The inside story on sales (Or: How to have a career in sales without leaving your desk)

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Posted: Sunday, March 31, 2013 12:00 am

If you’re a people person who can strike up a conversation as quick as a handshake, you’ve probably been told you’d make a great salesman.

But if you’d rather sit alone at a computer than stand at a crowded party, chances are no one has suggested sales as a career for you.

Well, as long as they’re smart, ambitious and hard-working, those content with the company of a computer may be a good candidate for a modern sales career, namely an “inside salesperson,” said Steve Richard, co-founder of the sales training firm Vorsight.

The ranks of this new breed are growing, said Bob Perkins, founder of the four-year-old American Association of Inside Sales Professionals. Citing research from InsideSales.com, Perkins said some 3.9 million people are projected to be in this new sales niche in 2020, up from 2.7 million in 2012, according to calculations from InsideSales.com.

The job description for “inside salesperson” is difficult to define, however, since “inside sales” have been a part of many companies for decades, said Art Sobczak, president of BusinessByPhone.com. Like the moniker “inside” suggests, these salespeople didn’t venture to customers’ doors but reached them by phone to pitch products. “Some would call it telemarketing,” Sobczak said.

The modern version of inside sales is heavily dependent on the Internet and related technology and tools, like video conferencing and social media, Perkins said.

Before Internet technology, “the salesperson was a primary provider of information to the customer,” said Suzanne Paling, a principal of the Boston-based Sales Management Services. “Now the customer can do a lot (of research on a product) on his own. The salesperson needs to not just be knowledgeable but an absolute expert.”

Add in the ease of communicating details about products through web presentations and video conferencing, and the ability to pinpoint potential customers by name through social media, and many businesses are discovering that inside sales are more cost-effective than sending salespeople out on the road, Richard said.

At ElasticSales.com, a Silicon Valley firm self-described as “a sales team on demand,” workers employ technology to sell the wares of other tech companies, said Josh Walters, director of marketing.

Some of the salespeople focus on researching potential customers for a specific product, while others may make the initial call to a prospect and “close” the sale, Walters said. These different functions sometimes take different talents, with those who make the initial contact with the customers being good communicators, and others needing skills involving web research.

Those who’ve been successful in outside sales, logging hours on the road to meet face-to-face with customers, aren’t necessarily a good fit for a transition into inside sales, Richard said. “They may be adept at nonverbal cues, like body language,” but may not necessarily be skillful at research, he said.

The American Association of Inside Sales Professionals offers a certification course for both novices and experienced “outside” salespeople to take to learn the techniques of this version of sales.

Traditionally, said Daniel Newell, job development specialist at San Jose State University, new college grads can find entry-level sales positions.

For this new breed of inside sales, he added, he’s seeing employers offering temporary or internship positions that can lead to a permanent job, based on performance.

Moreover, some employers are hiring students during their college years to work as “brand ambassadors,” said Bill McCarthy of the Career Development Center at Binghamton University. Such ambassadors are a form of inside salespeople, Perkins said, in that they use social media to promote products to young consumers.

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