When the relationship between inside and outside sales forces decays, the key factor is miscommunication. Aligning the performance between each sales staff is a critical success factor within each company. A recent survey by Sales and Marketing Management magazine states that companies invest an average of $165 per sales call, and the National Purchasing Association reports that processing each sales report costs $150. With so much riding on the success of each sales call, cooperation between the two sales forces is imperative.
"Yet, many times these two forces appear to work against each other," says Leanne M. Hoagland-Smith, president of Valparaiso, Ind.-based Advanced Systems, an organizational development consulting firm (219/759-5601, email@example.com).
"You do get friction between the sales staffs," agrees Lora Melia, an independent outside sales contractor for Marco Supply Co., an East Chicago, Ind.-based industrial PVF wholesaler (219/397-7000, firstname.lastname@example.org). "Sometimes the inside salespeople believe they're doing all the work and sometimes the outside staff members believe they're doing all the work."
Part of the problem may be the fact that each sales force has limited knowledge of the other sales staff's function. Not only does this create friction, it can have a negative impact on the sales function as a whole.
Melia worked in inside sales at Marco Supply before moving to outside sales. In 1992, she became an independent contractor in outside sales, where she can work from home with more flexible hours.
"I think every outside person should start in inside sales," she says. "My inside sales experience gives me an insight into the work routines and problems encountered in inside sales. Some outside people don't realize the nature of the inside sales job, and it can create tension."
Recently Melia took her inside sales contact on a sales call to one of their largest clients, Nabisco. "She met the people she talks to on the phone and saw their operation," Melia says. "Now she has a better understanding of the client's needs as well as my role in the process."
Hoagland-Smith worked at Marco Supply for 22 years, and trained Melia, before pursuing a business-consulting career. She retired in 1995 as the company's inside sales manager, but also did stints as purchasing manager and sales trainer. She knows firsthand the problems that can arise when sales personnel don't pass on information to one another. In fact, Melia says that Hoagland-Smith was the first to broach the subject of a combined inside-outside sales meeting.
"It started out with the outside salespeople having outside sales meetings," Melia recalls. "Leanne thought, 'If you're going to get the whole outside group to sit down, you need the whole inside group as well.'
"We tried it and everyone seemed pleased with the results. Everyone was more relaxed; you could clear the air and voice your opinions without someone getting upset. We decided that such meetings should be conducted more often."
"Our inside and outside sales forces have very good interaction with each other," says Rick Melvin, Marco branch manager. "They work together, they help each other, they realize the common goal of the company to become more profitable and they strive toward it. We've always had good rapport between the outside and inside sales personnel, but this approach just enhances that."
Maximizing sales performanceHoagland-Smith says that sales performance consists of three components:
Training - Learning a specific skill. For inside sales that could be order entry; for outside sales, this could mean prospecting.
Access to information - Inside sales needs to know about the material required for all sales orders, as well as the purchase order number, special pricing if applicable and the shipping destination. Outside sales needs information from inside staff on local bidding projects, telephone inquiries, quote requests, contact names and telephone numbers.
Application - The combination of training and access to information allows the execution of an action. To inside sales this could mean a completed sales order; to outside sales this could mean contacting a prospect with the appropriate facts.
"Since both the inside and outside sales forces depend upon third-party information, effective communication, especially active listening, becomes a critical key within their daily performance," Hoagland-Smith says. "In many situations, miscommunication becomes the lightning rod that separates the team effort between the inside and outside sales forces."
Hoagland-Smith explains that inside sales performance requires detailed information specific to the training received by inside sales staff. "If the outside sales force fails to provide all the correct information, then the application by the inside salesperson is incomplete and poor performance is the end result," she says.
This also holds true for outside sales performance. Any information the inside salesperson fails to share or passes on incorrectly can result in poor performance by the outside salesperson.
A partnering relationship between inside and outside sales staffs can add harmony to the office and revenue to the bottom line.
"A good inside person can make or break an outside person," Melia says. "You have to have that communication between each other, especially if you're out on the road. If they don't keep you abreast of what's happening or give you incorrect information, you'll lose sales.
To solve the miscommunication problem, Hoagland-Smith suggests these five actions:
- 1. Establish policies that both sales forces must adhere to when taking inquiries for sales orders.
2. Have regular, scheduled sales meetings with both inside and outside sales staffs. "Many companies have routine sales meetings with their outside sales force but fail to include their inside sales force," Hoagland-Smith notes. "Given that the inside sales force performance is probably one-third of the entire sales equation, failing to include them only widens the performance chasm between the two forces."
3. Provide opportunities for both sales forces to expand their product knowledge. "Outside sales and inside sales should have equal product knowledge; neither sales force should be expected to be the source of all product knowledge," she says.
4. Have complete, written job descriptions for both sales forces, including shared job responsibilities. Hoagland-Smith says allowing each employee to have some input in this activity can provide a more accurate accounting of the individual's performance.
5. Schedule ongoing workshops on effective communication for both sales forces. "Given that most communication is nonverbal, both sales forces need to strengthen their verbal communications and demonstrate nonverbal communication that supports the continued accomplishment of the organization's goals," she explains.