Inside Sales vs. Outside Sales: How Are They Different?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Discover the difference between inside sales and outside sales. Learn about the different responsibilities, skills, and qualities. Find out more about inside sales salaries, how to get a job in inside or outside sales.

[Featured image] An inside sales representative sits in front of a laptop and whiteboard, in a windowed office

The difference between inside and outside sales is that inside salespeople sell products or services to customers over the phone, internet, or via other remote channels–outside salespeople sell products or services face-to-face.

What exactly is an inside sales job?

The primary duty of a job in inside sales, also known as inside sales representative or inside sales rep, is to sell something from your office over the phone, email, or chat function. 

An inside sales job can be anything from telesales to a customer service-focused position or a business development role. In most cases, it involves handling incoming calls, making outbound calls, writing emails, and using live chats.

Read more: Inside Sales Representative: Career Outlook 

What are the responsibilities of an inside sales rep?

Inside sales teams are often responsible for generating leads and nurturing them until they can close the sales or are ready to be passed off to an outside sales representative or account manager. Some inside sales teams get passed lists of prospects to contact.  Some of the responsibilities of an inside sales rep may include:

  • Building relationships with potential or existing customers and informing them about a product or service, sometimes using sales scripts

  • Qualifying potential customers, identifying their needs, and matching them with the right products or services

  • Answering questions about the product or service

  • Asking questions to understand the customer's needs

  • Recording and refreshing customer information in sales software

  • Taking inbound calls from prospects or customers

  • Making outbound telephone calls and following up on new leads

  • Overcoming objections and closing sales

Tools used in inside sales jobs

As an inside salesperson, you may use technology to help you sell remotely, such as a customer relationship management (CRM) sales system. The CRM system helps you keep track of your customers and their contact information. This tool often drives inside sales activity, provide reminders, sales process flow, and even outbound dialing automation. Here is an overview of some other tools used for inside sales:

  • A laptop or desktop computer

  • A phone with a reliable internet connection

  • Productivity tools, (like CRM software) such as Salesforce

  • Sales automation and prospecting software

  • A headset for your phone

  • Video chat and screen sharing tools (Zoom, Teams, Skype)

  • LinkedIn, databases of contacts, and other research tools

The telephone is generally your primary means of communication with customers. You may also use email to follow up and send information about your products and services.

Goals and inside sales cycle

The main goal of an inside salesperson is to complete the sales cycle with as many high-value prospects as possible. The sales cycle includes:

  1. Finding potential customers

  2. Contacting them

  3. Building relationships with them and introducing your product

  4. Overcoming objections

  5. Closing the sale

  6. Asking for referrals  

Inside sales is a ‘high touch’ sales cycle. You speak, email, and connect with prospects. Some inside salespeople make upwards of 100 daily calls. One key advantage of the inside sales process is that you can engage with customers remotely and connect with many people.

What exactly is outside sales?

In outside sales, you might sell in a variety of ways. You need to be able to adapt your sales pitch to each situation since you might sell door to door, at trade shows or conventions, or at field sales meetings. You meet with your prospects in person, building lasting relationships, overcoming objections, and closing sales, rather than connecting with them remotely from a traditional office environment. 

What are the responsibilities of an outside sales rep?

As an outside salesperson, you’re responsible for generating new leads and business opportunities through face-to-face interactions and presentations while maintaining relationships with existing clients.  This involves providing them with account updates, product information, and other support they may need.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the duties in outside sales.

  • Developing and maintaining relationships with customers

  • Understanding customer needs and providing solutions

  • Generating new sales through prospecting and lead follow-up

  • Managing a sales territory, assigned account base, or event-based sales pipeline

  • Achieving monthly, quarterly, and annual sales targets

  • Conversing with potential clients at conventions and events to close deals

  • Demonstrating a strong understanding of your product or service, matching them to client needs

  • In-person presentations and demonstrations for potential clients

Read more: What Is Relationship Management? And Why Do Businesses Use It?

