Customers evaluate your company’s sales and service based on how well you provide accurate information and quick solutions. Seamless customer support requires cooperation across departments, which is often easier said than done. But it’s a real necessity when pairing inside phone sales and support professionals with outside field representatives.
Although an inside/outside team can be a godsend for customers-allowing them to contact someone in your company who’s familiar with their account whenever they have an urgent need-it takes the right process, resource and compensation structures to create effective sales and support teams.
One of the major obstacles to success is infighting-inside and outside reps battling for accounts and commissions based on “who called or was called by whom first.” This is always to the detriment of the customer.
Since reps (and their managers) are human and inclined to do what’s in their own best interest, the most effective compensation structures reward inside and outside personnel for keeping customers happy.
Companies that have solved this problem often pay commissions to both groups on total sales for the team’s territory- based on the relative contribution of each group to the whole -as a portion of a rep’s compensation. The other portion is based on individual sales. This is an effective way to reward an inside rep for supporting an account that “belongs” to the field salesperson (by making “call ahead” or confirmation calls, solving service problems, etc.). In return, field reps will also be more willing to visit the inside rep’s accounts when necessary, since part of the field rep’s compensation is based on sales revenue for the account.
If this sounds like the dreaded “double commissions” that may be taboo in your organization, it may be time to get over it. The simple fact is that this structure is the most profitable for keeping both your customers and your best reps happy. If someone needs convincing on up the line, you can always run a test.
One caveat: Make sure the combined sales commission does not represent more than about half of either rep’s compensation. Reps should not be able to make a comfortable income off the efforts of a teammate without striving to write their own sales.
Another minor downside to the team selling model is the misperception on the part of regional field sales managers that the field’s contribution to total sales should always be greater than that of inside sales. If managers beat up their outside reps to trounce the inside sales group every time, unhealthy competition and distrust can undo the foundation you have built for your teams.
Beyond compensation, structure and resources are critically important to successful team models. Inside reps-who are often treated like ugly stepchildren-should be trained and treated like any other sales professional and recognized as an important part of your customer contact framework. They should attend sales conferences, meetings and trips, and have many opportunities to meet with field reps to compare notes, plan strategy and solidify relationships.
Understanding the “other side” is essential for strong teamwork. Sometimes inside sales reps regard field sales as “glamorous” without understanding that life on the road can be quite grueling and the extra money involved is a trade-off against time and quality of life issues.
Open channels of communication among team members are important for regular updates (so the right hand knows what the left is doing) and for keeping management informed of the team’s progress.
Given enough time and support, most inside and outside reps will overcome the inevitable snags in learning how to work together. On those rare occasions when the chemistry’s just not right, be prepared to reassign team members.
Remember that extensive product knowledge is equally important for inside reps as it is for their field partners-and sometimes even more so. Each group should receive the same product and procedures training and have access to the same data and support tools. This knowledge base gives inside reps the confidence and ability to handle any sales or service issue, and provides customers with a consistent level of support. Field reps will also have more respect for their inside partners when the latter can be counted on to provide the right answers.
One of the ways to start teams out on the right foot is to focus the inside group on activities that are most needed and effective in supporting the field-which, let’s face it, traditionally has more clout in most organizations. Within any sales operation, there are always things outside reps don’t have time to do, don’t have the resources to do, don’t do well or simply hate to do.
Focusing the inside team member on these functions-especially within a start-up operation -will help the field rep become much more effective relatively quickly. It also will help build instant rapport with the phone-based team member.
This does not mean, however, that inside sales pros should act as field reps’ administrative assistants, mired down in low-level clerical tasks that don’t help the team or serve the customer. That’s one reason why “promoting” administrators to inside sales usually doesn’t work. The best way to avoid this is to hire sales pros specifically for inside positions, pay and treat them accordingly, and clearly communicate your expectations for mutual support and teamwork.
Likewise, don’t be tempted to automatically push your all-star inside people out into the field. Recognize that your best phone reps may not want or be well suited to life in the field, and you may lose them entirely if they’re pushed unwillingly into field assignments.
If your ultimate strategy is to use the inside phone center as a training ground for field sales, be honest about this when hiring, and select candidates who are likely to succeed in both assignments.
Finally, tread lightly in establishing the team selling model within an organization with a traditional sales structure. Your best bet is to move slowly and carefully in promoting a change that is likely to be resisted at first.
One of the best ways to introduce the model is as a “pilot” rather than a directive. The first step is to identify a likely champion in the field, an above-average producer who’s well respected by his or her field colleagues and who’s flexible enough to work with an inside team member.
Load your deck for success by working with your field champion from day one. Meet with this person initially to better understand the challenges faced by the field and how a sales support or inside sales counterpart could solve problems or leverage sales opportunities. Involve him or her in identifying or hiring an inside teammate and structuring the pilot.
If you have chosen your champion and inside rep well, and have worked with them closely to iron out the wrinkles in the program throughout the pilot, you’ll soon see the unmistakable signs of success.
At that point you’ll find yourself with a wonderful new problem: The rest of the field reps will beat down your door to find out how they can get in on the deal. That’s the perfect time to use your successful pilot participants to introduce team-selling concepts to their colleagues throughout the organization.