As I write, I’m flying back to LA after attending the Inside Sales Professionals annual conference in Chicago.

Today, I presented The Death of Field Sales, an introduction to our inside-out approach to the design of the sales function.

Here are my observations on state of the inside-sales community.

The good

First, inside sales is exploding. A number of speakers presented data that showed that, as field sales teams shrink, inside teams are growing. But not just growing. Exploding! Some are reporting a 300% year-on-year growth in US inside-sales headcount. And I suspect the same is true of other developed countries too.

The other exciting thing is that the inside-sales community seems to be well aware of the power of inside sales. Many organizations have inside sales teams that are outperforming their field counterparts and a number are prosecuting major sales opportunities inside.

The other good news I can report is that, when I posited my two starting assumptions for the design of the sales function, I got immediate and unreserved agreement from everyone in my workshop:

  • Sales is essentially an inside function
  • Sales is a team—not an individual—endeavor

The not so good

The not so good news is that inside sales teams have adopted a number of practices from the traditional sales model that would have been better off left in the field (or, better still, eliminated altogether).

For example, although everyone seemed to agree that sales is a team endeavor, inside salespeople are being encouraged to own their own accounts, to prospect and to engage in social outreach (including publishing their own blog posts!).

Although, many in the community reject that inside salespeople are second-class citizens (relative to field salespeople) I still heard a number of industry leaders admit (from the stage) that they employ low-cost, less-experienced candidates and introduce them to a career path that starts inside and delivers them, at some point, to the field (where, presumably, real salespeople work?).

And, need I say, talk of commission-based comp plans was everywhere.

My deck. For more information, read this.

My presentation

In my presentation, I lead audience members from the starting assumptions above through the process of reimagining their sales functions.

To a person, the audience agreed that organizations should have robust customer service teams and that these teams should handle ALL order processing, quoting and issues. They also agreed that if customer service has these capabilities, no one else in the organization should be processing orders, generating quotes or handling issues.

They also agreed that it made sense to make inside sales the sales frontline—and to continue adding inside salespeople for as long as it is economic to do so. They liked the idea of a promotions team that maintains queues of sales opportunities upstream from inside sales—meaning that inside sales can concentrate on selling (and not prospecting). And they even liked the idea of field specialists who perform discrete field tasks, on-call to inside sales (without attempting to take ownership of sales opportunities).

I’m pretty sure the audience even liked the idea of separating enterprise sales from general sales—and partnering more expensive enterprise salespeople with dedicated executive assistants—so that the former can work exclusively in the field.

Predictably, the one point of contention was commissions. Some audience members were incredulous when I suggested that everyone in this new environment had to be paid their market value—in the form of a salary, and not commission. But it was a different kind of incredulity than the kind I get when I present to traditional sales managers—a more confused kind!

I think that everyone in the room could see that they had embraced the idea that sales is a team endeavor. What’s more, they had all endorsed the division of labor in practice too—by stripping marketing, customer service and field activities away from inside salespeople and allocating them to other specialists. It was fairly clear that the elimination of commissions was an inevitable consequence of this direction—just as piece-rate pay was a causality of division of labor in production environments.

My take on the future

All in all, I was very excited by my two days in Chicago.

Of course, I already knew that sales has to move inside (customers are demanding it) but I wasn’t aware of the speed at which this is occurring (particularly in larger organizations).

I’m a little sad that inside-sales professionals have adopted some of the unproductive practices of traditional field sales (while simultaneously rejecting the assumptions on which these practices are based!), but I’m confident that the truth will (win) out.

What’s really exciting, though is the size and the vibrancy of the inside-sales community. This community knows that they’re on the right side of history, they are kicking goals, they are making a lot of noise, and they’re just getting started.

Sales is changing and the change will benefit us, here at Ballistix. I’m happy to report that the new guard will be much more receptive to our radical ideas than the old one.