Freddie Marryat, Marketing Manager, EngageIQ

03 April 2020

Over the past ten years, we’ve been lucky enough to see behind the scenes of dozens of B2B inside sales operations. We’ve worked in these teams, we’ve worked alongside these teams and we’ve even helped to create them, too. 

Building an inside sales team from scratch is often seen as a bit of a daunting task, even for companies that already have an established and successful sales department. But with the right preparation, it needn’t be.

Here’s what sales managers need to know to build a winning inside sales team from the ground up.

Defining the Role of Your Inside Sales Team

The first step is to be clear about why you’re creating an inside sales team in the first place and what exactly you want your team to do. Some organizations treat inside sales as the remote arm of their sales division, closing deals over the phone without ever leaving the office. 

Other companies treat inside sales as the sales development arm of their operation. These inside sales reps find and qualify leads. They also book appointment for sales executives to attend in person.

Inside Sales as Sales Development

In this article — and indeed all of our content — inside sales and sales development are synonymous. 

That’s not to say these reps are less important than traditional sales executives. In fact, sales development representatives (SDRs) play a critical role within your sales department. Jim Keenan from A Sales Guy believes SDRs have “arguably the most important job in sales.” They may not close the deal, but your sales executives can’t make a sale if they don’t have a meeting to go to. 

They also free up time for your sales executives to focus on what they do best — closing deals. Without an inside sales team, there’s a danger sales executives spend too much time at the top of the funnel identifying and qualifying leads.

Where Should Sales Sit?

You’ll also need to establish where your team will sit within your organization. Typically, inside sales will either come under the remit of the marketing team or the sales department. 

We’ve seen both instances work well, but the decision isn’t always obvious. If you’re looking for guidance, research by Trish Bertuzzi, president and chief strategist at The Bridge Group, found over three-quarters of inside sales teams sit under sales rather than marketing. 

But that doesn’t mean your business has to follow suit. Bertuzzi recommends that sales development reports to whichever team has the resources and experience to lead it. “Success hinges on who leads the group, not where it sits on the org chart,” she says.

Establishing Relevant Metrics and Setting Targets 

Sales is a numbers game and inside sales is no different. Now you’ve clarified what you want your inside sales team to do, you need to identify the metrics that will determine their success.

Decide What to Track

Different sales and marketing teams will want to measure different metrics. In general, however, we’ve found it most useful to track the:

  • Number of outbound calls made each day
  • Number of calls that result in conversations
  • Time spent on the phone
  • Number of appointments booked
  • Pipeline value of those appointments

Naturally, you’ll also want to track the conversion rate of appointments made, but that’s a metric for your sales executives to measure.

“Success hinges on who leads the group, not where it sits on the org chart”

Set Targets for Your Inside Sales Team

Every sales team needs clear targets to aim for. Targets give your team the accountability they need to succeed and they also give you a way to measure their success. 

These metrics shouldn’t be set arbitrarily. They should help you meet your business goals while remaining attainable to new SDRs. Most importantly, they should also be based on existing sales data. 

For example, if you know your sales executives close 20% of their appointments and they need to close 5 deals every month to hit your revenue target, you can work out how many appointments each executive will need to attend. You can then work out how many calls your inside sales team will need to make to book that number of meetings. 

These calculations can also help you work out how many inside sales agents you need to hire. An SDR can only make so many calls a day (ours tend to make 80-120, for instance). So if you need to make three times that many calls, you’ll probably need three SDRs.

Creating a Repeatable Inside Sales Process

It’s all very good having a team of SDRs eager to pick up the phone and dial leads, but in the absence of a detailed sales process, they aren’t going to be very effective. 

Every conversation is going to be slightly different, but the overall sales approach should be the same, says writer and editor Michele McGovern. In doing so, you’re able to create a repeatable process that scales. 

It doesn’t have to be perfect off the bat. The best inside sales teams tweak and optimize their sales process as they grow. Nevertheless, it’s important to have some structure in place before you begin.

Identify What a Qualified Lead Looks Like

Let’s start with arguably the most important part of your sales process, identifying what a good prospect looks like.

It may be that your sales team already has a clear picture of what a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) looks like. If so, great. If not, consider using IBM’s pioneering BANT approach:

  • Budget: Can they afford what you’re selling?
  • Authority: Are you speaking to someone who can sign-off on a purchase?
  • Need: Do they need what you’re selling?
  • Timeline: Do the timelines match up?

Personally, we don’t use “Budget” when qualifying candidates as we’ve found it’s become redundant recently. Buyers have such a wealth of information available to them now they often already know how much they will need for a certain tool or service. On top of this, the SaaS model has changed budgeting cycles to the extent that teams no longer need to allocate lump sums at the start of the financial year. 

It’s much more important for salespeople to speak to prospects when they know they have a problem but don’t know how to solve it. At this point, sales reps can present their solution and make the business case for it. This will give prospects everything they need to go away and request the budget they need.

Develop Your Pitch

We’d strongly recommend creating an outline or battle cards that your inside sales agents can follow. When the hardest part of the process is getting someone to hear your pitch, you better have a convincing message prepared. 

We’ve created a number of sales outlines over the years and all of them follow the same pattern: quickly build rapport, demonstrate the benefits, qualify the prospect and close by booking an appointment. 

You really want to focus on selling the benefits of your product or service, rather than its features. Talking about features is a great way to bore prospects and give them a chance to object before you can close. 