Tools used in outside sales

As an outside salesperson, you will communicate and present to potential customers, keep track of your appointments and build the sales pipeline. You’ll use many tools similar to those used in an inside sales role. Some of the tools include:

  • A mobile internet connection

  • A laptop or tablet computer to keep track of your customer contacts and sales appointments over the internet

  • A smartphone to stay connected with your customers and colleagues

  • Smartphone productivity and scheduling apps

  • A tablet for presentations and filling sales forms with customers

  • A reliable car or good walking shoes for your sales appointments and meetings

  • Printed sales presentation materials, such as product brochures and price-lists

  • Samples of your products (if applicable)

  • Convention stands, banners, and branded goods

  • Business cards to exchange with potential customers

Goals and outside sales cycle

As an outside salesperson, your goal is to meet potential customers, build relationships with them, and ultimately close deals to gain revenue for your company. Sometimes you have to sell to multiple decision makers or when you’re looking to become an ongoing supplier. In this case, the sales cycle can be long and complex. Alternatively, your role might be to close a deal on a field sales visit, with the sale already set up and qualified by inside salespeople.

The sales process will depend on the products you sell and to whom you sell to. As an outside salesperson, your sales cycle will tend to look like this:

  1. Prospecting: Finding and qualifying potential customers 

  2. Preparing: Getting yourself and your materials ready for the meeting or event 

  3. Presenting: When you meet with the customer, give your pitch, and sell 

  4. Following up: Continuing the relationship, selling, and upselling

Differences in skill set between inside vs. outside sales

If you choose to work in inside sales, you’ll need to be very good at building relationships over the phone or via email, as you’ll normally be dealing with customers remotely. In inside sales, you’ll need to: 

  • Understand customer needs and pain points

  • Match customer needs with what your company offers

  • Be resilient

  • Have active listening and information-gathering skills 

Outside salespeople often work on high-value deals, where building relationships and establishing trust are important. In outside sales, you’ll need to: 

  • Establish the product credibility 

  • Have excellent interpersonal skills

  • Be willing and able to travel

  • Be organized, with good time management skills 

  • Require technology skills to manage your sales pipeline or territory, set up presentations, and complete product demonstrations

The skills required for inside and outside sales positions are different, but a lot of overlap exists. Here are some of the general competencies salespeople typically require: 

  • Establish and maintain relationships with customers

  • Understand customer needs and offer solutions

  • Negotiate and close deals

  • Work under pressure and meet deadlines

  • Self-motivate and stay positive

  • Continuously learn about new products and services

  • Use sales CRM software

  • Give presentations in person or remotely

  • The ability to upsell and cross-sell

  • Overcome objections

  • Create a sense of urgency

  • Handle rejection

  • Keep going even when it’s tough

Read more: What Is Sales Enablement? Definition, Jobs, and Strategy

Differences in work environments 

The most apparent difference in the work environment is that inside sales representatives typically work in an office or remotely, while outside sales representatives usually travel to meet with clients or customers. 

Outside sales representatives typically must be more flexible with their schedules to accommodate customer availability and travel to events. You may travel within the US or internationally to client sites, conferences, and conventions. As an inside sales representative, you typically have more control over your daily schedule. 

Salaries of inside and outside sales professionals

The average annual salary for an inside salesperson in the US is $49,094, while the average salary for an outside salesperson is$84,122 [1, 2]. Outside salespeople typically work on higher-value deals, which may result in a higher salary. Some inside sales jobs have salaries equivalent to outside sales because of commission, such as IT software sales..

