Inside sales continues to be one of the most rapidly growing sectors for sales and an increasingly important focus for organizations, from startups to the enterprise. While “making the calls” is front and center, there are other factors that drive an inside sales team’s success.

At Salesforce, I lead our North American sales development group, which includes more than 350 people on the front lines each and every day. We push to consistently increase the output of our prospecting efforts, but there’s another important part to inside sales as well. It’s the talent pipeline that helps to drive Salesforce’s business forward. Here, I’ll share six of the top things you should prioritize within your inside sales team, including critical metrics and a motivating, rewarding culture that will better your business in both the short and long term.

Salesforce’s sales development team is not just a revenue engine but also a talent development center. We often bring in people early in their career. It might be a rep’s second or third job out of college, but we want to develop him or her to become a future Salesforce account executive. An inside sales rep shouldn’t stay one forever; we want them to start moving up in their career within a year. We have found a lot of success blending tenured external hires with homegrown talent from the sales development reps ranks who graduate to business development (outside) reps then to account executives.


Inside sales is a great way to learn to crawl and walk before you run. Working on the team provides reps with key skills: prospecting, objection handling, and learning the importance of a rigorous and disciplined sales process. And, ultimately, it also benefits the business as reps continue to move forward in new sales roles with this education in hand.

One of the key metrics we manage is speed-to-lead and how fast we are calling people once the lead comes in. According to research and our own data, if you don’t call someone in the first hour, then there is about a 10x drop-off in the conversion rate. We want to optimize our processes and reps so we can get to the leads as soon as they come in.

At the same time, we focus on high-quality activity levels. Having high-quality phone discussions allows us to deliver on our dual mandate of driving pipeline and annualized contract value (ACV), and developing talent. To this end, we set clear targets and ensure the team is able to successfully meet them … daily.  Across an organization of our size, any shortfall in activity will compound through the funnel to have a material impact on our ACV.

Training is the first stop for all inside sales reps. At Salesforce, they spend their first two weeks immersed in an intensive curriculum in our education management system, Trailhead. There are simulations, product and sales skills education, call shadowing, and stand-and-deliver presentations.

But training can’t stop there. The curriculum and training must continue throughout a rep’s tenure. Week three includes a week-long, immersive in-person training where we train and test across our sales process and product offerings, with a big focus on simulations. On an ongoing basis, our managers spend several hours a week with all reps, listening to their calls with our telephony tools and coaching them live. Product marketing runs monthly training sessions to ensure our reps are knowledgeable across all of our products. Teams also meet once a week to review how everything looks from a broader perspective. What are their numbers? What does the funnel look like? What are we doing to focus on career progression? Are we giving them the learning they need? You simply can’t leave this type of check-in to a few times a quarter.

Motivating an inside sales team is imperative. It's a hard job whether you're on the inbound side, taking leads, or outbound (which is even harder) and making cold calls or warm calls. Motivation is huge in engaging people and keeping work fun and competitive in a positive way.

Of course, compensation is an obvious motivator, but that can’t be all of it. The biggest motivator for reps is earning the promotion to account executive. Sales development reps on our team know that by the end of 12 months they will have the opportunity for a promotion. But this is a meritocracy where that opportunity is only realized if their metrics and stack rankings are above required levels.

In support of healthy competition, we post results every day on Chatter (our internal communication platform), call out the top performers, offer competitive challenges, and show the staff rankings. Everyone across the organization piles on with well wishes: "Hey, great job, Jimmy! Great job, Suzy!" And people start to really strive to be at the top of the dashboard because they want that recognition. Some of our most successful competitions originate organically from the reps or managers publically challenging each other.

It takes persistence to connect with a lead. While the industry average is one or two attempts, we know that it takes as many as five attempts (and sometimes more) to connect. Our standard rule is to try and put five touches on a lead — either a call, email, or both — over the course of 10 days to two weeks. After a fifth and final attempt to reach a lead, we let it go.

With this additional persistence, the connect rate becomes an incredibly important metric for us.  We don’t want to get to number five but rather prioritize correctly and connect as early as we can. The more calls made to one customer translates to less capacity for other potential leads. Getting to a ratio of 1:1 for a yes or no faster is always the goal.

Inside sales isn’t a silo, and it’s important to develop a close partnership with the marketing team. Marketing is often eager to do training for our team, and since we are the first voice of the company, it’s critical to have the latest information on products. It’s a two-way street as well. Product marketers listen on the calls to learn firsthand how customers are responding to our positioning. What was right or what can be improved? This is a really critical loop for any inside sales team.

It takes persistence to connect. While the industry average is one or two attempts, we know that it takes as many as five attempts (and sometimes more) to connect.”

Jonathan Hunt | SVP, Sales Development, Salesforce
 
 
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