Learn about the similarities and differences between inside and outside sales to decide which career path suits you best.
By Freddie Rohner
For many years, inside sales reps were far less valued than their counterparts operating in the field. Relegated to telemarketing tasks or written off as glorified customer service agents, sales professionals working out of an office were often seen as a rather insignificant part of a company’s sales team. However, the last decade has seen a major shift in attitudes and inside sales has moved out of the doghouse and into the spotlight.
The main reason for this, of course, is money. Inside sales teams boast 40%–90% lower customer acquisition costs. Furthermore, the face-to-face meetings that outside sales reps thrive in simply aren’t as necessary since 75% of buyers now prefer to communicate via email, phone, or some other form of technology. While inside sales are experiencing a period of rapid growth at the moment, outside sales remain the more lucrative career option overall because most high-value sales require a personal touch. Deciding between inside and outside sales can be difficult, as each specialty offers a different set of pros and cons. Read on as we break down both roles.
Inside Sales: Inside sales reps work almost exclusively in an office setting with a more structured schedule and limited travel opportunities. The primary method of driving revenue is through the organization’s lead generation process (rather than a rep’s Rolodex) and a majority of effort is dedicated to reaching out to these leads via phone and email, setting up times to discuss the company’s product(s), and arranging demonstrations. The inside sales model has a shorter sales cycle; however, this usually goes hand in hand with smaller sales (and lower commissions).
Technical skills are a key requirement for the inside sales specialist. Individual companies have their own sales systems or customer relationship management (CRM) software that you will have to learn to navigate. You also must have above-average administrative abilities, as you will need to create and maintain revenue forecasts, track call results, and generate internal reports. Finally, perhaps the most important trait for inside sales is thick skin. You will face continued rejection day after day, and it takes a lot of “no’s” to get to one “yes.” The success rate for inside sales reps is 18%, which means that four out of five times, your pitches will fall on deaf ears. If predictability (both in terms of income and time away from home) is what you’re looking for, and you’re able to stay positive as you shrug off negative interactions with potential customers, inside sales may be the path for you.
Outside Sales: Road warriors and door-to-door salespeople are what most folks think of when they hear the term outside sales, and although the heyday of this specialty has passed, field sales reps are far from obsolete. On the contrary, comparing outside sales to inside sales comes down to quality vs. quantity. Field sales reps will always have a place in business because certain products require a more personal touch and a face-to-face conversation. Furthermore, closing larger sales usually involves a meeting with c-level personnel, which won’t have the same impact if done over the phone. This helps to explain why outside sales pros are able to “close the deal” 40% of the time; in-person meetings cultivate a stronger relationship between seller and customer.
Because so much time is spent on the road, field reps must have exceptional time management and organizational abilities. Multitasking is also very important because these sales specialists often make and take phone calls en route to their next meeting. Above all else, however, outside sales pros must have outstanding people skills. Speaking publicly, delivering presentations, and connecting with potential customers are all in a day’s work for the outside sales specialist, so if you’re an ambitious, self-motivated, results-driven, and outgoing person, this might be the perfect career for you.
Salary & Job Outlook: According to SalesLoft, inside sales is growing 15x faster than outside sales and 10 inside sales specialists are being hired for each field rep. However, outside sales professionals make an average of 14% more than their counterparts in the office.