Are Inside Sales and Consultative Selling Mutually Exclusive?

headsetI don’t write about Inside Sales as often as I should.  After all, everyone else is writing about it, some bloggers are devoted to it, and if you read what the inside sales bloggers are writing, you would think that inside sales is king.  Of course, it is the king of the top of the funnel where everything begins, but with few exceptions, selling rarely ends in that department.

It’s important to separate inside sales into its five most common forms:

  1. As a replacement for traditional outside sales.  They are quota-carrying salespeople responsible for the entire sales cycle, but doing it from the comfort of a desk.  This is technically “inside”, but the comparison to inside stops there.
  2. Traditional inside sales where salespeople field incoming calls from people seeking prices and quotes and placing orders.  This form of inside sales has been around since the telephone.
  3. Customer Service, where the focus may be upselling and/or cross-selling, has been around for ages.
  4. The top of the funnel group is responsible for generating leads and/or scheduling calls and meetings for more traditional salespeople.
  5. Inbound, the newest group, where salespeople work the contacts generated by websites, social sites and from getting found.

In this discussion, we’ll focus on group #2, traditional inside sales, where salespeople field incoming calls from existing loyal customers, existing disloyal customers, and potential customers.

Throughout the history of selling by phone, these calls have traditionally taken the form of, “Yes, can I have a price on 2,500 microwidgitettes?”

And during the same history, the inside salesperson responds with something like, “Sure.  They are $1.29 each, but with a quantity of 2500, the price goes down to $1.19.”

Then, the caller either places the order or says, “Thanks.  I’ll let you know.”

That call is incredibly transactional and if they buy now, or later, a sale cannot be any more transactional than that.  So where does consultative selling fit into that approach?

To properly answer the question, we must explore the context a bit more thoroughly.

Are there any downsides to this?  Could this approach really be hurting us?  Is there a problem with this type of efficiency?  Hell yes!

Let’s look at the three types of potential callers and the potential downside:

  1. Loyal customer – What could possibly be the problem with this call being so transactional?  After all, aren’t we all in a hurry?  There are two problems though.  The first is that while this loyal customer will place their order with you, your persistent competitors are working their asses off trying to make your customer their customer.  The second problem is that when the average call takes just under a minute, it is impossible to develop relationships.  And one thing that hasn’t changed in all these years is that without that strong relationship, especially with the people they call all the time, it is easier for your competitor to lure this customer away!
  2. Disloyal customer – They do buy from you, but only when your price is lower or your competitor doesn’t have what they need.  It may not be possible to change this customer’s behavior, but you can’t even try unless you get more than one minute on the phone with them!  You need the relationship, even if it’s to earn the right to have a deeper conversation about this behavior and how you can help them save time (less calling, fewer shipments to receive and fewer invoices to pay), and money (better prices when they buy everything from one source, in greater quantities, and over an extended period of time).  This requires having an actual conversation and taking a consultative approach.
  3. Potential customer – They don’t buy from you today, but they continue to call for prices.  There could even be more of these calls than those from your loyal and disloyal customers!  How can you possibly turn these callers into customers UNLESS you take a consultative approach and have a conversation about why they call, why they don’t place orders, what might be going on, displeasure or unhappiness with another vendor, changes in their strategy, or anything else that might provide a clue and topic for the appropriate conversation?

This is all fairly simple in concept, but executing is more difficult because inside salespeople have been trained to be efficient, not consultative.  Inside salespeople have been trained to do one thing well, not multiple things.  This really involves training inside salespeople to have conversations that are similar to those that should be taking place on the outside.

Are inside sales and consultative selling mutually exclusive?  They seem to be today, but they shouldn’t be.  Companies are failing to leverage all of the calls they receive and seem intent to spend more money on marketing to generate more calls and inquiries!  It costs a lot of money to generate a new customer.  It costs even more to have a disloyal customer.  It’s a waste of money to let potential customers slip right through the earpiece of the phone.

Image credit: racorn / 123RF Stock Photo