The Truth About Inside Sales

By: Marissa Lowman
There’s a myth that inside salespeople aren’t as talented as field reps. However, the reality is that inside salespeople are integral to the growth of most edtech startups, especially those focused on K-12.
According to Phil Charland, VP of Sales at Ellevation, inside sales is cost effective, allows for more agile market coverage, and better consistency in terms of the sales process. This week, Phil taught the third class in a four-class series LearnLaunch created on Sales for Edtech Startups.
Highlights from the class are below:
1. The internet has changed the way sales are done. Generally prospects are 60% into the buying process before they even engage with a salesperson, says Phil, because they have the ability to do a lot of research about your product or service prior to a call or meeting. Therefore, you need to deeply understand the buying process for your product or service and align your sales process to it. Phil said that you don’t really sell to people – you help them buy.
Technology has enabled immediacy in the sales process: a salesperson can now demo their product or service live, ask the right questions, and then tailor what is shown to a prospect based on his or her answers.
Follow-up has also never been faster. There is no longer the need for your prospect to wait to receive your materials in the mail. Salespeople can often simply attach a file or immediately send over a trial code.
2. The most effective inside sales teams specialize. It may be tempting to hire salespeople who can do it all. However, it’s important for startups to specialize or hire different people to manage each part of the sales cycle. This gives you more control and allows you to expand your business more rapidly because you can perfect your sales model on a smaller scale first.
Phil’s team includes partner development associates that focus on lead generation and setting up product demos. Their sales strategy involves a combination of emails and phone calls which, on average, requires at least six touches per prospect. Once a meeting has been set up, the prospect is handed off to a partner development manager, whose sole focus is on closing the deal.
After the deal has been signed, the customer is handed off to the partner support team, which creates happiness by making sure the customer is using the product and satisfied with the results. Recently, Ellevation hired an account manager to focus on the renewal and expansion of current customers, a position Phil wished they had added sooner. The account manager monetizes a customer’s happiness by renewing their contract and trying to upsell them additional products or services.
The challenge of a team-based sales approach is that it requires careful coordination between the different members of the sales team to ensure a smooth handoff at each stage, as well as clear communication with the customer to make sure he or she knows who to call if a problem arises.
3. Prioritize lead generation. According to Phil, lead generation is the first and most important step of the sales process. It will either accelerate or stall your startup’s growth. Figure out how will you get enough qualified leads to reach your objective. Although it’s tempting to focus on perfecting your investor pitch deck, lead generation is more important to your business when you’re first starting out.
In order to identify qualified leads, you need to have a segmentation strategy based on your sales goals. For example, you might want to focus on a handful of key states, schools with the highest amount of enrollment funding, or the largest school districts. Ellevation initially targets ELL district coordinators.
4. A combination approach to sales is best. Phil is a firm believer in an inbound or content-driven approach to marketing, driving leads, and building thought leadership. However, he doesn’t think that outbound sales engagement is dead since phone and email outreach are still the key drivers of sales activity. He recommends a combination of producing great content and a strong outbound sales model, which can be a battle of resources for a lean startup.
5. The length of the sales cycle matters. According to Phil, the length of the sales cycle is the most impactful metric for your bottom line. Ellevation is always looking for ways to shorten the buying process. Phil said they used to get a verbal agreement with a school district and then sit back and wait for a purchase order to come in. They have learned to be much more proactive in terms of moving along the process so that deals get signed faster.
Next week’s blog post will cover the last class in the series, which is on partnership development.
LearnLaunch, Boston’s edtech community, campus, and accelerator, brings together over 240 edtech startups to partcipate in events, peer learning groups, and conferences. Eileen Rudden and Marissa Lowman are co-founders.

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1 Comment

Kent Hemingway

Good to see Phil is doing well, if this finds his eseys, give me a call Phil!

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