Increasing the Reach and Performance of B2B Inside Sales

Increasing the Reach and
Performance of B2B Inside Sales
Many companies have set up B2B inside sales teams
to help reduce sales costs. Too often, those teams are
not delivering all they could.
Page 4
Working with a Partner
When working with outsourcing
partners for B2B inside sales,
there are several best practices
that companies should consider
Page 5
Case Study: Contract Renewals
By segmenting customers based
on the value and complexity of
transactions, an inside sales
group increased renewal rates
Page 6
The Virtual Sales Rep
A virtual workforce gives inside
sales organizations greater
flexibility—which then supports
enhanced business continuity
Long experience with inside sales has enabled
Convergys to identify a number of leading practices
to help these operations reach more customers with
increased efficiency and effectiveness, and take on
a broader role in the sales process. When properly
equipped and managed, B2B inside sales teams make
the outside field sales force more effective, boost
sales, strengthen relationships in indirect channels,
and help the company understand and target
customers with increased precision. By employing
these practices, B2B inside sales teams can be a
vital driver of reduced costs, increased customer
satisfaction, and growing revenues.
Increasing the Reach and Performance of B2B Inside Sales
Work with numerous
companies has shown
that with the right tools
and techniques, inside
sales teams can play a
bigger role in driving
increased sales to
business customers.
Today, companies operate phone-based
inside sales organizations as a way to mine
specific business-to-business (B2B) markets
without incurring the higher costs of an
outside field sales force. Yet many of these
companies are not getting all they could out
of those organizations.
A pharmaceutical company increased
annual sales by $2.35 million—well over
the goal of $1.75 million. In addition,
the inside sales group won the company’s
prestigious President’s Club Award
two years in a row for its impact on
overall sales.
Too often, B2B inside sales is given short
shrift, and a narrow mandate to bring
down the cost of sales. But the potential of
these groups is far greater. When properly
equipped and managed, they help extend
the company’s reach, drive increased
revenues, increase customer satisfaction—
and still bring lower costs.
A pet food company saw a 10-year
run of year-over-year increases in
sales—including a 10 percent increase in
2008, despite the economic downturn.
Meanwhile, zero percent turnover in
sales reps helped strengthen relationships
with customers.
Many companies are missing these
opportunities, however—and they are doing
so in an era when improvements are more
important than ever. Economic upheaval
and cost pressures have forced many
companies to cut back on the field sales
force. Competition for customers continues
to grow. And, says Helena Lawson, senior
vice president of Specialty Operations at
Convergys, “this is a time when companies
are trying to turn over every rock they can
to increase revenues.”
Convergys has been working with clients to
support B2B sales for more than 25 years,
and this body of experience has shown
that by rethinking their approach to inside
sales, companies stand to reap significant
benefits. For example, in Convergys’ inside
sales engagements:
A packaged-goods company grew sales by
40 percent over eight years, reaching about
$600 million in annual revenue, while
reducing the cost of sales by 90 percent.
From these and other experiences,
Convergys has developed a number of
best practices for strengthening inside
sales, making it a key component in
overall sales efforts.
Partner with the field sales force
Inside sales is a more or less stand-alone
operation, selling to its own distinct set of
customers. Convergys has found that it can
be a powerful complement to the field sales
Inside sales is effective in supporting
outside salespeople by helping them with
time-consuming administrative work—
important, but non-value-adding tasks that
are vital to the overall sales process and
typically involve a level of sales skills. For
10 Key Questions
To get the most out of B2B inside
sales, executives should assess current
operations and potential opportunities
by asking several key questions:
example, in the retail industry, this could
involve writing and following up on orders
or working to coordinate merchandisers’
activities in setting up in-store displays. In
telecommunications, inside sales could help
with the provisioning and set-up of service.
And in the technology industry, it could be
scheduling maintenance and re-enrolling
customers in service contracts.
Inside sales can also work with the outside
sales organization to extend that group’s
reach. “The field sales organization might
touch the headquarters of the customers
they are calling on, and then the inside
team could touch all of the flanker locations
in branches and remote offices, with the
work of the two groups being carefully
coordinated,” says Patty Lillge, Convergys
director of B2B Specialty Operations.
