There is no question that inside sales is here, and here to stay. With the inevitable evolution of the sales landscape toward inside sales, we thought now would be a good time to talk to Mr. Inside Sales himself – Mike Brooks. [image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”31884″ align=”right” width=”199″ height=”199″ quality=”100″] The founder and principle of L.A.-based sales consulting, sales training and sales management firm Mr. Inside Sales, Mike has been named one of the most influential Inside Sales Professionals in three out of the past 4 years by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals. In short, he is recognized across the industry as one of the preeminent voices and experts on inside sales subjects.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking to him and picking his brain on the very subject that he was named for. Mike shared his thoughts on what inside sales is, how specifically technology has changed the industry, the keys to successfully qualifying leads and what lies ahead for inside sales.
1) As Mr. Inside Sales, you’re a good person to answer this – what exactly is inside sales and how is it different from traditional sales?
The strict definition is your entire sales process, from cold to close, is conducted over the phone. How it differs from traditional sales is that generally, you have a meeting face to face, at some point during the sales process, either to consummate the sale, perform a presentation, meet with the decision-makers, or even follow-up customer service. In inside sales, you don’t need to meet them at all, and every part of your sale can be conducted by phone.
2) Do you think reps are losing an edge by not being able to meet in person?
Well, I think there are a couple of answers to that question.
The first answer is, if you’re competing against an outside sales rep or a local person who is also competing for your same prospect, then yes, I think that there can be a detriment to doing it all by phone.
However, if you’re very good at what you do (this is of course the challenge) – if you can build rapport, establish relationships effectively and sell effectively over the phone, using proven techniques and skill sets, I think that your relationship can be just as strong as if someone were visiting in person as well. The key of course is to be talented enough, or to learn a proven skill set that allows you to do just that.
3) How would you say that the inside sales industry has evolved over the past few years?
I think the biggest change is this new sales model called business 2.0. In terms of inside sales, it has to do with the role that social media and the internet in general is playing into the buying cycle of a prospect or a customer. This has affected inside sales as well as outside sales, but a lot more people now – prospects or customers – have access to a whole new world in terms of judging what they’re going to buy, pricing, information on products, and doing research on companies. The way it’s affected inside sales, are two ways.
Number one: sales reps now tend to rely more on social media and I think it’s affected them adversely. Sales reps now feel that they would rather spend more time on the computer doing so-called research and social media and looking up LinkedIn contacts, and it’s actually prevented them from doing the real job of inside sales, which is picking up the phone and making a call. In other words, I think they’re relying on it too much, to their detriment. They’re neglecting to learn the core selling skills needed to actually finally pick up that phone make that connection with someone.
The second thing that has changed inside sales is technology in general. There are a lot of ways now to reach people. In fact, Insidesales.com has a very robust system whereby as soon as you send an email, as soon as that person opens that email, you are alerted that they’re sitting in front of their computer. You know that they just opened your email and it alerts you to give them a call. So there are, technology-wise, a lot of different changes that have affected how inside sales reps are reaching their prospects.
4) It doesn’t sound like you’re a big fan of social media or social selling.
I am, I am a fan of social media. I rely on it to make my own buying decisions. I understand it has a crucial place in the sales cycle, but the problem that I have with it again: I think that sales reps tend to get lazy.
In order to be really good, they have to put in a lot of work and effort. They have to learn a proven skill set. I think that sales is a skill set that anyone can learn if they’re motivated enough, but again I think sales reps will tend to take the easy way out and would prefer to spend time in social media, looking up connections, sending emails, perusing facebook, doing that sort of thing. I think they’d rather do that than what is ultimately going to make them successful – and these are the skills that I teach – to pick up the phone, learn how to reach someone, learn how to communicate effectively, learn how to listen to not only buying motives, but also possible red flags, objections, and really cultivate, learn, and foster that crucial skill set of being able to pick up the phone, guide someone through a presentation, use proper tie-downs, and effectively analyze whether they are getting closer to the sale or further away and what it’s going to take to make that sale.
These crucial skill sets are not being focused on as much as they used to be when inside sales was more similar to telemarketing. Telemarketing was very straightforward. I think it was more closely aligned with sales in general, that traditional sales model, but then again I think we’ve gotten away from that and I think what’s lacking now are those core selling skills needed to make a connection, understand buying motives, guide someone through that sales process, and make the sale.
5) When you’re hiring inside sales reps, what do you look for? What are the core skills that make a successful inside sales rep?
In terms of hiring any kind of sales rep, I think that past performance is the biggest predictor to future performance. If you want to know what a sales rep is going to make at your company, just look at what they’ve made over the last year, two, three years, average that out, divide the number of sales by that amount and you’re going to get a pretty good idea.
