In this guide, we’re going to discuss the finer points of inside sales vs. outside sales—which are kind of two sides of the same coin.
Let’s jump right in!
Table of Contents
- What Is Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales?
- Which Is More Common: Inside Sales or Outside Sales?
- The Benefits of Inside Sales
- The Benefits of Outside Sales
- Which Types of Companies Benefit Most From Inside Sales?
- Which Types of Companies Benefit Most From Outside Sales?
- Other Factors to Consider
- Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales: What About a Hybrid Model?
- Email: The Gateway to Better Sales
What Is Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales?
We’ll start with the basics.
An inside sales team sells remotely. Inside sales reps typically work from an office or a home office. They use email, phone calls, and other methods to reach prospects and close deals.
An outside sales team travels to engage with customers face-to-face. Outside sales reps can be found at tradeshows, at client office spaces, at industry events, and occasionally, catching up on things at the main office.
Which Is More Common: Inside Sales or Outside Sales?
Does one sound more common than the other?
Place your bets now!
In 2019, about 45.5 percent of salespeople were inside salespeople primarily, while 52.8 percent were outside salespeople. For the record, because I was curious, about 70 percent of cats are inside cats, so there is no correlation here.
Obviously, 2020 skewed these statistics a bit. Outside salespeople became inside salespeople overnight and stayed that way throughout the year. It remains to be seen what the long-term effects of this will be, but I’m willing to bet we’ll see a measured increase in inside sales activity.
Still, there’s a somewhat even split.
Of course, industry plays a heavy role in this as well; some industries are much more likely to sport inside salespeople, while others favor outside sales.
The Benefits of Inside Sales
Why is inside sales beneficial?
Here are the advantages of inside sales:
1. Omnichannel communication.
Meeting in person is great and all, but it’s exclusively meeting in person. Why limit yourself when there are so many awesome communication channels available today? You can pick up the phone, send an email, whip up a quick SMS text—whatever it takes to get your prospect’s attention.
Inside salespeople are experienced in putting these mediums together. They know exactly when to send what kind of message, and they tend to reach more prospects because of it. The fancy, buzzworthy term for this is “omnichannel communication.”
Inside sales also offers a lot more flexibility. Salespeople can work from home if they want to. You can reach out at any time, without needing to formally schedule a meeting across town.
If something happens to your business (like, say, having to deal with the fallout from a pandemic), your inside sales team can scramble and figure out a new approach. In some ways, this is the newer model of sales, and it tends to be more adaptable.
3. Lower costs.
Inside sales can save you big money. How? By eliminating all the superficial expenses associated with outside sales. You don’t have to pay for company cars, airplane travel, gas, or meals at restaurants. You may not even have to pay for office space!
4. Raw output.
Companies with more inside sales reps were capable of making 42.5 percent more dials, leaving 10.2 percent more voicemails. They also sent 8.8 percent more emails—but I wouldn’t be surprised if this is an understatement.
Bottom line here is that inside salespeople get more outreach done. Why? Because they spend less time traveling and more time contacting prospects. That’s not a dig at outside salespeople; it’s just the way things are.
The Benefits of Outside Sales
And in this corner…
We have a number of benefits from outside sales:
1. Face-to-face interactions.
I love email. It’s my preferred communication channel and I’ll take it over a teleconference any day of the week. But even I have to admit there are some issues with it. Have you ever thought someone was a jerk because of their tone only to find out later they were joking? Yeah…
EmailAnalytics Visualizes Your Team's Email Activity
- 35-50% of sales go to the first-responding vendor.
- Following up within an hour increases your chances of success by 7x.
- Salespeople spend an average of 13 hours per week on email.
There’s a lot of value in having face-to-face interactions, and it goes beyond reading tone and body language. It’s also an opportunity to forge a strong bond and make a better overall impression with your prospects. Ultimately, it could mean landing more sales—especially for large deals.
2. Industry exposure and networking.
Inside salespeople can make phone calls all day long, but they can’t exactly attend a tradeshow (at least not until tradeshow VR becomes a thing). Outside sales reps are much more active within industry events.
They get more visibility and provide a channel for your business to connect with other businesses in the real world.
3. Team meetings and presentations.
Team meetings over the phone just… don’t work. If you’re meeting with a group of people, a boardroom is the best possible option, and that means you need the help of an outside sales rep.
Outside sales is ideal for meeting with a group of people, or for making dynamic presentations. Virtual conferences and webinars simply don’t pack the same punch.
4. Potential to close.
While inside sales is advantageous in sheer output, outside sales tends to be advantageous when it comes to closing the deal—especially for larger, more sensitive deals.
People are much easier to persuade and are far more trusting when you meet with them in person; it’s also easier to get a signature on a document.
Which Types of Companies Benefit Most From Inside Sales?
Okay. So obviously both inside sales and outside sales are valuable at least some of the time.