In all these activities, it is a good idea to
align the inside and outside groups from
an organizational perspective. A company
might have an inside person matched up
to three field people as their “territory,” for
example. Such an alignment would allow
the inside person to be involved in planning
meetings and forecasts for that specific
area and to build relationships and learn
the territory. Instead of getting a big calling
list and divvying up the work randomly, the
work becomes very structured and focused.
This partnering approach frees up costly
outside sales resources to focus on
selling and helps increase overall sales
productivity. It also helps engage and
motivate the inside team. “Being a partner
in the whole process makes people feel
empowered to deliver and creates a greater
sense of ownership for results,” says Lillge.
Is our B2B inside sales organization
driving the revenue that we expect?
Are we able to effectively reach lowervalue customers at the right cost-toserve?
Use inside sales to strengthen
indirect channels
In many industries, B2B sales relies heavily
on indirect partner channels, such as
distributors and resellers, to drive sales. This
approach can create a number of challenges
because the company does not touch the
customer directly. Channel partners may
have varying levels of ability and motivation.
And, handling a portfolio of products from
a variety of companies limits their ability to
focus on differentiating any single offering.
“Inside sales can be used to bolster those
indirect channels and augment partners’
efforts to give companies more control over
their destiny,” says Gregg Hough, executive
director, Global Operations, at Convergys.
The inside sales team can be used to enhance
communications with channel partners
and increase their awareness of product
improvements and new promotions. Much
like supporting the direct field sales force,
the inside team can also help indirect channel
partners with billing, fulfillment, and other
administrative burdens—tasks that partners
are often not equipped to perform, and which
they may regard as barriers to working with
a supplier.
Are we using inside sales to make our
field sales force more productive?
Are our partner channels producing
as much revenue as they could?
How can we use automation to
enhance our inside sales efforts?
Do we have the flexibility and
business resiliency we need in our
inside sales group?
Do our inside reps have the depth of
professional sales skills they need?
Are we doing all we can to manage
the performance of inside sales to
deliver results?
Does our customer segmentation
process truly help our inside sales
group focus the right offers on the
right customers?
Are there sales-related processes
across the company that could be
better handled by the inside sales
At the same time, the inside team keeps in
touch with end customers served through the
indirect channel, helping them understand
product features and benefits and ensuring
timely delivery, while referring them to the
Working with a Partner
As companies focus on their core
competencies, a number have turned
to outsourcing partners to handle B2B
inside sales. Experience has shown
that there are several best practices to
consider when taking this approach.
Draw on the best of both worlds.
In-house and outsourced sales teams
should be viewed as complementary,
rather than competitive. It is possible
to retain the company’s strategies and
basic processes, while at the same
time adding on the outsourcer’s best
practices and technologies to enable
sales growth and greater efficiencies.
Consider pay-for-performance. Some
outsourcers will offer flexible pricing
and shared-risk-and-reward plans,
which helps reduce risk and aligns with
the pay-for-performance culture of an
effective inside sales team.
Build chemistry. The outsourcing
of B2B inside sales is different than
simply outsourcing sales, especially
when channel partners are involved.
Communication and cultural alignment
are especially important, so establish
shared policies and procedures, include
inside sales in overall planning efforts,
and ensure that there is adequate
management support from both sides.
Plan for success. Effective inside sales
operations can be leveraged across
the organization in a wide range of
activities. As a result, it’s important
to look ahead to potential expansion,
and consider factors such as global
footprint and operating models,
multilanguage support, and scalability
of operations when outsourcing.
channel partner for actual purchases. “This
lets you establish direct contacts with end
customers and create greater continuity in
your communications with them, without
undermining the partner,” says Hough.
“You’re basically enabling that channel to
work more effectively.”
Bring greater granularity to
segmentation efforts
As with any sales effort, the segmentation of
customers helps ensure that B2B inside sales
teams are able to provide the right offers to
the right customers. Segmentation also lets
companies ensure that sales reps have the
knowledge and skills needed to serve specific
types of customers.
Standardize and centralize
Quite often, B2B inside sales teams are
fragmented and decentralized, having been
set up in small groups within departments
and divisions. In most cases, these groups
should be linked and managed centrally.
Doing so can provide more cohesiveness and
consistency across inside sales efforts, and
help to reduce the need for costly, redundant
infrastructure, especially when sales reps are
consolidated into physical facilities.
At the same time, companies should
establish consistent standards and
processes for use by all inside sales teams,
and as much as possible, those should be
the same approaches used by the outside
sales teams. Though this may sound
obvious, it is not unusual to find disparate
and disjointed processes in place in an
inside sales operation.
