The Resurgence of Inside Sales
Equipment Finance Industry News, Articles, Blogs for Leasing and Equipment Finance Professionals 2/22/17, 9(07 AM
The Resurgence of Inside Sales
By: Larry Hartmann
Date: Feb 22, 2017 @ 07:00 AM
The aging and greying of the equipment finance and lending industry has been a systemic concern to industry CEOs charged with growth for many years now. The solution to the greying problem has been rediscovered. This solution can also miraculously solve revenue and volume shortfalls and drive down SG&A costs. Ironically, this miracle solution was right in front of our eyes. It existed 20 years ago, but somewhere along the way, through multiple mergers and acquisitions and through short-term pressure to deliver immediate results, the formula was lost and forgotten. The solution to the sales volume and greying problem is called “Inside Sales.”
Ironically, inside sales was once a key driver of talent that fueled growth in the equipment finance and leasing market. In the 1980s and 1990s, firms like Master Lease, Copelco, Lease America, and TransLease mastered the skill of hiring young, inexperienced sales talent, then training and developing them into stars through inside sales efforts. These firms brought in scores of green talent who arrived and turned the survivors into industry professionals. Today these professionals are running leading companies and managing large sales forces. Even more interesting is the number of industry professionals who started in a call center and have become some of the markets’ most successful and interesting entrepreneurs. In Southern California alone, talent spinoffs from two firms, Balboa Capital and Amplicon/Cal First represent now dozens of successful lending businesses that employ thousands locally.
What happened then? Somewhere along the way trends shifted and the Inside sales talent pool was promoted to conventional field sales, program management and national account sales roles. The sales talent pool in the industry dwindled, and since companies in need of growth did not have the time to invest in young talent, the industry aged. Acquisitions turned many successful inside sales teams into cost savings synergies as they slowly closed many of the centers. The incubator of future talent was unplugged.
On top of this, the way people buy products and services is changing right in front of our eyes. Inside sales is on the rise in virtually every product and service sales strategy we see. Giants like Microsoft, Amazon, Medtronic and ADP are all effectively utilizing inside sales.
Like a case of Déjà vu, the lending markets have also been quietly embracing this shift and returning to what worked years ago. New school is really old school when it comes to call centers. In equipment finance and in the emerging Fintech/Business Lender category, billions of dollars of new volume are now being generated every year and serviced through successful inside sales models. This is coming from both the established well-known names in equipment lending as well as the new crop of Fintech Business Lenders like OnDeck Capital, Swift Capital and National Funding. These new lenders have arrived on the scene, taking market share from traditional equipment finance players partly through their ability to raise a sales army virtually overnight, and without the hiring constraints of requiring lending industry experience and a client book of business.
What does this resurgence in inside sales mean to today’s bank and independent lenders? What should companies be doing to stay competitive in the race for cost-effective sales originations and growth? We will examine these questions in more detail and discuss some practical steps to consider.
Why the Surge?
According to experts, inside sales as a category is surging across all products and services as the preferred sales channel, outpacing hiring of field sales by over 300 percent. Face-to-face selling is on the decline and inside sales is booming. The convergence of outside sales and inside sales is further blurring the lines as a majority of a sales person’s time is spent in an office near a computer and phone and not in face-to-face selling situations. Are field sales people really “in the field” or truly doing inside sales work remotely?
From a lending industry standpoint, inside sales is growing for several reasons including supply and demand. The availability of experienced lending and commercial finance sales talent has been strained over the past few years. Lenders seeking to grow through hiring the conventional sales person with a “book of business” has never been more difficult. Recruiters now consider this type of mandate a “unicorn” search as the ability to find a quick and easy hire that brings immediate volume is more akin to searching for Big Foot or the Loch Ness Monster. Growing new originations through an inside sales model is providing a cost-effective and available alternative that is working —and as we will see—working better than most people even realize.
Another key reason for the surge is cost and efficiency. From a pure cost standpoint and on a productivity basis, a well-run inside sales effort is an extremely cost-effective way to scale a sales force. The cost of talent and the cost of a customer sale can be a fraction of the cost of other methods when inside sales is working.
Management of the sales team is also easier and more measurable in an inside sales paradigm. Managing a remote sales team has clear logistical challenges and running an inside sales team involves a much more efficient management platform and better training environment. Run right, inside sales as a strategy can be truly transformational. A manager’s ability to track critical sales activity metrics¬— including calls made, connects and talk-time—is powerful. The environment of a scaled inside sales floor provides real-time training and creates a dynamic work environment more suited to the development and retention of talent than a single remote sales person working out of a lonely home office.
Matches Buyer Preferences
Another macro factor is the ongoing shift in how buyers prefer to purchase. Data is showing that more and more decision-makers prefer engaging virtually when making purchasing decisions. Whether this is product research on the web or a demonstration through screen sharing, busy buyers want information delivered differently, quickly and easily in the comfort of their offices and mobile devices. The buyers of today and tomorrow are different than those that existed ten years ago. Tactics and approaches are evolving to address these shifts.