So which types of companies benefit most from inside sales? Ones that have these characteristics:
- Transactional sales models. Sales models that depend on transactions fare better here. That is to say, if your company relies on individual purchases to collect revenue, you’ll be in a good spot. It’s easiest to contrast this with the relational sales model, which outside sales can do better.
- Small deal sizes. When you’re selling something for $100, people don’t need to see your face. They’re willing to trust you—or at least gamble that $100 on the limited reputation you’ve been able to build via email, phone calls, and other virtual forms of communication.
- Few decision makers. Remember, outside sales is a practical necessity if you’re meeting with many people at once. But if you’re only working with one decision maker, inside sales is highly beneficial.
- Fast sales cycles. Quick sales cycles, where people make buying decisions over the course of a few weeks or less, are favored by inside sales strategies.
Which Types of Companies Benefit Most From Outside Sales?
What about outside sales?
- Relational sales models. In a relational sales model, your relationships with your clients matter; much of your income depends on their continued satisfaction with your company, whether they place ongoing orders with you or they’re subscribed to a service you offer. Outside sales is advantageous here; it gives you a great start to what will (hopefully) be a long and fruitful business relationship. Use these sales discovery questions to build that relationship!
- Large deal sizes. If you’re spending $1 million on something, you’ll want to look the person selling it to you in the eyes. At least I would—though to be fair, I don’t plan on spending $1 million on anything anytime soon. The point is, large deal sizes almost demand outside sales.
- Many decision makers. Before a company can move forward, it needs to run the decision by 14 different people. Yikes. I won’t comment on this bureaucratic nightmare, but I will tell you that those 14 people will interrupt each other constantly if they’re forced into a teleconference together. Use outside sales and get them in a physical room.
- Slow sales cycles. You should also use outside sales more consistently when you’re dealing with a slower, long-duration sales cycle.
Other Factors to Consider
I had trouble fitting these points into any other section. But there are some other factors you’ll need to consider when evaluating whether to use inside sales or outside sales.
- Industry expectations. Some industries lean toward inside sales or outside sales, based on their business model. For example, tech startups often favor inside sales because it’s less expensive, more scalable, and more flexible. You may or may not want to play into industry expectations for your business.
- Customer preferences. You also need to think about your customers’ preferences. If you’re working with a manufacturing company with a CEO who’s been in business for 40 years and seems very traditional, you can count on them favoring an outside sales model. If your customer is a busy, ambitious 30-year-old tech entrepreneur, you’ll find an entirely different set of preferences.
- Stage of growth. What stage of growth is your business in and where do you go from here? At the earliest stages of growth, you may have a limited budget and a need for greater flexibility, which makes inside sales much more favorable.
Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales: What About a Hybrid Model?
Neither inside sales nor outside sales can do everything. They both have drawbacks. Weaknesses. Limitations.
So where does that leave us?
It means we should probably strive for some kind of hybrid model. A good football team needs a good offense and a good defense. A good investment strategy has both high-risk and low-risk assets. And a good sales strategy uses both inside and outside sales.
- Handoff potential. Think of your outside and inside salespeople as members of the same unified team. Your inside salespeople are there for setup. They’re rock stars when it comes to prospecting, making introductions, and getting appointments scheduled. Your outside salespeople are there to close. At a certain point, prospects are “handed off” from one wing of your sales team to the other. This way, you can improve your lead qualification, increase your raw output, and still keep a high close ratio.
- Collaboration. Better yet, make it easy for your inside and outside salespeople to work together and share information. An outside sales rep might take a tour of a client’s building and learn a valuable piece of new information that can help your inside sales team with prospecting in the future. Your inside sales team might be able to anticipate objections that your outside salespeople can overcome. With openness and transparency, both ends can strongly benefit.
- Customer-centric optimization. Everything needs to revolve around your customers’ preferences. Do they respond better to email than to in-person meetings? Make your inside sales reps step up. Are they eager to meet face-to-face before they’re willing to close the deal? It’s your outside sales team’s time to shine. Gradually optimize your overarching sales strategy to reach the greatest number of people with the right sales force.
- Analytics and experimentation. How can you be sure that your sales team is working productively? How do you know whether your inside or outside salespeople are making a bigger splash? It’s important to have a system in place to measure and analyze your results. Beyond that, it’s important to experiment and gradually refine your strategy based on what you learn.
Email: The Gateway to Better Sales
Inside, outside, blindside—the point is, you’ve got a sales staff and a strong motivation to succeed. For help, see this list of top sales books you can read.
So where does that leave you if your team is constantly spending too much time on email and not enough time closing deals?
It’s a bigger problem than you might think. People get hundreds of emails a day, so losing just a minute on each email with bad habits and inefficient practices means hours of lost productivity (and lost sales).
Bottom line? Bad email habits translate to lost sales.
The solution? EmailAnalytics.
EmailAnalytics tells you everything you want to know (and some things you don’t) about your team’s email performance, including emails sent and received, email thread length, and average response time. It’s the perfect tool to master the email side of your sales strategy.
Sign up for a free trial today to see how it works!
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.