Centralization and standardization create
operational consistency that makes it easier
to share information, roll out new sales
tools and processes, and “learn” as a sales
organization. It also enables companies to
reallocate salespeople as needed and makes
it easier to transfer work from one team to
another to handle spikes in workloads, new
product launches, or business disruptions.
Moreover, it provides a consistent face to the
customer company as it touches different
aspects of the sales organization.
Today, inside sales operations can use
analytics tools to take a more granular
approach to segmentation that looks beyond
macro factors, such as customer revenues and
specific industries. Companies can begin with
a base segmentation, says John Georgesen,
senior director of Analytics at Convergys, that
essentially assesses the value of the customer
to the company. “Here, you’re looking at things
like how long a company has been a customer
with you,” he explains. “How much do they buy
from you, what types of things do they buy
from you, how valuable are they to you?”
With that base segmentation in place,
additional analyses are used to dig deeper
and develop a specific understanding of
the products and services that customer
segments want, as well as the way that
they want to be treated—how they want to
purchase, what channels they might use,
etc. Such analyses also let companies predict
future customer needs and behaviors and
identify their potential to support growth.
And analytics can enable companies to spot
trends and changes in behavior that indicate
increased potential or greater risk—things
that might call for a shift in sales strategy.
In all, a more granular approach lets inside
sales work with segments that are practical,
measurable, and actionable. Such an
approach makes it possible to tailor sales
processes to each segment and invest in sales
efforts that are most likely to pay off.
Growing Your Business Through Lifecycle Management
The Inside Track on
Contract Renewals
In the late 1990s, a global technology
company was concerned with low rates of
renewal on service contracts and wanted
to bolster that business. In particular, the
company wanted to improve its ability to
renew contracts with its numerous lowervalue customers while keeping the cost of
sales low.
The company worked with Convergys to
create an inside sales group to handle
renewals among U.S. customers. In
staffing this group, Convergys focused
on hiring, training, and retaining sales
professionals and instituted a pay-forperformance system.
Source: Convergys
relationship management,” says Lillge. For
example, when establishing self-service
channels, it is important to integrate those
with the live representative channel, so that
customers can easily move from one to
another as they desire.
Take a balanced approach to
technology and people
Automated self-service channels are an
effective, low-cost way to reach various
market segments—especially relatively
low-dollar and low-profit customer
companies that do not warrant significant
attention from representatives. Such
systems can provide a good customer
experience and should be an integral part
of the inside sales operation.
Inside sales, though, is a field that relies
very much on human interaction. As a
result, companies need to take a balanced
approach that encompasses both the
technology and the inside sales team.
“You need to leverage the combined sales
professional and automation options to
optimize the business process, blending
and balancing self-service and ‘live’
Technology helps sales reps be more effective
in selling. Like outside sales groups, B2B
inside sales needs to have CRM systems that
let them access customer information, track
customer interactions, and stay in step with
customers. Similarly, online knowledgebases
enable the inside sales organization to
capture and use information that is kept in
sales reps’ heads, with varying degrees of
accessibility to others in the organization.
A knowledgebase housing information
about products and policies, best practices,
approaches to problem solving, and a
range of informal information, based on
reps’ experience, can be very useful when
shared across the organization. In particular,
Convergys has found this to be especially
effective in capturing the practices of top sales
performers and incorporating those into the
knowledgebase—because, says Lillge, “sales is
as much an art as a science.”
At the same time, Convergys developed a
systematic process for generating contract
renewals. Customers were segmented
into groups based on the value and
complexity of their transactions, such as
“low-value/simple” transactions and “midto high-value/complex” transactions. The
Convergys inside sales team focused on
the low-value group, while the company’s
sales force worked with the high-value
group. Another Convergys team provided
administrative support to both sales teams.
These teams have now been in place for
more than a decade. Today, the Convergys
administrative group supports about $4
billion in sales through the company’s
sales force. Meanwhile, the Convergys
inside team’s role has been expanded
to include high-value customers,
collaboration with channel partners, and
support for the company’s presence
globally. Currently, the inside group’s
cost of sales runs in the low single-digit
percentage range. Contract renewal rates
are consistently in excess of 75 percent,
compared to the 30 percent rate seen at
the time the group was set up. And the
group currently books some $2 billion in
renewal sales for the company.
