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Sales automation tools and CRM redefining sales roles

The growth of sales automation tools and virtual shopping are creating a brave new sales world.

The proliferation of CRM sales automation tools and communications technologies is turning the sales world inside out.

A just-released report from CSO Insights shows that the traditional structure of clearly defined inside and outside sales teams can no longer be sustained in a business environment, where conferencing tools, mobile CRM tools and social networks make it possible for any type of salesperson to connect with customers from anywhere.

But the data suggests this is better news for the inside sales team than the outside team. Even though companies are arming outside salespeople with tablets and smart phones, they are hiring more people for inside sales jobs.

CSO Insights, a sales consultancy based in Denver and San Francisco, reports companies are planning to grow their internal sales operations at a much greater rate than their outside field sales groups this year. Of the approximately 200 companies surveyed for the Telemarketing/Inside Sales Performance Optimization Report, 25% of inside sales organizations reported plans to grow by more than 20% in 2011. About 11% of field sales organizations said they planned to grow in that range.

This blurring of inside and outside roles is creating a hybrid salesperson who no longer fits into either sales role, said Barry Trailer, CSO Insights managing partner. Trailer noted that companies can hire inside salespeople for less money that the average field salesperson. Once a company provides an inside sales team with something as simple as Skype, they can start making personal connections with customers.

Virtual sales reshaping purchasing process

The changing face of sales teams is demanding new compensation models as well, said Christopher Cabrera, founder and CEO of Xactly Corp. a maker of sales compensation software based in San Jose, Calif.

"We see it isn't just the traditional percentage rates against what is sold," Cabrera said. "On the inside, there are lot more metrics -- how many calls, average call times -- and a lot of the call centers are blurring the line between selling and support."

As a result, Cabrera said companies are adding more to the mix to define inside sales compensation, such as customer satisfaction, so pay reflects the work they now do.

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CSO's Trailer said what is emerging is a virtual sales world, where a company's focus is shifting away from where its salespeople are based to how the customer wants to make his purchase. If the client wants an online-only experience, then the company needs to deliver, regardless of who actually does the deal.

"I see this in spades,'' said Greg Langston, vice president of sales at The Harris Products Group, of the changing dynamic in sales operations.

Langston said an array of CRM and other basic technologies, from online conferencing to YouTube videos, have changed the game. At The Harris Group, a division of Lincoln Electric, based in Mason, Ohio, outsides sales used to be the "opportunity generators," and inside sales were little more than "order takers," Langston said. Now, inside sales can take the sales process from prospecting customers to closing the deal without intervention, he said.

CSO Insights' Trailer said in some ways inside sales has advantages over field salespeople. For starters, the inside people continue to outpace field sales in using CRM systems and, as a result, inside sales managers are ahead of their outside counterparts in adapting sales processes to market changes.

Adam Blitzer, co-founder of Pardot, a maker of marketing automation software, also sees a sales structure change at his company.

"It used to be if you were selling [an order worth] more than $15,000, you probably had to go see the customer," Blitzer said. "The threshold for businesses to require that you come see them has changed. People are just more used to the Internet for facilitating deals. Web conferences, GoToMeeting, WebEx technology are all ubiquitous now."

In fact, Blitzer said the company relies heavily on inside sales using these tools."We couldn't run our business if this paradigm hadn't happened,'' Blitzer added. "We would have had to price our product very differently.''

But observers said the change in sales organizations doesn't mean the end to the traveling salesman.

"There isn't as much need to put bodies on airplanes and do face-to-face meetings,'' added Xactly's Cabrera. "That said, I don't believe the field rep is a dinosaur. There are parts of the world, especially with larger customers, where they still want to see the whites of our eyes.''

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