Inside vs. Outside Sales: Did COVID kill the distinction?

The Dock Team
September 11, 2023
November 2, 2023

COVID-19 killed outside sales. Can it make a comeback?

In 2020, the pandemic threw field sales reps a massive curveball. Conferences and trade shows were cancelled. In-person meetings shifted to Zoom. Suits were traded for sweats.

Fast forward to today, where we’re living in an in-between world of hybrid conferences and meetings, and splitting time between working at home and in the office.

That said, the toothpaste isn’t going back in the tube. Gartner predicts a "digital-first buying posture will become the norm going forward." 

This trend begs the question: is outside sales now a thing of the past?

Our prediction: outside sales will become a complementary strategy for businesses with an already established product-market fit. 

But what types of organizations should prioritize inside vs. outside sales? What are the pros and cons to each approach? 

In this guide, we’ll explore the inside vs. outside sales balance in detail to help you find the right approach for your sales organization.

What’s the difference between inside and outside sales?

The main difference between inside sales and outside sales is how and where sales reps interact with customers. 

Inside sales uses digital channels to reach leads—giving reps the flexibility to engage with customers remotely and asynchronously. 

In contrast, outside sales involves meeting prospects in-person at offices, conferences, and networking events. Although it has higher upfront costs, this type of engagement makes it easier to build trust with buyers.

"Inside reps can reach potential customers through cost-effective mediums like email and social media," explains Will Yang, the Head of Growth and Customer Success at Instrumentl

"However, outside sales teams excel in relationship-building, which makes them more likely to close a higher percentage of deals in their pipeline, especially when selling complex products.”

What is inside sales?

Inside sales or virtual sales involves selling remotely. Instead of meeting prospects in person, reps use some form of technology—phone calls, email, video calls, CRM tools, and social media—to engage in sales conversations with potential customers.

This form of selling is most popular among B2B salespeople, especially in the SaaS and tech industries.

Inside sales departments are typically divided into two distinct roles: Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) and Business Development Representatives (BDRs). 

  • SDRs concentrate on inbound sales, specifically warm leads generated by potential clients who have taken action on your website (e.g., downloading content, requesting demos, or attending webinars). SDRs reach out to these leads and subsequently pass on these opportunities to an Account Executive (AE), who then moves the lead down the sales pipeline.
  • BDRs are the cold callers and emailers. They focus on targeting higher-end commercial and enterprise prospects. Once a lead is deemed qualified, it's then forwarded to an AE for further engagement.

This structured sales process enables both SDRs and BDRs to consistently generate leads. AEs then diligently follow these opportunities through the various stages of the sales pipeline.

What is outside sales?

Outside sales or field sales is selling through face-to-face meetings. These sales meetings happen outside of the salesperson’s office, at a location that’s generally convenient for the prospect, ranging from their office to industry events like conferences and trade shows.

Unlike inside salespeople that can close sales without ever seeing the prospect’s face, outside sales professionals give customers detailed product demos in person. This helps them identify objections in real-time and create personalized sales experiences that close deals.

Sure, the sales cycle may be a bit longer with outside sales. But when it comes to selling big-ticket items like enterprise-level software, that personal touch can make all the difference. 

Reps should also have the right skills for the job. Think: emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, and the ability to manage time and work under pressure. After all, there are a lot of appointments to juggle, routes to plan, and sales targets to meet.

Should your company prioritize inside or outside sales?

The most effective sales approach is to match your selling strategy to how your buyer wants to buy.

Different industries have varying preferences when it comes to sales approaches. 

Industries like manufacturing, farming, and other more traditional or mature sectors often rely on in-person sales and conferences. These industries value face-to-face interactions, as it fosters a stronger sense of trust and allows for a deeper understanding of their products or services. 

In these cases, outside sales can be a crucial component of the overall sales strategy.

On the other hand, in industries like B2B SaaS, the remote nature of inside sales is more aligned with buyer preferences. These industries thrive on digital channels and virtual engagements, where buyers often prefer the convenience and efficiency of remote interactions. 

So, it's better to prioritize the approach that aligns with your buyers' preferences and their purchasing journey. You can also use a hybrid approach, using a combination of both inside and outside sales to close deals.