The second part of that question is more complex and that is ‘How can I get more out of an inside sales rep?’ Well, the big benefit with inside sales over traditional sales, is that as a manager or a business owner, you can control the variables that affect a sale much more closely. Why? Because you can literally record your sales reps, which you need to be doing. You can record your sales reps, find out exactly what they are doing wrong, where they need to improve and then you can give them the measurable tools, i.e. scripts and techniques that they can then apply in the next selling situation they get into. Then, you can measure their adherence to the techniques, to these best practices.
The way you make sales reps successful is that you identify the best practices. In other words, what it is going to take for your sales reps to successfully navigate every part of the selling situation. You can write those down and then you can script it out. You turn it into a playbook, just like an NFL football team or a player has a playbook of all the diagrams, plays, best practices. You do the same thing with every part of your selling cycle: your opening call, your prospecting call, how to avoid the brush-off, how to get through to the decision-maker, how to get the prospect back on the phone, how to take them through the sale, how to build a yes.
6) What would you say are some of the most important KPIs you measure sales reps on?
I do something that I developed, what I call script-grading adherence form. I take the script that they have, I break it down into measurable areas that I can grade with a literal point score.
So for example on the qualifying script, there may be 100 possible points. I’ll break down the opening. How did the sales rep greet the gatekeeper? Did they use instructional statements? Did they ask for help? Did they successfully get through to the decision-maker? How did they greet the decision-maker? What type of rapport did they build? Were they able to successfully handle the brush-offs? Were they able to present their value prop? Did they even qualify the prospect properly? So in other words, I assign a numerical grade to each part of that sales call.
Then, I listen to the recording with the script next to me along with the sales rep and I grade them again. So out of perhaps a possible 10 or 15 points for the opening, did they ask everything properly? Did they follow the script? I grade each part of that call all the way to the end and the end is going to involve those crucial things like getting a definite appointment for the next call, getting an agreed-upon commitment, getting a call to action. We grade every single part of the call and come up with a numerical score. Out of 100 points, were they at 60? Were they at 70? After I grade each part of that call, I’m going to have what I call a personal development plan where that sales rep is going to be concentrating that day on improving a specific portion of that call. That’s how you coach them. That’s how you measure adherence, and more importantly, improvement or not. And that’s how you are able to get your inside sales team to consistently improve.
7) What are the keys to successfully qualifying leads?
It’s very simple, and especially in inside sales it’s great, because you can identify 6 key areas, which is also true for traditional sales as well but you can identify the-what I call the 6 key qualifiers.
Here’s what every sales rep needs to know about their prospect in order to term a lead or identify a lead as a qualified opportunity.
Number 1: they need to know why the prospect is going to buy. They want to know what is motivating the buyer. You need to have a clear idea of why the prospect is interested in purchasing or buying this product or service, why they’re interested in buying it from you, and a variety of other unique motives.
Number 2: you need to know why the prospect might not buy. This is important and most reps have no idea. I think they have a very strong idea intuitively, but they’re either afraid to admit it or afraid to ask the questions to really suss is out. What are some of the potential objections? Why perhaps did they not buy from you before?
Number 3: you need to understand who the decision-maker is. Most sales reps, when they’re asking about the decision-maker, they’ll simply say, “Are you the one who makes the decisions on this?” Well that’s a closed-ended question. It leads the prospect to create a smokescreen and say “yes”, but as you probably know, many times when you call a prospect back, ask for the deal, they’ll say, well I’m going to need to check with my regional manager on this. They gave you a smoke screen because you didn’t use the right techniques.
Number 4 is decision process. You need to know what happens next and many sales reps simply don’t ask that.
Number 5: you need to know who your competition is. And this is something that many sales reps are deathly afraid of asking. It’s almost as if they feel that if they bring that up, they’ll be introducing the other people that can provide that product or service. What you have to really have to ask is who do you know, you have to find out who the competition is. You need to properly qualify not only who the competition is, but also where they’re leaning and you do that by using layering questions
Number 6: budget is budget. And that can be as simple as what is your budget? What kind of budget are you looking to stay within? What did you spend on this last time?
So you need to know those 6 things in order to say “hey, I have a qualified opportunity” and you know this as well as I do, the reason most sales teams fail, and the reason most sales reps are so frustrated, is because most of the time what they consider to be a qualified lead they’ve only got 2 or maybe 3 of these kinds of information.
8) How do you expect the inside sales industry to evolve over the next 5 years?
I think the biggest impact is going to come through the evolution of social media and social marketing. I think that technology is going to improve connect rates. Technology, especially for inside sales, needs to improve the way that a sales rep is able to get through to a prospect.
In terms of skill sets, the important ones that are going to remain key is once the sales rep gets the prospect on the phone. The only way they’re going to get better at that is to continue to make use of some of the great training material out there, not only from my company but other companies as well. This is where sales reps need the most improvement.
More about Mike Brooks
Mike Brooks is the founder and principle of Mr. Inside Sales, an inside sales consulting and training firm. He has been voted one of the most influential Inside Sales Professionals by the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals in 3 out of the past 4 years. Mike is hired by business owners to develop and implement proven sales processes that help them immediately scale and grow multi-million dollar inside sales teams.