Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

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Dysfunctional Inside Sales - January 23, 2016

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 processing.

 

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 concrete shoes.

 

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.

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