Sharing the Load
Virtual Reps,
Tangible Results
Various industries can benefit from the coordinated partnering of field and inside sales groups to
provide a comprehensive, highly effective approach to sales.
In customer service, the virtual
workforce—that is, sales professionals
working from home—has proven to be
an effective way to complement the
brick-and-mortar-based workforce. And
that model is now emerging as a best
practice in B2B inside sales.
Working at home, sales reps access
the same tools used by the on-site
workforce, from CRM applications
and knowledgebases to performance
management systems. This can provide
some savings in terms of facilities and
infrastructure, but the virtual model’s
real value lies elsewhere. For example,
it lets companies access a greatly
expanded pool of candidates, making
it easier to find people with specific
sales and account-management skills,
as well as any required business and
industry knowledge. And these virtual
sales reps tend to have higher levels of
engagement and satisfaction, leading
to increased productivity, reduced
absenteeism, and ultimately, stronger
customer relationships.
The virtual workforce also gives the
inside sales organization the flexibility
needed to handle workload changes due
to marketing campaigns, promotions,
and product launches. Work is easily
shifted across the virtual workforce
since sales reps can be scheduled for
just a few hours to cover peak times,
as opposed to having them come to a
center for a full shift.
Such flexibility also supports
enhanced business continuity. With a
geographically dispersed workforce, it
becomes easier to maintain operations
in the event of a natural disaster,
pandemic, or major outage—which
means that vital revenue-producing
operations are not disrupted.
Source: Convergys
take advantage of times when sales activity
is slow to hone their skills or pick up new
product information,” says Hough. “They
can pull up the learning program on the job,
rather than having to take time away
to attend formal training sessions.”
Make learning an ongoing,
continuous activity
Products, customers, and competitors
keep changing, so it is critical that inside
sales organizations keep their skills
and knowledge current. Today’s online
training is very effective in letting inside
sales representatives keep learning and
in making learning a continuous, rather
than an occasional, event. “Online, ondemand learning lets sales professionals
Companies can also use “performancebased learning,” which essentially provides
very focused learning on an as-needed
basis and even allows companies to push
the appropriate learning out to individual
representatives. For example, if performance
monitoring shows that a sales professional is
having repeated problems with a particular
part of the sales process, the system will
automatically provide that individual with the
appropriate learning materials that target
that specific problem.
Again, this can be delivered during relatively
brief periods of low work volumes, so that
the inside sales representative doesn’t have
to take significant time away from selling.
“With this approach, you’re managing
the learning more systematically, and
you’re also able to kick it into gear based
on the actual skills that the inside sales
representative needs,” says Hough.
Leverage real-time analytics in frontline
sales operations
Analytics tools and technologies can
benefit a range of day-to-day operational
areas, and inside sales is no exception. In
essence, real-time analytics lets companies
pull together information from a variety of
sources, analyze it, apply business rules
to it, and use it dynamically to support
frontline sales decisions.
For example, a system now in use combines
segmentation information with real-time
intelligence about a customer company and its
situation to help sales reps understand how
to best sell to that customer. When the rep is
on the phone with the customer, the system
will quickly assess the customer’s lifetime
value, his or her history from billing and CRM
systems, and the seller’s relevant products
and marketing activities. It then provides a
targeted recommendation for that customer.
“The system might let you know that a
product that the customer has been using
is being discontinued, so you should move
them into a replacement product,” says
Jo Ann Parris, vice president of Vertical
Marketing at Convergys. “Or it might say that
there are promotional funds available in six
months, so you can tell the customer, ‘You
don’t want to miss this opportunity—let’s
get a business plan developed now to take
advantage of that.’” The customer gets a
timely, relevant offer, and companies build
segment-based sales policies into the system,
rather than relying on individual reps’
judgments in following those policies.
With that type of system, customer
intelligence can be built into automated
IVR and Web channels, enabling them
to “know” the customer and be more
effective. Companies can also build on this
platform to automatically send targeted
outbound notifications to individual
customers via voice, email, or text, giving
them early warning about events such as
contract expirations or product upgrades.
The customer can follow up through an
automated channel, or with the sales rep.
Instill a sales mind-set and culture
To be effective, inside salespeople need to be
managed as career professionals. This begins
with recruiting that is focused on inside sales
and hiring people with the right attitudes and
behaviors for sales. “We believe that we can
train them on processes and products—but
we want to have that foundation of being
oriented to sales,” says Hough.