But the most typical motion will be that once a company has gained traction and established a strong customer base through inside sales, it can task its outside reps to further nurture relationships, reinforce trust, and expand the business in new markets. 

Inside sales: Pros & cons

Consider the following pros and cons to determine whether inside sales is the right fit for your company:

Pros of inside sales

✓ Greater market coverage area and higher efficiency: Inside sales expands your reach beyond geographical limitations, enabling reps to connect with more prospects and set up more meetings. This scalable sales model is perfect for high-volume selling businesses.

✓ Accelerated customer understanding: Inside sales reps have more opportunities to talk to prospects and customers, allowing them to gather valuable insights and customer feedback faster than field reps. This rapid learning helps you stay ahead of your competition and boost sales.

✓ Cost-effective: Inside sales is a cost-effective option for companies seeking to reduce overhead expenses. You can cut down on incidental costs, such as lodging and traveling, as most sales conversations take place virtually. PointClear found out that an inside sales call typically amounts to just $50, which is substantially cheaper compared to the average cost of an outside sales call at $308. The primary investment lies in digital tools, which are one-time expenses that provide ongoing returns.

✓ Scalability and customization: Inside sales is ideal for businesses experiencing high growth or looking to enter new markets. You can easily add or reassign reps as needed, without incurring additional costs. Further, you can target specific segments within larger markets for more customized reach, resulting in higher sales volumes.

Cons of inside sales

✗ More competitive: Inside sales reps face a highly competitive landscape, where numerous competitors vie for the prospects' attention. They need to develop targeted messaging and marketing strategies (e.g: sending follow-ups, sharing useful resources) to break through the noise and capture (and hold!) prospects' interest.

✗ More asynchronous: It's recommended that inside sales reps curate and personalize information for each buyer, allowing them to make purchasing decisions privately. However, mastering this asynchronous selling approach to build trust requires skill and practice and often slows down deals. 

✗ Requires a stronger qualification framework:  Inside sales reps often have lower close rates compared to their outside sales counterparts. This is because without the advantage of face-to-face meetings, identifying the best leads becomes more challenging. Reps have to implement a robust qualification framework to ensure they're focusing on the most promising leads and maximizing the chances of success.

✗ Harder to penetrate an organization: Virtual communication methods such as cold calling and emailing lack the personal touch of in-person meetings, which makes developing meaningful customer relationships harder. Penetrating an organization also becomes more challenging as it's difficult to identify influential champions and connect with key stakeholders.

4 proven inside sales tips 

Based on our chat with experienced reps, here are the four most effective inside sales techniques:

1. Build better remote relationships through multithreading

Overcoming the lack of in-person interaction in inside sales is crucial for building valuable relationships. A highly effective strategy to tackle this challenge is multithreading sales.

To make the most of multithreading, encourage your inside reps to adopt a multi-channel approach. By leveraging various channels and engaging with different departments, they can significantly improve their chances of capturing attention and initiating meaningful discussions with prospects.

When it comes to connecting with key stakeholders beyond the primary point of contact, your representatives have two viable options:

  1. They can request their primary contact to introduce them to other stakeholders within the organization; or
  2. They can proactively reach out to these stakeholders themselves.

Regardless of the chosen approach, your reps should focus on building rapport before diving into the details of the deal. This approach fosters long-term relationships with prospects, positioning your sales team as trusted partners rather than mere transactional salespeople.

2. Over-invest in qualification and discovery

Because inside sales is a higher-volume approach, adopting a sales methodology that values qualification and discovery will help reps focus on the right leads.

By adopting a qualification-forward approach like the Sandler Selling System or MEDDIC Sales, your inside reps can optimize their qualification process, enhance forecasting accuracy, and ultimately boost their success rates.

The Sandler Selling System, for example, places great emphasis on early qualification. This empowers reps to identify prospects who genuinely comprehend and value the unique benefits their product or service brings. 

By engaging with these discerning buyers, reps increase their likelihood of closing substantial and profitable sales, as these prospects recognize the advantages offered and are willing to make significant investments.

This approach allows reps to concentrate their efforts on qualified leads, effectively saving time and resources that would have otherwise been wasted on unproductive pursuits.

