How Salesforce Built Its Inside Sales Team


Salesforce hasn’t always had an inside sales team. In fact, it’s something we backed into a couple of years ago based on a need. This meant that the only way to learn how to build this kind of team was to do it while on the job. When we’ve failed, we’ve failed fast, and moved on. Not only have we learned a ton along the way, but you, the reader, can too. Here is my account of how we at Salesforce built, and continue building, an inside sales team.

We chose a headquarters-based model.

Where you base your inside sales team has a lot to do with whether or not you want them to serve as an internal talent pool for your organization or not. For some companies, a so-called “nearshore” model works, with a call center located in an affordable U.S. city, staffed with business development reps (BDRs) with limited opportunities to make a career jump. It’s a simple model, because you train them once and they are ready to go.

At Salesforce, it’s important to us to use our inside sales team as a development system for the rest of our sales organization. We typically hire BDRs that are young in their careers, hungry to do more, and view the role as a stepping stone. There is enough critical mass and a long enough runway for them to accomplish their goals here. In turn, we have a tremendous group of people we can pull from when we need reps in various business sections.

I would argue that a multi-hub, HQ-based model also saves money on talent acquisition over time, especially as a rep develops and is promoted through the system. It may cost more upfront, but there are many subsequent benefits, including employee retention and the creation of muscle memory, from how to build their own pipeline to product knowledge.

We give our inside sales teams experience in the field.

Once BDRs are in the role for about a year, they can typically make the jump to the enterprise corporate sales (or ECS Geo) team. This is mainly an inside function handling deals up to $150,000, with occasional opportunities for travel. With ECS Geo, discovery is a critical component of understanding a prospect’s needs and pain points. And there is only so much one can discover by looking at the Web all day. Chances are what you find is public information and not real business opportunities.

I want my ECS Geo team to learn how to look at situations from a different point of view. I need them to think about the prospects end customer; I want them to actually “be” their customer, walk in their shoes. By doing this you glean insights about your prospect that enables you to approach them from a totally authentic point of view — you might say it gives you empathy for their situation.

This gives us the opportunity to have different conversations that are not driven by product, but by the specific problem that we can help them with. That is what gets them breakthrough conversations, and where the product should be applied can be figured out later. With this in mind, we use a training methodology that puts them in the shoes of their potential customer’s customer, i.e., the end user of the product or service.

We have an amazing amount of success with this; for example, we have seen tremendous pipeline growth and decreased time to get the first meeting. Not only is it fun for these reps to get out of their seats and into the field, by truly understanding the end user, they can be much more transformative in the solution they offer a prospect.

We use data science to chase the right opportunities.

It’s easy for inside sales to get lost and waste a lot of time chasing opportunities that simply aren’t there. We’ve found it to be incredibly important to be extremely precise in our targeting of prospects. With data science, we are getting much better at triangulating propensity to buy based on behavior. For example, if a customer does X, they likely need a Y and Z solution.

We created synergy between sales and marketing.

There’s been an ongoing dialogue about sales and marketing alignment: Sales teams complain that marketing teams don’t provide enough enablement to make salespeople successful. Marketing teams complain that they provide awesome enablement, but salespeople just don’t take advantage of it.

We solve for this ongoing debate by spending a lot of time coordinating the two: Sales teams share what their marketing needs are in a particular region, while marketing teams use flexibility around what assets they put at a sales team’s disposal to better meet the ask. Both are married in a calendar format, so everyone is aware of what is happening on both sides and why.

We try to speak the language of Millennials.

A common challenge for inside sales organizations of today is a generation gap between the leadership team and the BDR team. For one, I’ve found that Millennials aren’t motivated by the same factors I was at their age. It was all about earning potential then. Now, it appears to be about recognition and experiences. Technology means there has also been a shift in the mode of communication that is most effective. It turns out that when used effectively, email, and even social media, can accomplish as much as the phone once did.
For more insight on inside sales, be sure to visit our High Velocity Sales collection page.

It’s important to us to use our inside sales team as a development system for the rest of our sales organization.”

Will Anastas | VP Worldwide Sales at Gladly, Inc.
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