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March 19, 2013

Hiring your first sales rep? Answer these 3 questions first… (part 1 of a 3-part series)

I’ve worked with several research firms in the past year that made the commitment to hire their first sales rep.  That’s a big step for most firms… and to be successful with it, there are three key questions that need to be answered before the new rep comes on board.  [This is the first of a 3-part series to help answer those questions.]

Question #1: Inside or outside?

The decision for your first sales rep to be inside or outside is not an easy one – the implications are many.

For simplicity sake, I’ll define an ‘inside’ sales rep as someone whose work is all telephone-based, generally conducting all of their business from the office.  An ‘outside’ sales rep is a ‘road warrior,’ out visiting clients in their offices, only occasionally in the office to do paperwork, book appointments or attend a sales meeting.

Thoughts and comparison points (in no particular order):

  • Inside reps are generally less experienced, maybe even new to the sales profession.  Outside reps are often more experienced, more polished.
  • Inside sales is often seen as a training ground or serving as a bullpen for the field team.  Some companies even use their inside team as appointment-setters for the outside team. Some companies, though, have very experienced phone reps that call on their largest clients and are very successful at it.
  • Often, inside reps call on smaller clients while outside reps visit larger ones.  That means that one inside rep will have many more accounts assigned to them than would an outside rep.
  • Outside reps need to have really strong presentation skills (as they are often in front of a group); inside reps need to learn to deliver remote presentations (via Webex, for example).
  • Outside reps are more “seasoned,” often making it easier to get in to the VP-suite at client offices.
  • Outside reps need to be provided with and be comfortable with mobile technology.
  • Because outside reps are more experienced, often they command a higher base salary, perhaps 2-3X that of an inside rep.  But because they call on larger clients, the potential ROI can also be higher than an inside rep.
  • Outside reps often work from home, inside reps often work from the home office.
  • In addition to higher salaries, management needs to budget for travel expenses for outside reps.

Is it an “either/or?”  In theory, no.  Sure, you could have an inside rep who goes out to visit clients.  And yes, outside reps could make some of their sales calls by phone.

But the reality is this… you hire an inside rep so they can “work the phones” all day and connect with clients and prospects.  Or, you hire an outside rep so they can jet around the country (or drive around the city), pressing the flesh with your top clients and prospects.  Different challenges… different skill sets.  Compromising only minimizes those actions and ultimately inhibits them from achieving their goals.

This is no absolute answer to the ‘inside vs. outside’ question.    It’s a case by case basis… it’s a tolerance-for-risk issue… and ultimately, you have to try both to see which is best for you.

But the competitive advantage goes to the business leaders who test the waters to see what works… who pay attention and measure results… and who – once they learn what’s best for their firm – jump in with both feet and commit to a full-blown sales effort.

Do you have a preference – inside or outside – and why?  We welcome your feedback below.

Next month: Part 2- Hunter or farmer?

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