Are Data and Technology Actually Hindering Inside Sales Teams?


A customer-needs-focused philosophy is just as important for inside sales teams as it is for the external salespeople—in some ways, even more so.

By Will Milano
What’s on the minds of inside sales leaders as we head into mid-year? We had a unique vantage point at the AA-ISP Leadership Summit last month, a great event where we were able to get the pulse of attendees at the world’s largest gathering of inside sales leaders. In addition to talking with inside sales leaders in the exhibit hall, our CSO Bruce Wedderburn and CEO Mike Esterday facilitated an interactive session on why you can’t teach people to sell by teaching people to sell.

We had a chance to poll attendees at our booth about some of the top inside sales team and sales leadership challenges their organizations are experiencing. The two biggest challenges that came up on the “sales team” side of the board outpaced all the others by far—and maybe not surprisingly, they’re related:

  • Sales reps tend to spend more time talking about product than listening to the customer.
  • Salespeople are missing important cues on customer needs that can help advance discussions.

As these responses show, a customer-needs-focused philosophy is just as important for inside sales teams as it is for the external salespeople—in some ways, even more so. It’s easy to skip over steps like building rapport, getting people to talk about themselves and listening to uncover needs when you have a script and you’re eager to talk about product features and benefits. But you can’t keep someone’s attention and deliver the value they care about unless you listen first and have a sincere desire to understand what they need.

As for the inside sales leaders, the challenges identified by the attendees were a little more spread out, but there was a clear winner: Managers don’t know how to properly coach, and they use “no time” as a justification not to coach. This mirrors what we heard from leaders in the sales coaching study we conducted in partnership with the Sales Management Association last fall: “No time” is a popular excuse among managers for not coaching, but the real reason is usually that they don’t know how.

3 Takeaways from the AA-ISP 2019 Leadership Summit

With general sessions, idea exchange panels, demos and leadership discussions, there was plenty to learn and discover about how sales leaders are prioritizing their goals and activities for their teams, and where to focus for continued success in a rapidly changing marketplace. Here are three takeaways that stood out:

  1. Align Sales Training With Critical Success Factors

One of the interesting things we learned from a poll conducted during Bruce and Mike’s session is that there’s a significant gap between what sales leaders say is the major factor that contributes to sales success and the focus of the sales training they provide to their teams. When asked what percent of their top performers’ sustained sales success is due to “achievement drive” (their attitudes, self-belief, motivation, etc.), the most popular response was 80%. When asked what percentage of their organizations’ sales training addresses achievement drive, the most popular response was zero. Is your sales training developing the attitudes and motivation that will truly impact results?

  1. Don’t Underestimate the Value of Good Questions

In Amit Bendov’s session on “The Holy Grail of Inside Sales: Answering the Million-Dollar Questions,” he pointed out that the reason half of deals result in “no decision” is that (1) salespeople often ask ineffective or generic questions, and (2) they don’t clearly ask for “next steps” after a meeting. Star reps, on the other hand, don’t present; they ask. And then they follow up with more questions. How skilled are your sales reps at asking good questions?

  1. To Get Value from the Tools, Build Confidence and Skill First

Here’s a harrowing stat from a session on digital sales transformation: 80% of salespeople are using 10+ different technologies. Clearly, data problems plague today’s sales teams, and inside sales teams use technology even more than their outside sales counterparts. A related stat, from a session on improving the number and quality of conversations: 98% of inside sales investment dollars are being spent on recruiting and tools, while only 2% are going towards ongoing development. Tools and tech have their place and purpose, but you need people ramped-up, confident and capable before they can really get the value of those tools, and that means you need to focus on developing self-belief, core skills and achievement drive first. Are you tilting the balance too far towards the latest technology and widgets? It might be time for a recalibration.

Interested in receiving the full deck, including poll and discussion responses, from our session, You Can’t Teach People to Sell by Teaching People To Sell? Get in touch with us to request a copy.


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