How to Build an Inside Sales Organisation in 10 Weeks

Jan 13, 2020

There is much talk in the corporate about agile development, rapid prototyping and experimentation. At Vattenfall we decided to put these topics to the test by challenging ourselves to build a new commercial function (in this case an Inside Sales function) in just 10 weeks.

In this article I will share some of the main learnings of this process:

Start with a clear hypothesis and business case to test

Go to “Minimum Viable Function” first, to start testing and  learning fast

Work in short sprints with continuous alignment between stakeholders

Reach out to others with experience and be inspired

Judging by the initial results there is good reason quiet optimism: 2 weeks after the new inside sales function “went-live”, it was already delivering pipeline value (1½ months ahead of schedule) and saving valuable time for business developers in the field, otherwise spent researching and cold prospecting.  

Solving our growth bottleneck with Inside Sales

The decision to expand our commercial organisation with an inside sales team was made as an answer to three growth challenges identified in our management team, together with our supporting partners from Kvadrant Consulting:

1.      Sales engineers in our business are a scarce resource that we cannot simply recruit enough of, as the way to meet revenue targets

2.      Research and cold prospecting are not a natural first priorities for senior sales engineers

3.      Sales organisation with no additional capacity to manage increase in leads from new digital marketing activities.

In other words; we needed to find a way to increase the number of sales opportunities and grow sales, without growing the size of our technical field sales force.

Unable to hire more sales engineers to do more of the same, the decision was made to build an Inside Sales team to take ownership of initial prospecting, lead qualification & lead nurturing from inside the office. A new “mechanism” to convert more potential into pipeline value and free up sales engineer time for managing qualified deals.

The new function would work closely with marketing to manage identified prospects & leads and closely with sales to deliver qualified opportunities forward.

 

Start with a clear hypothesis and business case to test

After the decision to build inside sales was made, a hypothesis and business case was developed as the first thing, based on numbers from similar cases and industry benchmarks. This was the test to qualify if inside sales would also work for or business and industry:

“We can generate 56 high value Sales Qualified Leads in 4 months, while reducing time spent on research & prospecting from our sales engineers in the field, by building an inside sales team responsible for research, prospecting, lead response management & qualification in UK & Sweden”

By creating a working hypothesis and business case to test up front, we had a picture of where we needed to go, what we wanted the inside sales team to achieve and how we defined success. The hypothesis has been the guiding star throughout the project.

Figure 1:  Impact case (draft business case):

1 inside seller making 42 calls per day (attempts + succesfull connections)

Get to “Minimum Viable Function” first, to start testing & learning

Until the Inside Sales team starts operating, we cannot say anything about whether it works for our business or how it works. That means the first goal is not to get a perfectly engineered inside sales team in place after 6-12 months, but instead get one in place that is good enough to start testing, learning and developing.

In our case that meant we had 10 weeks to get 6 integrated elements in place, to start making calls and testing the numbers for our business:

1.      People, with the right knowledge and skills to manage defined prospecting & lead management activities (we hired 3)

2.      Prospects & leads identified for the inside sales team to start working on, to convert potential into pipeline value (We built qualified lists of prospects & leads for 5 industry segments)

3.      Playbook, with the defined prospecting & lead management processes for the inside sellers to conduct (We defined the initial work process and standard operating procedures)

4.      Supporting assets, with insights to share with potential buyers, call blueprints to conduct calls, follow-up e-mails to send after calls. (We created the initial call blueprints)

5.      Support technology, as the inside sellers working platform to efficiently manage prospects, leads and activities (We created an Inside Sales module to our CRM and onboarded inside sellers)

6.      Partnership operating model, with defined KPIs to report on and set meeting cadence between the inside sales team and the rest of the commercial organisation (We set up a measurement framework and management meeting rhythm).

Perfecting happens continuously, based on performance feedback and operational learnings.

Work in short sprints with continuous alignment between key stakeholders

10 weeks is not a lot to build a new commercial function from scratch. New people must be found and onboarded, new work processes defined, and new supporting technology platform configured.

To succeed within the timeline, the project team followed 3 project design principles:

1.      Run workstreams in parallel, not sequence: Attempting to build the 6 elements in sequence (one after the other) would likely result in prolonged development time, as each element takes a time to get into place. Instead, work on all six elements in parallel and progress in synchrony.

2.      Work in 2-week sprints: Because of the tight development timeline, the project team would work in short sprints with new objectives to be achieved on all 6 workstreams bi-weekly.

3.      Continuous alignment with key sales & marketing stakeholders: 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. The project team would continuously qualify work with key stakeholders and align on critical decision on bi-weekly status meetings.

Although an efficient way of working it is also an intense way of working, that is more demanding on the organisation during the development phase. It requires strong project management skills and time from the organisation.

Having additional resources from an external commercial development partner in place, with experience building similar commercial functions, was a big help here.

Figure 2: All critical workstreams progressing as needed

Reach out to others with experience and be inspired

Inside sales is not our company’s invention and there is therefore enormous experience and lessons learned available in the market. Our approach was therefore to learn from others who has implemented a similar approach and learn from their experience, mistakes and successes  

To succeed reach out to be inspired by others:

1.      Use your network to get guidance: I reached out to my contacts in my LinkedIn network and had 3 replies from companies in different markets. All 3 had a good experience with Insides Sales which confirmed our interest in Inside Sales

2.      Use experienced consultants for the setup: In general I believe organisations should not be dependent on consultants, however for setup up a completely new function, we found it extremely valuable to have hand-on advise, templates and systems from consultants who have implemented Insides Sales several times before. I do strongly advise you to check references of your consultants. In our case we used Kvadrant Consulting and they delivered on time, on budget and with concrete advise, templates and KPIs.

 

2 things I would do different for the next commercial development sprint

Although inside sales has started generating value for sales quicker than expected, the function could likely have had an even better start, had we focuses more on 2 things during the development process and in the immediate weeks after the function started operations:

1.      Get the inside sales team members in place early, so the development process can be used as part of their onboarding: For various reasons we didn’t get the final inside sales team in place until 2 weeks before “go-live” and as a consequence the members had a (too) fast and steep learning curve.

2.      Have clear roles and responsibilities assigned for when the inside sales function goes live: Due to internal changes in our organisation the initial responsibility for the inside sales function, had not been clearly enough defined. Consequently, the inside sales team’s time-to-performance after go-live, was likely longer than it could have been.

 

 

Jesper Karpsen

Jesper Karpsen

Head of Vattenfall Network Solutions

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