Inside Sales vs Outside Sales: The Key Differences
A successful sales organization starts with a strong sales team—one that’s built upon the model that best supports its objectives. Inside and outside sales each offer distinct advantages for sales teams, but choosing the right approach depends on a multitude of factors. And while the ideal solution is to use a combination of the two, the realities of your business may limit your selection.
Understanding the key differences between inside and outside sales (and how they can work together) can help you determine which is the best fit for your organization. Here, we’ll take a deep dive into each model, how they can benefit your organization, and what you’ll need to consider when structuring your sales team.
Inside vs Outside Sales
The process of creating or expanding your sales team often brings to light some crucial questions: Which structure is the best fit for my organization? How will each model affect current and potential customers? What’s the cost vs. value of each strategy?
Let’s first take a closer look at each model and the advantages they offer:
Inside sales refers to the process of using remote means for selling to customers throughout the entire sales cycle. Instead of relying on face-to-face interactions, inside sales reps use phone and video calls, emails, social media, and other forms of digital communication to sell.
Outside sales is a more traditional approach to selling and relies on face-to-face, in-person interactions with customers. This method is often referred to as ‘field sales’ and requires reps to travel to conduct their work.
Benefits of Inside Sales
- Large coverage area – Because an inside sales approach doesn’t require reps to travel to prospects and customers, reps can effectively sell at a global scale.
- Less expensive than outside sales – Inside sales enables reps to work from wherever they are, so organizations can avoid the cost of travel, lodging accommodations, and even office space.
- Efficient sales cycles – Inside sales is typically focused on smaller deals than outside sales, which means they require less buy-in from decision makers. These sales cycles are shorter and allow reps to spend more time acquiring new customers instead of nurturing a single prospect.
- Low-touch approach – 62% of B2B buyers prefer to use self-service tools to purchase products and services, and 33% feel live chat is essential to the buyer’s journey. The digital interactions offered by inside sales—coupled with tools for self-service and live chat—can enable a low-touch method that still ensures an excellent customer experience.
Benefits of Outside Sales
- Strong customer relationships – Because reps travel to conferences, trade shows, and other events to meet face-to-face with their customers, they can build stronger relationships and connect with more stakeholders at once. This type of personalized experience can decrease the risk of a large sale falling through, as buyers feel more bonded to their reps.
- Physical product demonstrations – Many products include functionalities that are easier to demonstrate in person. Outside sales reps can allow buyers to interact with the product and can immediately troubleshoot to avoid lengthy email threads or multiple video calls.
- Larger deal sizes than inside sales – Sure, the outside sales cycle is typically longer than inside sales, but it also lends itself to larger, enterprise-scale deals. These deals require buy-in from more personas, so an outside sales rep’s ability to meet with stakeholders at a location of their choosing is invaluable for larger accounts.
While each sales approach offers unique advantages for the business, its reps, and customers alike, it’s important to recognize exactly how they differ from one another. The table below can help you to better visualize some critical differences in how each method functions:
Inside Sales vs Outside Sales
Predictability in scheduling
High level of predictability, as schedules are more structured and stable
Lead response time
Faster response time, as reps can immediately call or email customers
Time Spent Selling
Allows more time for selling, prospecting, and following up instead of traveling to customers
Easily scalable, as remote sales tactics allow for faster expansion
Inside sales relies on technology that inherently boosts collaboration (e.g. communication tools, shared resources, systemized processes)
Lower close ratio, as inside sales focuses on account quantity rather than higher-value accounts that require nurturing
Predictability in scheduling
Less predictable, as more complex sales cycles require more flexibility
Lead response time
Slower response time, as reps must travel to the customer to answer queries or solve product issues
Time Spent Selling
Reduces time spent selling, as reps must travel to conduct their work
Difficult to scale, as this approach is location-specific
Less collaborative, as outside sales reps work independently and autonomously
Higher close ratio, due to higher average account value and a focus on nurturing prospects
At first glance, utilizing an inside sales model might seem like the easy answer, as it boasts a number of benefits and aligns with the recent shift to remote work. But successful organizations have started to realize the benefits of implementing both strategies, as they can complement one another for a more holistic approach to sales.
Though the end goal remains the same (to effectively sell to customers and maintain strong client relationships), the day-to-day operations of an inside sales rep can greatly differ from those of an outside sales rep.
While outside sales reps travel more and may encounter more difficulty scheduling meetings, inside sales reps must find clever ways to virtually engage prospects and build trust. The right processes and tools can help mitigate these challenges and allow both inside and outside sales reps to focus on their daily tasks.
For example, it’s crucial that inside reps have access to the tools that support their work day, like email, video conferencing software, and cell phones.
Inside sales reps also need an integrated system to break down silos between teams and ensure a better lead management process. Disparate systems increase the risk of duplicate data, data loss, and, as a result, lost deals. Successful inside sales teams work from a single source of truth, which ensures that reps can easily work in tandem with marketing to create more personalized interactions—and close more deals.
Outside sales reps, on the other hand, rely heavily on their scheduling department to properly plan their day. Staff schedulers must optimize outside sales reps’ time to ensure productivity, efficiency, and excellent customer service.
