Friday, November 2, 2012

Confidence at the Inside Sales Desk

The most important ingredient to success as an Inside Sales (I/S) person is self-confidence. The foundation for self-confidence is training, education and preparation. Just like it is in sports, success and building self-confidence requires the practice of skills learned during training even if it's only On-the-Job training. Success is about practicing perfect. Sports legends often say you play like you practice. In relationship to Inside Sales this means if you don't take training and preparation seriously you will fail. Group role playing is an effective way to reinforce training and build confidence. Notice I said group role playing. Individual role playing can sometimes do more damage than good to self-esteem and confidence if it is not conducted properly. Group role playing eliminates threat and embarrassments. Practice should include planning what they are going to say in different situations. Practice of the presentation and delivering a meaningful and engaging message. Customers are only interested in how a service or product will benefit them or their business - it is the responsibility of the Inside Sales Manager to ensure that the message is perfected prior to the delivery. The art of inside sales is one that must be practiced daily - just as an athlete practices their skill, an inside salesperson must practice their craft.

A successful I/S person knows what they are going to say prior to the prospect answering their call. While every conversation is different, the introduction throughout the inside sales presentation should remain the same. One of the main purposes of inside sales is to deliver a consistent message - one that matches the branding and messaging of the firm he or she represents. Great Potential but Effective I/S Management is Required The potential for I/S to contribute to sales and penetrate accounts can be the defining difference between just surviving and thriving while maximizing growth opportunities. Industry surveys and case studies prove:

I/S persons have more customer and prospect contact than any other employees. Studies cite 85% or more of all orders are taken by inside sales personnel who are in an excellent position to influence purchasing behavior. The consistent use of suggestive selling techniques and promotional sales during customer contacts can increase average order value and penetrate sales potential An inside sales person must be prepared. Their confidence is dependent on that preparation. And their success is dependent on that preparation and training. The ultimate objective of the inside sales department, in consultative selling, is to build relationship equity in order to present the product or service - the company and the value it represents to the customer.

While it is important to respond to the customer, answering their questions and concerns and further exploring their interest and needs, the ultimate goal of the inside sales professional should always be the same - get the order, build on the relationship equity and satisfy the customer's needs. I/S people are no longer just sales support and orders takers. Inside Sales personnel are now considered frontline warriors that make a substantial contribution toward the company's growth objectives. They have become the key customer contact, the backbone of the business and the primary influence that proves the company's commitment to service excellence.

Once you master confidence, a proactive outcall program to generate new business is a logical next step. This can also lead to defining the real difference between customer service representatives and Inside Sales personnel.

The Role of the Inside Sales Manager

As I/S Manager you must understand the changing role and importance of front-line customer relationships to achieve the core mission of the business, i.e., customer retention, growth, satisfaction, and profitability. When managers do not envision the relationship between management practices and inside sales front-line actions, the business is not focused on meeting today's customer demands for service excellence. Additionally, failures to recognize the critical role of inside sales can destroy individual confidence which leads to individual failure at the desk. Further, as Inside Sales Manager you cannot take appropriate steps to support and train front-line inside sales personnel if you do not understand the need for the right support and training, thus core measures of business success suffer.

The most successful businesses in any industry are those that maintain relationships through ongoing customer satisfaction earned by meeting changing customer expectations versus those that focus on new business and new sales but lose existing customers. The importance of customer retention and its relationship to profits and growth through existing account penetration and through referrals from existing satisfied customers is well documented.

SOooooo... Guess who becomes the "Point of the Spear" on customer relationships, customer retention and increased customer penetration; The Inside Sales Person.

Answer These Questions As CEO, Sales Manager and as a leader, how are you treating your inside sales staff? Are they trained adequately? Do you recognize their value? Have you implemented an incentive program for I/S? In the past, Management often viewed inside sales people as order takers and treated them accordingly. This 'attitude' was reflected in areas that impact customer service, retention and job performance.

For example:

• Job descriptions: the lack of them or inappropriate job descriptions that do not reflect the realities of job responsibilities, tasks, or performance measures.

• Recruiting standards: the lack of them or inappropriate standards that do not reflect today's knowledge, education, skill demands, and empowerment needed to perform.

• Compensation and performance recognition programs: 'clerk' and 'order taker' compensation is considerably different from the knowledge worker demands of today's front-line inside sales professionals. An inside sales incentive program based on growth and profitability is essential.

• Training: the lack of training or inappropriate training that does not address the use of complex computer and communications technologies, product and product applications training. Value propositions and solution selling.

Customers rely on the day-to-day interactions with inside sales personnel to get product and applications questions answered. This reality appears not to be recognized or is the subject of multiple management excuses when it comes to training:

• We can't take them off the telephones during work hours

• We don't allow overtime so we can't train them after normal business hours

• We only allow vendors 15 minute increments during lunch hours to train them

• We would have to increase our costs to train them

• We don't have a training budget for inside sales

• We can't afford to send them offsite for training

Since the early 1980s, industry studies position I/S at center stage. They document changing customer expectations. They prove the primary day-to-day contact with all customers, and the only contact with the majority of customers, is the inside sales function. Inside sales people are the customer's window into the company. Through that window, customers see and experience the commitment to service excellence. All suppliers tout "We have the best service in the industry." Today's customers demand talk the talk be proven by walk the walk! When a company does not meet new demands of I/S for service excellence as customers define it, customers will readily switch suppliers to get what they want: "Anywhere, anytime, their way, for less, now, and fast!" Treat them right and confidence will grow. As confidence grows - success becomes imminent.

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