Your outline shouldn’t be word-for-word. Instead, give agents talking points. This is a much more flexible solution and can help your agents react when conversations go off course, as they naturally will. 

Use an Omnichannel Sales Cadence

We believe that calling is still the best way to contact a prospect, but it isn’t the only way. Our own sales agents use a combination of phone, email, social media and video to contact leads. Follow that link and you’ll get access to two of the cadences our own SDRs use. 

Email offers the chance to reach prospects out of hours or when they are away from their desk. Social media provides a more subtle way of getting on their radar. Video is a new strategy but it is a very effective way to stand out from the dozens of other sales calls your prospects likely receive.

Recruiting and Training You Inside Sales Team

A great sales process makes it significantly easier for SDRs to do their job. But the need for a high-quality sales team cannot be understated. SDRs might not be closing the deals, but they still need a mixture of determination, resilience and resourcefulness that is not common.

Hiring Your First SDRs

You don’t need us to talk you through the process of hiring salespeople. But what we will say is that inside sales reps can definitely be more junior than sales executives. 

In fact, The 2016 Sales Development Benchmark Report by TOPO found 95% of SDRs have less than two years of experience. 

Remember, these aren’t going to be the people closing the deal. Their job is to get the foot in the door. They still need to be able to sell, of course, but they don’t need to be as experienced or talented as the rest of your sales team.

If you’re in doubt about who to hire, go with personality. Your SDRs are probably going to get rejected more than your sales executives; so they need to have the fortitude to get up off the canvas and keep swinging. 

Persistence is key. Taking actions that keep the sale moving forward is the one thing that sets great SDRs apart from the rest, writes Ralph Barsi, head of global inside sales at tray.io.

While an SDR can be an entry-level sales position, it may benefit you in the long run to start by hiring experienced SDRs. When you’re building an inside sales team from scratch the last thing you want is to have to waste time hiring and training new reps because the old ones didn’t cut it. 

You should also hire a minimum of two inside sales reps to start. Hiring two allows you to compare the performance of each rep and test different sales strategies. 

“From technical training on products and services to sales process training, or gathering regional teams together once a year to share best practices, a well-planned training and development program provides a measurable ROI.”

Training Your Team

Training is one of the best things you can do to increase team performance, says SalesGlobe’s Mark Donnolo. “From technical training on products and services to sales process training, or gathering regional teams together once a year to share best practices, a well-planned training and development program provides a measurable ROI.” 

Given that your SDRs are unlikely to have a lot of sales experience, it will be important to cover  basic tactics. But you’ll also want to spend a fair amount of time teaching new recruits about your product and how to sell it specifically. 

It’s crucial your inside sales teams intimately understand your product, writes Kustomer’s Gabe Larsen. Unlike your sales executives, they don’t have the luxury of being able to showcase the product in person.

Last but not least, don’t forget to make time for ongoing training sessions. Onboarding days are all well and good, but most training happens in the real world during phone calls. You should be monitoring calls and providing feedback as and when it’s appropriate. 

The Importance of Recruitment Pipeline

It’s worth having a pipeline of candidates going through training with your organization. Your best SDRs will quickly move through the ranks and become managers or account executives. 

Others, unfortunately, won’t make the cut. From our experience, if two-thirds of your sales development hires work out, you’re doing a great job. 

When deciding on the future of SDRs, take opinion out of the equation and focus on data instead. If their output doesn’t meet the targets you’ve outlined, you’ll be doing both parties a favour by calling it a day. As a commission-based role, there’s little reward for reps that aren’t hitting targets. Sales might not be the job that less experienced reps imagined it would, either.  

Equipping Your Inside Sales Team With the Best Tools

Digital tools have transformed the world of sales. Even the most experienced and talented salespeople will be at a disadvantage if they aren’t using the same kinds of tools as everyone else. 

We recommend all inside sales teams use the following tech stack.

Sales Intelligence Tools

Today’s sales reps have more information at their fingertips than ever before, and it’s all thanks to sales intelligence tools. 

These tools aren’t just for show, they significantly improve performance. The more you know about potential prospects, the more efficient and effective you can become at turning those prospects into genuine leads, writes Fit Small Business editor Jason Aten.

There are a huge number of these tools on the market, ranging from plug-ins to full-blown platforms. If you’re looking for a recommendation, our SDRs use Linkedin Premium and Lusha to get the most up-to-date prospect information. 

Sales Engagement Tools

These comprehensive platforms help sales reps to track and improve their outreach efforts with the ultimate goal of improving engagement. Our inside sales team uses Salesloft.

Communication Platforms

Omnichannel sales teams need communication platforms that cover the multitude of ways they contact prospects. In other words, a phone line isn’t enough. That’s why we use Vonage’s unified communications platform to manage all of our team’s communication.

A CRM

A good CRM will let SDRs keep track of who they have made contact with, how and when. It can also store relevant client information and track the status of all leads. Automation will be key so that SDRs don’t have to spend a chunk of their day manually entering data.

Give Your Team the Leads They Need to Succeed

An inside sales team is nothing without a steady stream of leads to qualify. Even the best SDRs can waste hours each day looking for someone to call. 

That’s why leading B2B technology companies empower their inside sales team with EngageIQ. Our digital lead generation platform automatically identifies companies with relevant intent and equips SDRS with market-leading purchase intent data that helps them book meetings faster. Request a demo today to find out more.