How to Build an Inside Sales Function in 10 Weeks
For most commercial leaders, inside sales development revolves around expanding the function’s responsibilities (e.g. from lead qualification to full funnel responsibility for transactional purchases)monscaling the function or optimizing work processes and supporting technology. But for some, inside sales development means building the function from scratch, creating a new commercial engine to help the company accelerate growth and lower cost of sales. Based on learnings from our most recent inside sales mplementation project for a Swedish energy company, here’s how we built a fully operational inside sales function in 10 weeks.
Figure 1: Project check from bi-weekly steer-co meeting
1. Start with a narrow purpose and clear business case to be tested
Inside Sales can do many things (prospecting, lead qualification, nurturing, outside sales enablement, website buyer support etc.), but when building the function from scratch, there is a high need to limit the scope to 1 or 2 things. Based on the narrowly defined purpose (e.g. create sales qualified leads for sales, through inbound lead management and insight-based prospecting), a clear business case is defined, to be tested when the function goes live.
The business case serves multiple purposes that helps both in building the function and operating it subsequently. With clearly defined activities, expected outcomes and results (business case), a focused playbook for inside sales can be developed that enables the team to succeed with their defined purpose and a partnership agreement/SLA can be written that manages the relationship between the inside sales team and other commercial functions (mainly marketing and field sales).
The initial business case uses benchmark numbers which is then tested once the inside sales function goes live and monitored through the operating model defined in the SLA.
2. Build in parallel, not sequence
Building an inside sales function requires getting 6 elements in place: (1) People on the inside sales team to engage with potential buyers, (2) Identified prospect/leads (potential buyers) for inside sellers to engage with, (3) defined work processes for inside seller tasks (e.g. lead response management & prospecting), (4) supporting assets (e.g. insights, articles, virtual demos etc.) to help inside sellers engage with potential buyers, (5) supporting technology to help inside sellers manage their work efficiently and report on PPIs (process performance indicators)/KPIs and (6) a partnership/Service Level Agreement (SLA) that defines mutual expectations, requirements and governance model.
Attempting to build the 6 elements in sequence (one after the other) is likely to result in prolonged development time, as each element takes a long time to get into place. Each workstream should be developed in parallel and kicked-off at the beginning of the development process.
Getting the inside sales team in place (people) starts with a decision on whether to build in-house or through external partner. Getting to a list of potential buyers to engage with (prospects/leads) starts with a decision on segments and funnel stages for targeting. Getting to an inside sales playbook supported by the right technology, assets and operating model starts with a decision on expected business case.
Because building in parallel requires constant alignment between workstreams, this approach demands frequent project team status meetings (e.g. weekly check-ins) and close collaboration.
3. Prototype the playbook early and use as a change management tool
Activating the inside sales team towards the end of the development process requires a playbook that explains the role of the inside sellers; Why are they critical? What are they supposed to do? How are they supposed to do it? It´s used as onboarding guide and operational guide once the team goes live.
However, the inside sales playbook plays an equally important role during the development process, to align the project team and critical stakeholders around the development of the function. Prototyping a 1st draft of the inside sales playbook within the first few weeks and qualifying it with key stakeholders (e.g. sales & marketing), ensures that the commercial engine in place at the end of the development process matches organisational expectations.
As much as an operational guide after the function goes live, the inside sales playbook is a tool for change management in the commercial organisation.
4. Involve sales & marketing but don’t co-create the inside sales function
No commercial function can operate in a silo and inside sales is no exception. Often in B2B organisations, the inside sales team is responsible for activating and managing prospects & leads from marketing and converting them into qualified opportunities for sales. During the development of the inside sales function, this means that the involvement of sales & marketing is required design the right playbook for inside sales and define the right mode of collaboration.
It does however not mean that the inside sales function and playbook should be co-created with sales and marketing, in the same way that marketing is not co-created with inside -and outside sales. There is a best practice way of organising and running inside sales and the other 2 commercial engines should only be involved where it makes sense to get their input and acceptance (e.g. understanding of targeted buyers, definition of marketing -and sales qualified leads, hand-over processes etc.).
Whether marketing, sales, commercial excellence or a business development manager owns the initial development of the inside sales function depends on the initial scope of the function. If it is for lead qualification purposes, perhaps it is best managed out of marketing. If it is for leveraging outside sellers more effectively (scale-sales), perhaps it is better managed out of sales. Regardless of where inside sales development comes from, it is critical that the function becomes its own engine and not just an extension or support function of where it was born.
How to get started
As with any (commercial) development and innovation it is key to rapidly and without major investments, getting to an MVP from which you can start testing the business case and optimizing the engine. Building a new commercial function can easily drag out and become a compromise between different interests in the commercial organisation. Setting a short deadline (10 weeks for example) and prototyping fast based on clear decision on scope and knowledge about best practice, helps to ensure that this doesn’t happen.
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