MEDDIC Sales centers on qualifying prospects through the use of intelligent and targeted questioning techniques. 

By deeply understanding the customer's needs, pain points, and decision-making process, reps can prioritize their efforts and focus on deals with high potential. This valuable approach helps them avoid pursuing deals with limited chances of success, thus saving precious time and resources.

Another MEDDIC advantage is it also simplifies the sales process by shifting the focus from outdated sales tactics to gathering pertinent customer information. This helps reps differentiate your product from the competitors and engage in strong sales conversations that directly address the prospects' specific needs and challenges. 

Based on the conversation, they can then customize their value proposition to align with the buyer's unique circumstances.

💡 Sales tip: Sales methodologies are wonderful in theory, but challenging to implement in practice. Try Dock's Sandler Sales Template or MEDDIC sales template to support your team's sales efforts.

3. Follow the ask, define, and explore method

If you’re wondering how to know what your buyers truly want, the answer is simple: ask, define, and explore. 

By implementing this powerful sales strategy, you'll be able to strike up interesting two-way conversations, define prospect requirements, and work with them to create a winning solution.

Here’s how this works:


Encourage your inside sales reps to ask the right questions from the moment they send a cold email or make a sales call. This will help them qualify whether their business is the right match for your product. These questions include:

  • Can we consider them the right fit for our product/service?
  • How can we identify and address their unique requirements?
  • Who are the key decision-makers in their organization, and what does their decision-making process look like?
  • To what extent are they familiar with solutions similar to ours, and how can we leverage their experience to provide more value?


Don’t assume your prospects understand how your solution can meet their challenges. Instead, work with them early on to identify their pain points and explain how your solution can solve them.

Reps should act as information curators, helping prospects do their own research. This will not only build trust and credibility but also demonstrate your product’s value.


Even with all the information they have, even the most experienced sales professionals are unlikely to come up with a game plan immediately after talking to an interested prospect.

Instead of solo strategizing behind desks, have your reps collaborate with the prospect. This will enable them to identify their unique challenges and offer customized solutions addressing them (while gently guiding the prospect toward your product).

4. Consolidate sales follow up in one place

In the era of buyer enablement, it's essential to equip prospects with the necessary content, processes, and tools to help them make well-informed purchases. 

However, this can sometimes result in a cluttered and overwhelming experience, with long email threads of links, attachments, and tons of stakeholders CC’d.

To simplify and optimize this process, consolidate all your sales collateral and follow-up into a single Dock customer workspace

Dock gives your prospect and their internal buying team one single source of truth throughout the deal. As the deal progresses, sales reps can add pricing quotes, security documentation, and anything else needed to move the deal forward.

Nectar’s sales team, for example, has a templated demo follow-up workspace that includes demo videos, slides, testimonials, pricing information, proof of ROI, product screenshots, and other supporting sales collateral.

Andrew Harris, Director of Sales at Nectar, swears by Dock. “The biggest thing I love about Dock is that it has just elevated the quality of follow-up," he says. “The first follow-up that a new rep gives is of the same tier as someone that's been here for two years using Dock every single day because they're copying that template.”

Read more: How Nectar’s Director of Sales Increased Win Rates by 31% with Dock

Dock has tools to help structure your sales follow up.

Outside sales: Pros & cons

Below are the pros and cons of outside sales.

Pros of outside sales

✓ Effective relationship-building: Outside sales reps have the unique advantage of meeting with prospects face-to-face, enabling them to read and adjust to body language and personality cues. Also, while inside sales accelerates customer understanding, using outside selling tactics can help your salesforce uncover valuable insights that reveal their lead's demands and pain points.

✓ Higher motivation to spend: In-person meetings typically last longer than a phone call or email, giving outside sales representatives more time to engage leads and motivate them to spend more money. With higher levels of trust and deeper connections, reps can more effectively sell high-ticket items and increase sales profitability.

✓ Bigger-ticket deals: Outside sales is especially effective for closing high-ticket enterprise deals. Moreover, bigger deals also mean higher compensation, which motivates sellers to give their best to bring in new business.

✓ More rep engagement: Outside sales provides sales reps greater flexibility and autonomy, allowing them to plan their own schedules, routes, and leads as they see fit. This increased independence lowers the monotony of daily selling, leading to higher engagement levels.

