay silent for the past 10 years.
Not one person has stepped up and challenged any of the decisions. When I spoke
with management, they too were as surprised as I was that no one would call
attention to the problems.
It wasn’t long before I was able to
convince management to meet with the inside and outside sales team for a real
heart-to-heart conversation. Once everyone began to vent, so to speak, they also
began to listen intently to one another. And, it wasn’t long before some, not
all, of the issues began to have action plans put in place for improvements.
My message this week is simple: we all
have our own individual responsibilities in the sales process. But, when we
realize we are also all on the same team, and we open the lines of
communication, we can improve the necessary processes to become more
successful. Dysfunction in many instances is a result of poor communication.
Yes, systems and processes play a role too, but starting with open and honest
communication is the best way to start making changes. Change is not always
fun. Change can be painful. Communication can help alleviate some of the pain
and make change a bit easier to management. We’re all in this together…talk to
each other openly. Embrace change and you’ll get rid of the dysfunction without
having to replace people with knowledge.