Inside sales vs. outside sales: What's the actual difference?

by Steli Efti
outside sales

The difference between inside sales and outside sales is quite significant. It’s important to understand the key differences between the two if you’re building a sales team or trying to recruit sales talent.

A person who’s great at inside sales isn’t necessarily great at outside sales, and vice versa. In order to put together an effective sales team, you need to be able to recognize the skills that lead to success in each kind of sales.

In this blog post, we’ll break down the differences between inside and outside sales so that you’ll be able to build the sales system and the sales team that works best for you.

Inside sales vs. outside sales: The basics

At the most basic level, the difference between inside and outside sales comes down to where the sales process happens: Are you selling in person or remotely? Inside sales professionals identify, nurture and turn leads into customers remotely, while outside sales professionals meet and attempt to close their prospects face-to-face.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor considers someone an "outside salesperson" if they meet the following requirements:

The second point—“regularly engaged away from the employer’s place or places of business”—is the key. An outside sales rep is often knocking on doors, attending luncheons, speaking at events and setting up booths at conferences while most inside salespeople very rarely meet clients in the flesh.

If we were to go back in time a decade or two, it would be close to impossible to find an inside sales professional. But now, the rise of technology has made the role much more viable—and often more effective—than the more traditional outside sales role.

As this new role has evolved, the job requirements and skills have become distinct from those of an outside salesperson. Here are a few of the main differences:

Different tools for closing sales

The most important tool in the arsenal of an inside sales professional is a quality inside sales CRM. The ideal CRM will offer email management and tracking, phone calling, and SMS functionality (all things that Close.io offers).

While the best outside sales professionals likely use a CRM, they don’t rely on it so exclusively. An outside sales professional also needs equipment to pitch their product or service on-site, conduct on-site training and set up a booth at a conference. A set of golf clubs helps too.

Different sales cycle

Thanks to a methodical, well-defined sales process, inside sales often has a significantly shorter sales cycle. The inside sales process prioritizes lead scoring and reporting, allowing salespeople to focus on nurturing relationships that matter.

Different costs

Outside sales may drain your budget more quickly than inside sales. Your inside sales team really only needs computers, a CRM system, WiFi access and a bit of hustle. An outside salesperson might need a company car, lunch and dinner budgets, golf memberships, flights and more.

Different Scaling Capabilities

An inside salesperson can establish and nurture relationships with people all over the world from their computer—and they can do it with hundreds of prospects at once through email automation and great technology like Close.io which lets you manage multiple relationships at once.

An outside sales professional pitching clients in person can only pitch one client at a time. While the outside salesperson is wining and dining their prospect or spending hours on a golf course to close one deal, an effective inside sales pro could be closing multiple deals.

Different Skills

The best inside sales professionals and the best outside sales professionals have a lot of skills in common: Both work great on their feet, love to communicate, focus on results and are driven to understand their prospects’ problems.

One key difference between the two is the necessity of virtual communication skills. For outside sales, these things can be helpful, but for inside sales, communicating over text message, Twitter, LinkedIn and email is a critical part of the job. Inside salespeople use these skills to communicate on a regular basis while many outside sales professionals rely solely on voice and face-to-face.

Wrapping things up

So what’s better: inside sales or outside sales?

The reality is—both have a role. Some organizations rely on nothing but an inside sales team and find success, while others adopt a more blended approach with great results. It all comes down to your how much your product or service costs, how much you’re willing to spend on sales, and how your clients like to buy.

Once you’ve taken the time to understand your buyer and determine which sales approach makes the most sense for you, be sure to set yourself up with the right tools and the right team to make that approach work. If you decide to embrace inside sales, one of the highest ROI activities you can engage in is to develop strong follow-up habits.

We found it to be so crucial to the success of any sales team that we've written an entire book about it—and you can get it free today!

Download The Follow-Up Formula