Once reps are on board, training and
development should focus on cultivating
people into being advanced sellers. This
way a company takes what sales reps
already know and then builds upon it with
selling skills, negotiating skills, learning to
sell against the competition, interpersonal
relationships, account management, and the
like. In short, says Hough, “you hire the right
person and then you really train them to
build relationships over the phone.”
The inside sales organization should also
use performance management systems
that let managers track quality and results
to support coaching and, especially,
Shaping the Inside Sales
Sales is a “people-oriented” activity, and that
makes effective professional development
for inside salespeople a critical best practice.
This should encompass such factors as:
Onboarding. The company should provide
a tailored training curriculum specifically
designed for new hires, typically delivered
in the classroom. This training should
be followed by a “nesting” process that
puts new hires into administrative roles
that support sales, which enables them to
understand the full end-to-end process.
Sales delivery. Companies should provide
salespeople with consistent feedback
and coaching through weekly one-on-one
meetings with supervisors. This can be
done using performance management
scorecards with clearly defined outcomeoriented metrics. Ultimately, performance
measurements should drive a pay-forperformance compensation model.
Quality management. Inside sales groups
should track sales techniques and behaviors
through call monitoring and quality metrics.
Quality processes should focus on providing
sales reps with actionable directional
feedback and fostering the sharing of best
practices across the inside sales team.
Training/learning. Ongoing training and
coaching should reinforce selling skills and
include product and client knowledge and
selling skills, such as identifying buying
cues, communicating with confidence,
effective listening, tailoring the sales
presentation, and closing techniques. A
blended approach, involving both instructorled training and e-learning, is effective.
Working with one technology company,
Convergys used targeted training to cover
topics such as product knowledge and sales
skills, which reduced average time-in-training
per employee by two-thirds, and shortened
product-specialist certification time by
60 percent.
pay-for-performance compensation—a
fundamental part of any effective sales
culture. Convergys has found that in
most cases, compensation should be
based on a combination of team and
individual performance, weighted toward
the individual’s results. “That’s been a key
learning over the years,” says Hough. “If
we put it all on the individual, we don’t
get what we need from the team. If we
put it all on the team, we don’t get what
we need from individuals. It has to be
Meanwhile, performance metrics should
be focused on how well sales are going,
rather than simply measuring activities
such as the number of calls made.
Take a broader view of the inside
sales role
As discussed above, B2B inside sales can
play an expanded role in the overall sales
process by collaborating with outside
sales and channel partners—and
that’s not all. Convergys has found,
for example, that the inside sales
organization is a useful vehicle for
supporting beta tests of new products
before they are rolled out. Similarly,
companies can use inside sales to test
the functionality of new sales tools and
processes before they are put into use
with sales teams across the company.
Greater Reach, Less Cost
Inside sales teams can also be given
full responsibility for supporting
the launch of a product or selling a
specialized product into a particular
market. Once provided with the necessary
specialized skills, they can leverage those
skills across a large geographic region.
“In sales today, you have to do more with
less,” says Lillge. “The right approach to
inside sales helps you increase your focus
on the ‘do more’ part of the equation,
while you’re maintaining the emphasis on
‘with less.’”
The inside sales group can also act
as a repository for institutional sales
knowledge. When centralized, such
groups are in a position to share and
capture lessons learned about clients,
selling processes, and the company’s
overall sales culture. They can then train
new hires in the outside sales force,
which is usually widely dispersed and
often experiences significant turnover.
Corporate Headquarters
Regional Headquarters
North America
Europe, Middle East, & Africa
Latin America
These types of practices transform B2B
inside sales from an organizational
afterthought to a powerful driver of sales.
An effective team can contact customers
more often, reach new types of customers,
increase satisfaction, and boost revenues.
It can not only achieve success in its own
right, but also help field sales and channel
partners succeed.
About Convergys
Convergys Corporation (NYSE: CVG) is a
global leader in relationship management.
We provide solutions that drive more value
from the relationships our clients have with
their customers. Convergys turns these
everyday interactions into a source of profit
and strategic advantage for our clients. For
more information, visit
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Convergys refers to Convergys Corporation and its wholly owned subsidiaries.
PV5-113N B2B Inside Sales 10-22-10