Whilst there is a tendency to decide on sales approaches based on preconceptions, the type of sales roles you employ need to be driven by an understanding of the costs and complexity of the purchase and the level of touch required with the potential customer.

The more complex the proposition, the more involved the purchase will be and the greater the need for customer interaction so your sales channel will sit on a continuum from automated to inside to outside sales, and may involve strands of each.

Automated sales

Any transaction that can be conducted without human intervention past initial set up can be automated. Automated sales range from vending machines and automated tills, through eCommerce engines such as eBay and Amazon and on to complex machine to machine transactions such as high-frequency trading, where algorithms pick and purchase stocks and commodities based on predetermined strategies and market sensing.

By definition, the proposition should be simple, the sales process must be transparent and you have to accept that the business model will be transactional. This is not a cheap model, however, although the cost structure is more capital than operational, and the sales approach has to be more about the dilution of fixed costs more than individual profit per sale, so driving volume through the process is essential.

Inside sales

Inside sales is any interaction between a sales team and it's customers that takes place indirectly without face to face interaction. so, whilst it would traditionally be associated with telesales it would also cover electronic communications, email, live chat or social media transactions, webinars or video conferencing depending on the nature of the business.

Inside sales can be inbound or outbound and suits relatively straight forward products where volume is a consideration or the market is highly fragmented geographically. The inside sales rep has the potential to communicate with significantly more people per day than an outside sales rep, but the ability to build relationships, especially with a wider decision-making group, is limited.

Whilst this model is traditionally associated with the telemarketing model, regional regulation, coupled with a realisation of the inefficiencies of cold calling, have moved inside sales further down the sales funnel and the outputs of the model are now more likely to be driven by specific lead and demand generation activities.

Outside sales

Outside Sales is the traditional field sales model and covers all face to face interactions, from retail and event sales all the way up to complex consultative sales practices.

In a B2B context, the need to build wider and stronger relationships as part of a complex and relational sale make attendance at the customer's site a more effective use of the reps time and allows them the opportunity to secure buy-in at a much earlier stage in the decision-making process.

Location specific products and services also require a field sales approach where an understanding of the physical environment or onsite trial of a product may impact on the proposal

Reality

In reality, most sales teams are a mix of these approaches and in many cases, an individual rep may do a mix of inside and outside sales. However, each role has different requirements and suits a different set of skills, so, rather than defining what a rep is, it makes sense to define what the roles are and, if required, as a rep to fulfil more than one role.

This approach is scalable, as it allows you to assign different time splits to different people as the business grows and it lets you manage by objectives aligned with the specific strengths of individual reps and teams.