High-performing outside sales teams also use a robust mobile app that can help them capture data offline in the field, receive live scheduling updates, provide optimized routing, and match them with the right job (based on skill set, previous experience, and customer preference).
Inside vs Outside Sales Rep Salaries
Because the composition of your sales team might heavily depend on the cost of hiring inside sales reps vs. outside sales reps—or even a combination of the two—it’s important to understand the difference in their base salaries.
Inside sales reps average a base pay of $42,890, while outside sales reps take home an average of $48,506. It’s common thought among industry leaders that this discrepancy in base pay is a result of outside sales reps’ higher level of expertise. Since they work in the field, they need more in-depth knowledge about products and services so they can answer customer questions on the spot. Thus, the position demands for a higher base salary than its remote sales counterpart.
Average quota attainment for each type of sales approach is also a key factor in determining best fit for your organization. On average, 65% of outside sales reps reach their quota, while a lesser 55% of inside sales reps attain theirs.
These figures are important to remember, as the convenience, reduced cost, and promise for uninhibited growth of building an exclusively inside sales team can be tempting. It’s crucial that organizations don’t forget the unique value of real-life customer interactions, which simply can’t be duplicated with technology.
How to Structure An Inside and Outside Sales Team
Before diving into structuring your sales team, it’s important to note that there are certain sales models and organization types that work better with inside vs. outside sales.
An inside sales team structure works better for:
- More transactional sales model
- Sales models that are automated through digital funnels
- Companies who are growing very quickly
- Organizations who are primarily digital
- Teams whose goal is to attain as many prospects as possible
- Organizations who are focused on high sales velocity
An outside sales team structure works better for:
- Sales models that are relational
- Products and services that require physical demos
- Organizations that sell complex technology
- Companies focused on a larger, enterprise-level customer base
- Businesses whose goal is to maintain long-lasting relationships with clients
We mentioned earlier how it can be greatly advantageous to structure your approach so that both inside and outside sales teams can operate effectively. Let’s look at the three approaches that allow you to combine the two:
1. Separate Inside and Outside Sales Teams
When you use this approach, you’ll keep inside and outside sales reps in their own lanes, with no overlap in operations. Each rep works on his or her own leads, which are assigned based on account size and customer expectations.
This is a great way to enable individual rep success, with inside teams taking on smaller accounts and field workers tackling larger deals that require an in-person touch.
2. Inside and Outside Sales Collaboration
In this setup, inside and outside sales reps still remain true to their roles, but they also work together to move leads through the sales cycle more efficiently.
Inside sales reps can interact with prospects who are not geographically close until their outside sales colleagues have a chance to travel to that location. This also gives inside sales reps a chance to better qualify leads, understand their unique pain points, and even filter out those who aren’t a good fit before the field reps spend time making an unnecessary trip.
3. Hybrid Sales Reps
Technology is changing the roles and relationships between inside and outside sales teams. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has also accelerated this shift, with more and more field reps working remotely.
A hybrid approach relies on reps who can do it all. When they’re in the office (or working from home), they focus on prospecting, managing their pipelines, and automating workflows to make more time for selling. When they’re in the field, they go after high-value customers who expect a white glove experience. They use the information they gleaned while qualifying leads back in the office to ensure preparedness out on the job.
How to Evaluate Fit for Your Company
Trying to determine which sales organizational structure is right for your unique business can seem intimidating, especially since there are so many factors at play. To decide whether inside or outside sales (or both) would work better for your company, start by evaluating against:
- Business needs – Begin by looking at your company’s goals vs. where it currently stands. For example, if you’re looking to reduce operating costs, you may want to focus on building an inside sales team, as they can work from a remote location and don’t require travel and lodging costs.
If, on the other hand, you want (and can afford) longer-term, larger-scale growth and profitability, it may be worth it to invest in more outside sales reps.
- Size of accounts – You may not need to look much further than account size if all of your customers are relatively similar in scale. If you have strictly large, enterprise-level deals with clients who expect more of a hands-on experience (due to higher spend and more decision-makers), you’ll likely want to stick with an outside sales team structure.
- The right tools – This decision also depends heavily on your existing tools and what you’re willing to invest for new tools to help your sales team operate at maximum efficiency.
Inside sales teams need a robust customer relationship management (CRM) system, cell phones, email, video conferencing tools, sales automation tools, and appointment and scheduling software. They also need a centralized system to tie everything together, particularly because they often work collaboratively with each other and with marketing teams.
Outside sales reps need powerful mobile apps that support their work in the field and offer functionality for scheduling, dispatching, job matching, route optimization, communication, and field data collection.
Boost Your Inside and Outside Sales Performance
It’s true that regardless of whether you choose an inside or outside sales approach, your sales reps are your most valuable resource. But in order to thrive both remotely and in the field, your reps need the right tools to support their daily operations.
Skedulo’s mobile-first deskless productivity cloud empowers both inside and outside sales reps with technology that helps them meet their goals. From automated scheduling, to real-time communication, to field data collection and more, our centralized app allows your reps to focus on what they do best: selling.