Inside sales jobs with average annual salaries (US):

  • Sales associate: $54,548 [3]

  • Inside sales representative: $57,761 [4]

  • Account manager: $54,953 [5]

  • Business development representative: $58,798 [6]

  • IT software sales: $85,773 [7]

Outside sales jobs with average annual salaries (US):

  • Field sales representative: $65,743 [8]

  • Territory sales representative: $73,097 [9]

  • Key account sales manager: $70,154 [10]

  • National sales representative: $76,489 [11]

  • Outside sales representative: $80,961 [12]

How to get work in inside or outside sales

Sales jobs don’t have a specific path to take. Some key skills and experiences will help you get interviews for sales jobs. Your education can also make you more competitive for roles and help you have credibility when selling complex products and services.

Education

The required educational level for sales jobs varies based on the sector and type of sales position. Some employers select candidates with a college degree, and some prefer a particular major. For example, IT sales employers may expect you to have an IT or technology-related degree. Similarly, pharmaceutical companies prefer you to have studied biochemistry, pharmacy, or another related major. 

Training

To succeed in a sales job, you must have a strong understanding of the product you’re selling, excellent communication skills, and the ability to close a deal. You can learn skills through:

  • Online courses, conferences, and workshops

  • Community college, or a college degree

  • Learning through practice in sales roles

In addition, many employers offer comprehensive in-house staff training programs where you can build competencies for your job. 

Certifications

Certification can also demonstrate to potential employers that you have sales skills and knowledge. In some cases, you’ll need certifications to qualify for a job. Even when certifications are not required, they can give you a competitive edge over other job candidates. Here are some sales certifications to consider:

  • Certified Professional Sales Person (CPSP)

  • Certified Inside Sales Professional (CISP)

  • Certified Sales Executive (CSE)

  • Certified Master Sales Professional (CMSP)

  • Certified Professional Sales Leader (CPSL)

  • Inbound Sales Certification

  • Salesforce Certified Administrator

Experience and the career path

Companies looking for sales employees tend to look for people that have demonstrated positive sales results. They want a history of success in a sales environment, ideally in a sector or selling situation similar to what they’re recruiting for. Most employers want at least some experience in customer service or sales. 

Unlike many careers, salespeople don’t all take the same career path. Domain-specific knowledge can make you appealing for certain sales jobs. For example, if you have transferable skills and a background in software development, an employer looking for a software sales consultant might be interested in you. When looking to enter sales for the first time, working in a sector you have experience in may be the path of least resistance.

Next steps

Build your resume and enhance your chances of getting your first job in your sales career by earning a Professional Certificate. A Professional Certificate from Coursera can help you learn new skills and knowledge that can be applied to your new position, helping you achieve better sales figures from the start. You might like to consider the Introduction to Negotiation: A Strategic Playbook for Becoming a Principled and Persuasive Negotiator offered by Yale or HubSpot Sales Representative Professional Certificate. This course has been completed by over 400,000 learners, with an overall rating of 4.9-star-rating.

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Article sources

1. Glassdoor, “How much does an inside salesperson make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-inside-salesperson-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,21.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

2. Glassdoor, “How much does an outside salesperson make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-outside-salesperson-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,22.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

3. Glassdoor, “How much does a sales associate make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-sales-associate-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,18.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

4. Glassdoor, “How much does an inside sales representative make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-inside-sales-representative-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,30.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

5. Glassdoor, “How much does an account manager make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-account-manager-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,18.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

6. Glassdoor, “How much does a development representative make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-business-development-representative-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,38.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

7. Glassdoor, “How much does a software sales representative make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/software-sales-representative-salary-SRCH_KO0,29.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

8. Glassdoor, “How much does a field sales representative make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-field-sales-representative-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,29.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

9. Glassdoor, “How much does a territory sales representative make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-territory-sales-representative-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,33.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

10. Glassdoor, “How much does a key account sales manager make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-key-account-sales-manager-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,28.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

11. Glassdoor, “How much does a national sales representative make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-national-sales-representative-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,32.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

12. Glassdoor, “How much does an outside sales representative make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/us-outside-sales-representative-salary-SRCH_IL.0,2_IN1_KO3,31.htm.” Accessed July 27, 2022.

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