One of the other key drivers is technology and the plethora of rapidly advancing data concerning buyers that is now available. The advancement of data-driven tools that enhance customer experience is staggering. The knowledge available about a prospect on one screen for a first call has never been more telling. Additionally, new bolt on products that support a typical CRM can help a manager determine which calling regions to target on a daily basis based on the mood of an area. For example, after the New England Patriots’ stunning super bowl win, an efficient calling system would direct inside sales callers to focus on the New England territory where the odds of a “yes” are higher. At the same time, directing campaigns to avoid regions with weather challenges or political unrest would drive down productivity. Technology and data are making inside sales better than ever.
Compensation and Benchmark Highlights
ZRG Partners recently completed a comprehensive compensation and benchmark study in the area of inside sales in the lending markets. This breakthrough piece of research provided some interesting results and insights from a group of eleven participating companies that are generating over $5 billion annually in the equipment finance sector. The study also included data from the new group of Fintech Business Lenders.
So what is going on with compensation? The average all-in compensation for a productive inside sales person is $97,376 per year in base and bonus with 42 percent of this amount as base salary and 58% being commission driven. For comparison, our most recent vendor compensation study found that a field sales equipment finance
professional in the vendor area is averaging $148,527 all-in compensation. While volume targets are typically lower for inside sales, the gross margins tend to be higher.
In our study the average volume for each inside sales person was $4.9 million from the Fintech Business Lending sector and $3.7 million from the Equipment Finance sector. While the margins on the business for equipment finance participants are at value added levels, the Fintech Business Lending players are driving more productivity from their inside sales groups. What is allowing this? Part of this is more progressive lead generation sourcing. The Fintech Business Lending sector has over 78 percent of customer sales initiating from lead generation through advertising, Search Engine Optimization and marketing campaigns, compared to only 33 percent from the equipment finance sector. Thinking differently about customer acquisition and bolting marketing into the sales process is working. Marketing in the equipment finance sector is behind in this race.
What are the Downsides?
With any inside sales effort, managing turnover is part of the challenge. In our study we looked at turnover after 12 months for inside sales and the number came in at 30 percent, which is better than the reported turnover in other sectors for inside sales. In looking at the winners in the turnover game we identified several factors that drove higher success. First, having the right processes and tools for recruiting, vetting and selecting is critical. Those who had a wide recruiting funnel and then a thoughtful interviewing and vetting process did much better than the averages. Developing highly engineered hiring processes that include customized assessments, scenario based interviewing, and deeper reference checking is driving better hiring decisions.
We found some secret sauce did exist with the top performers in the turnover area. There were two other important factors that had a direct relationship to success and were measurable in our study. The quantity of time spent in sales training was predictive of lower turnover and higher productivity. Top players were spending in excess of 200 hours per year in actual training. The last factor was the strength of the sales leadership running the call center, which could make or break success.
Another downside that can actually become a competitive advantage is scale. Simply put, you need scale to make this model work. Those winning the game are doing it right. Scale enables success and having the right systems and environment matter. Top call centers look like trading floors on Wall Street with flashing monitors and real- time performance metrics. We have visited lending clients with successful call centers who have driven increased call volume and success by literally cranking up the volume of the music they are playing on the calling floor and watching the dials move upwards. Creating a culture of energy and enthusiasm coupled with strong CRM, call management and predictive systems makes a difference. Direct Capital was an example of a market leader in running an innovative and technology driven call center that was leading edge in all respects. Ultimately, it led to a very lucrative purchase by CIT at a valuation that was well above market norms. In summary, having just a handful of inside sales people does not provide the leverage of leadership and systems. In some ways you need to go “all in” to experience the success.
How do I Start? How do I Grow?
What can you do if you are late to the game and you want to start? The best way we have seen clients successfully start is through recruiting and hiring an experienced call center/head of inside sales as the anchor. This person is someone who can bring the institutional knowledge to the table around scripting, call campaigns, training and day- to-day management. The industry nuances can be taught, but the unique aspects of successful inside sales leadership should be recruited to start. ZRG Partners has helped several clients in the past year start brand new call centers on the wings of recruiting a single leader who brought positional expertise to a new sales team effort. The results have been encouraging. Companies have seen net profit and cash flow contributions by the end of the first year with scale and further success following in year two. With a bit of investment dollars, the returns can be worthwhile.
There are five billion reasons, as we found in our study, to closely consider your strategy with inside sales. Volume is being generated today in bigger numbers than most people realize. While most equipment finance and lending business plans today will include multiple sales approaches including major account sales, field sales and program
management, the commitment to inside sales is an important strategy to further consider and refine.
Whether to simply drive sales, realize cost savings or experience better efficiency, accelerating inside sales should be a major conversation point for your firm. This successful resurgence or renaissance has reminded many that talented, ambitious, recent college graduates with the right training and the right daily work environment can succeed to be the future stars of an organization.
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