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What Is Outside Sales? The Ultimate Guide

Outside sales rep smiling at clients
The ability to connect with people is at the core of outside sales success. [Adobe/Studio Science]

Get tips and tricks for success in the face-to-face world of outside sales.

Digital communications have changed sales forever. Our State of Sales report revealed that 57% of buyers now prefer to engage with companies through digital channels, and more than 90% of B2B companies have adopted a virtual or hybridized sales model, according to McKinsey.

But that doesn’t mean field sales is dead. Outside sales (aka field sales, or making deals in person) is still vitally important for businesses. Face-to-face engagement is often an effective way to build relationships, which leads to trust, making closing easier.

Need some guidance to perfect your outside sales? Don’t worry. We’ll explain the ins and outs, underscoring the critical sales skills you need to succeed.

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What is outside sales?

Outside sales is where sales reps work in the field, meeting with customers and prospects in person to close deals. This could mean visiting client offices, attending industry events, or even connecting during casual engagements like meetups and happy hours where more relaxed conversations about products and services can take place.

Whether your products and services require a hands-on approach or your customers just prefer to meet in person, outside selling skills are a vital part of modern sales teams.

What does an outside sales representative do?

Outside sales reps, also known as field salespeople, are responsible for customer relationships within a specified territory. Outside sales reps meet prospects and clients in person, as opposed to inside salespeople, who work remotely, calling prospects and messaging them online. An outside sales rep often travels to meet with customers at their offices, conferences, trade shows, and other industry events.

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Inside sales vs. outside sales

Put simply, inside sales is a way of handling sales remotely, over the phone, and through virtual channels like email and social media. Inside sales reps usually work in a shared office environment and collaborate as part of a team. Inside sales teams often work in tandem with outside sales reps for greater productivity.

Let’s dive into the differences, including responsibilities, skills, and tips for success in each role

Outside salesInside sales
Face-to-face client interactions: Meeting clients on their turf is part of the job. It’s a good way to understand their needs and challenges and allows for more efficient sales conversations. This includes everything from giving live demos and presentations to long-term relationship building.

Virtual communications skills: Inside sales reps are responsible for generating new leads remotely and following up on potential sales opportunities. Chiefly, these interactions take place through email and phone/video calls and require comfort and skill with virtual communications.
Adaptability and flexibility: Working in the field comes with its challenges, including traffic, last-minute schedule changes, and technology mishaps, and reps must be able to roll with the punches and improvise when necessary.

Traditional working environment: This job is typically performed in front of a computer in an office setting. Teps must be comfortable sitting at a desk for hours and maintain a consistent work schedule.
Comfortable working independently: Because they’re on the road, outside sales reps manage their own schedules. Above all, they must stay organized, focused, and motivated to meet quotas. In particular, they should be comfortable working alone.
Highly collaborative: Inside sales reps often work closely with other departments, such as marketing and customer service, to maintain a cohesive sales strategy. These folks should enjoy working with others.

Pros and cons of outside sales

Outside sales comes with a unique set of advantages and challenges that can significantly impact your experience and success. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons:

Advantages of outside sales

  • Personalized interactions: Face-to-face communication can foster trust and closer personal connections, which can lead to stronger client relationships and more business for your company.
  • Real-time product demos: Live demonstrations of your products or services allow clients to “get their hands dirty” and gain greater peace of mind about your solution.
  • Flexibility: Outside sales roles often offer more flexibility in scheduling and work locations. You’re not sitting in an office every day. You’re typically on the road, meeting with clients and setting your own schedule. This varied schedule offers a chance to do something different every day but also requires you to stay focused and use your time efficiently.

Challenges of outside sales

  • Travel requirements: The in-person nature of outside sales can involve considerable travel, which may not appeal to everyone.
  • Irregular work hours: Aligning with your client’s schedules may require working outside of traditional office hours, including early mornings, late evenings, or weekends.
  • Self-management: Success in outside sales means staying organized and managing your schedule, territory, and sales activities independently, which can take a lot of self-discipline.

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Skills and strategies for thriving in outside sales

While there is some overlap between the inside and outside sales, the outside sales environment is less predictable and requires strong relationship-building skills and the ability to function independently. Here are a few skills and strategies I’ve found necessary for thriving in an outside sales role:

Strong interpersonal skills: The ability to connect with people is at the core of outside sales success. This includes everything from active listening, empathy, and building rapport to dressing for success and projecting confidence. Early on in my career, I learned to carry my briefcase in my left hand, so my right was always free for handshakes and waving hello. Keeping business cards in my jacket pocket made for easy access when meeting with clients and connecting with new people.

In-depth product knowledge: Knowing your product inside and out and being able to address questions and concerns on the spot can help to instill confidence in your customers. However, knowing your product isn’t just about impressing prospects. It’s about finding the right-fit solution and being able to communicate why it’s the best for your prospect’s needs.

Resilience and persistence: Rejection and setbacks are part of the job, which is why resilience and the ability to stay motivated are key to your success. Always have a backup plan in case a client cancels or traffic derails your schedule. In some cases, an impromptu video call from the side of the road can save the day, preserve the client relationship, and help you meet your numbers.

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Tips for success

For better outside sales success, keep these tips in mind:

  • Personalize your approach: Personalization can make a big difference in how your message is received. For example, use your customer’s company logo in your presentation, address their business needs specifically, and include the names of key stakeholders when talking about how your solution will directly benefit them.
  • Make the most of technology: Technology can help keep you organized, efficient, and productive. Use CRM tools to keep track of client information, sales history, analytics, and even your schedule. Onboarding a mobile-ready CRM is key.
  • Stay informed: Keep up with industry news and trends, new product developments, competitors, and client pain points to maintain a competitive edge.
  • Build relationships: Long-term relationships can lead to repeat business and referrals. Above all, get to know your clients and their business goals and pain points so you can offer the best solutions for them.

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Outside sales play a vital role in business success

Even in a world gone digital, the ability to build strong client relationships through face-to-face interactions remains a critical piece of the sales puzzle. By providing a human touch, outside sales reps have the power to build powerful relationships, driving business growth for their companies while complementing the efforts of their inside sales counterparts.

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sales influencers marcus chan
Marcus Chan Founder and President, Venli Consulting Group

Marcus Chan is the Founder of Venli Consulting Group. He helps account executives sell and earn $100,000+ each year through his coaching and training programs. Marcus is an official member on the Forbes Business Council and has also been featured in Forbes, Yahoo! Finance, MarketWatch, and more. He is a 3X Salesforce Top Sales Influencer and Wall Street Journal Best Selling author of Six-Figure Sales Secrets.

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