Cheap web tools taking salesmen off the roads
Firms are ditching travel and instead using the internet and social media to make sales
Patricia Sims spent most of the last 20 years selling on the road, pitching products for software companies. Two years ago, she traded frequent-flyer perks for a job that relies on internet meetings and social media.
"When I started in sales, anyone who did inside sales was thought of more as a telemarketer, someone who would call on consumers and bother people eating dinner," said Sims, 51, who now works in North Carolina for On24, selling services such as webcasting to businesses. "As time and technology progressed, it's just made sense to do that big presentation virtually."
US capitalism has often been driven by advances in the plying of wares. Arthur Miller's 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Death of a Salesman, placed the occupation at the heart of the American middle class and its longing for social mobility.
Now, firms from software and health care providers to manufacturers are trying to fill inside sales positions, shifting from expensive field staff to more affordable employees who use phones, internet and social media tools to reach business customers. By some estimates, keeping sales people off the road is 10 times cheaper and growing 10 times faster than meeting in person.
"There's a huge challenge" in hiring employees for these growing jobs, said Larry Reeves, who helped form the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals three years ago.
With virtual meeting software like GoToMeeting.com and WebEx, communication tools such as Skype and social media sites Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, it has become easier to sell with few, if any, face-to-face meetings, said Ken Krogue, a co-founder of Insidesales.com.
Younger, tech-savvy workers entering the workforce are supporting the trend, he said.
Steve Richard, co-founder of Vorsight, a sales training company, said his data shows for every person hired today for an outside sales role, there are 10 being brought on for inside sales.
Industry estimates show each contact with an inside sales person might cost US$25 to US$30, compared with US$300 to US$500 for a field staff person, because of the travel expenses, said Michael Moorman, a managing principal with ZS Associates, which assists with sales force staffing.
Cutbacks during the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009 helped galvanise a movement already being enabled by high-speed internet connections and web-based tools, said Anneke Seley, 54, founder of an inside sales company now called Reality Works Group. She changed the name of the firm from Phone Works last year to reflect the diminished role of the telephone. Now many companies no longer bother with outside sales, Seley said.
Increasingly, the inside sales staff is not even at the office. About 46 per cent of such employees are at the company headquarters, with about 37 per cent working both at the office and at home and 17 per cent working fully at home, according to data compiled by The Bridge Group.
The employees have an average annual base salary of US$53,000 and total compensation of US$98,000, according to the consultancy's data.