Cons of outside sales

✗ Time-consuming and costly: If you decide to hire outside sales reps, be prepared to pay money for traveling, lodging, and restaurant meetings. Also, as these in-person interactions involve aligning meeting schedules and travel time, deals take longer to close, so you might be paying these expenses for a while before seeing a reward.

✗ Prospecting burnout: Outside sales is a tough grind. Reps have to focus on staying motivated despite the blatant rejections (and possible rude behavior), and it takes a lot of resilience to stay motivated. Not for the thin-skinned, this job can have a high turnover rate until you find the right outside sales team.

✗ Difficult to measure success and scale: B2B outside sales require face-to-face interactions with customers, which makes it hard to track metrics like customer satisfaction and conversion rates. Also, reps can only target prospects they can physically reach, which makes scaling operations difficult. With an unpredictable landscape, lead reactions and decisions may vary from one interaction to the next.

3 proven outside sales tips

The fundamentals of outside sales remain the same, but your reps can use a few unique tips to sell more effectively.

1. Leverage territory and customer mapping

Strategically mapping your sales territories and customers can be a game-changer for your sales team. Rather than blindly sending reps on wild goose chases, these techniques can help them navigate their way to success.

Sales territory mapping allows you to pinpoint where potential prospects are located and how they operate in a given area. With this knowledge, you can optimize your reps' time and effort, avoiding long and inefficient travel times. 

Customer mapping, on the other hand, gives you valuable insight into the location of potential customers in relation to your reps' scheduled meetings. By understanding whether they are spread out or concentrated in a particular area, you can evaluate how well you have penetrated a desired market. You can also direct your reps to more profitable markets if necessary.

Plus, by leveraging the data gathered from these mapping techniques, you'll have the power to design better sales strategies. You'll be able to identify which territories perform the best, which reps are excelling, and which areas need improvement.

2. Stay on top of prospects and customers using technology 

Outside sales reps must establish an effective sales cadence and schedule regular follow-ups and post-sales check-ins. This ensures they don't miss out on any potential sales or upselling and cross-selling opportunities.

To help your reps organize and optimize their time, we highly recommend equipping them with sales tools:

  • A CRM like HubSpot and Salesforce allows reps to maintain customer data related to deals, leads, and account history for effective communication during sales meetings.
  • Dock lets you create personalized customer workspaces. After meeting a prospect in person, you can follow up with a single Dock workspace instead of a messy thread of emails and attachments.
  • Badger Maps is a sales routing tool that helps reps optimize their routes and virtually organize customers. With its management tools, you can easily track how reps are faring with clients and where they are in the sales process.
  • Even basics like quality business phone systems can help scale up outside sales in a big way by making dialing way more efficient.
Create a Digital Sales Room to help create a personalized experience for each client.

3. Establish sales goals that push reps past their comfort zone

It's crucial to have a clear understanding of your team's performance. Are they underperforming or overperforming? 

By setting specific goals and tracking progress, you can identify areas for improvement and help your reps achieve greater success. 

There are two types of sales goals to consider: activity goals and performance goals.

  • Activity goals focus on improving sales rep effort. An example would be sending at least 60 prospecting emails in a week. Choose sales activities you want reps to prioritize and do within a set timeframe.
  • Performance goals focus on improving driving results. An example would be maintaining a 50% close rate. Decide which performance metrics are most relevant to your organization’s big-picture goals and accordingly set targets for your field sales reps to aim for. 

To truly drive your sales team to the next level, your goals should be challenging but attainable. Don't be afraid to set the bar high and push your reps outside their comfort zones. By doing so, you'll encourage your team to continually improve and exceed their sales targets.

Streamline your B2B sales process with Dock

Dock’s revenue enablement platform caters to both internal and external sales teams. 

Gone are the days of clunky sales processes and frustrating collaboration efforts. With Dock, your reps can educate buyers and showcase the real worth of your product, helping the latter make informed decisions. They can also collaborate internally with marketing and customer experience to enhance efforts.

Try Dock for yourself and see the difference it can make. Sign up for a free trial today.

The Dock Team