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Building a High-Performing Inside Sales Team

Building a High-Performing Inside Sales Team
Lauren Wright
March 13, 2020

It is a great feeling when your company grows and you reach a point where you need to add more salespeople to your team. More sales mean more revenue, which is what you have been working so hard to achieve.

So, who do you hire first? What’s the difference between an AE and an SDR? Are you building an inside or an outside sales team?

These critical questions may cause a lot of confusion as you navigate the process of building a sales team that fits your company’s specific needs. This article is meant to help you get started with an overview of the various sales positions, structures, and programs you can implement to develop and retain a high-performing team.

Why start building your team with inside sales?

Outside sales refers to a sales team that typically goes out on sales calls, selling regionally and/or at events, conferences, etc. Inside sales, on the other hand, is handled remotely without interacting in person with your prospects.

Inside salespeople spend their days on the phone and using other sales tools to find potential customers, qualify them and build a relationship around helping them solve their business challenges.

Inside sales is the more popular sales model for SaaS, B2B, and other tech companies that prefer a centralized team that is more cost-effective and can be measured with a larger set of metrics.

If you are wondering what the major differences and advantages are between inside and outside sales, we wrote an entire article detailing the benefits. So, which type of sales team should you start with?

A quick way to choose between inside or outside sales is to look at the product you are selling – specifically the complexity and length of the sales cycle. Outside sales works if your product is a high-priced solution, such as enterprise software that includes customization. If you sell SaaS or other cloud-based products that are easier to explain remotely, sales can be handled with a remote inside sales team.‍

5 benefits to using inside sales

Why start with inside sales cheat sheet

  1. It’s less expensive. No travel and entertainment expenses to worry about.
  2. It’s measurable. Inside sales teams use tools for prospecting and communicating with prospects that generate metrics such as percentage of calls, conversion rates, and close lost rates.
  3. It’s repeatable. Once you know what works, you can replicate it across the team.
  4. It’s more scalable. You can ramp up and onboard quicker.
  5. It’s customer-friendly. 75% of your prospects don’t want in-person meetings.

What positions make up an inside sales team

There are a few standard sales roles that you have likely heard of, such as an Account Executive (AE), Sales Development Rep (SDR), or Sales Engineer. Depending on the size of an organization and your formal sales process, these roles can be defined differently.

For example, a small inside sales team can be made up solely of Account Executives that do everything, including the roles traditionally assigned to SDRs and Engineers. As the team grows, the roles become more defined and specialized. Let’s go through each role, starting with who you should hire first. Then, we will go in order of who you should hire as you grow.


Account Executives

"The key is to get AEs thinking beyond “I have a quota.” They need to think big, to say, “I’m taking control of the situation. I’m going to lead here, and I’m going to help run my business or my territory like a CEO.” -John Williams: AVP, Salesforce

An Account Executive is the foundational role of the sales team. AEs need to be able to do it all — lead gen, qualifying, relationship-building, presenting, and closing. They are the main point of contact and are ultimately responsible for demoing the product and closing the deal. If you are a small company, your AE(s) will handle the entire cycle from beginning to finish.

Sales Development Reps (SDR)

"Customers don’t care at all whether you close the deal or not. They care about improving their business."-Aaron Ross: Predictable Revenue

B2B software companies rely on inbound marketing to generate leads, but those leads are usually not enough to keep the pipeline full. That is where your Sales Development Reps come in. SDRs are your outbound lead generators. They are usually responsible for emailing and calling various prospects with the goal of setting up a meeting. This role requires grit and determination to overcome rejection and unearth those opportunities.

Account Manager / Customer Success

“You can grow through massive Customer Acquisition, but the best companies out there are growing through Customer Success.”- Lincoln Murphy: Customer Success Evangelist

As you know, closing the sale is just the beginning of maintaining a healthy revenue stream. Once the contract is signed, your Account Manager is responsible for checking in on clients, nurturing a relationship, helping them use the product, and identifying additional revenue opportunities. They learn more about the customer’s business goals and add value to help retain and grow the account.

Sales Engineer

“[A Sales engineer] is that product expert who enters the sales process after initial lead generation, guides the way through qualification and business discovery, and then gathers what was learned to create the most compelling event in the entire sales cycle called the DEMO”- Dave Lusk, Oracle-NetSuite

If your product is highly technical with several use cases, a Sales Engineer will help bridge the technical gap for your AEs. Sales Engineers help in pre-sale to answer the complex product questions and help determine how the product solves the prospect’s pain points. After the sale, they can help implement the product and assist Account Managers when the customer has technical needs.

Sales Operations

“How you sell matters. What your process is matters. But how your customers feel when they engage with you matters more.”-Tiffani Bova: Salesforce

Once you have a few salespeople on your team, you will want to track their progress and improve your procedures. Sales Operations people are focused on this area of sales support. They analyze all the metrics across all your tools and find areas of the sales funnel that need help. Sales Ops are responsible for making sure the entire process runs efficiently.

Demodesk ramp up time guide

Hot tip: diverse sales teams generate more revenue

According to a Harvard study, more diverse teams tend to out-innovate and outperform teams with less diversity. When it comes to driving revenue, a more diverse sales team can pursue a wider variety of accounts, and learn more from each other’s unique perspectives. Whether it is gender, cultural or experiential diversity, keeping your team heterogeneous has tons of benefits.

  • 62.5% of women in sales outperform men.
  • McKinsey research found that sales teams in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to generate above-average revenue.
  • Building a team with people of different ages and experiences will help cultivate a culture of mentorship and motivation.

How to develop, empower and motivate your team

Congratulations, you hired a new Account Executive. Now what? While it would be great to just tell them to ‘go sell’, the reality is that they need to be onboarded and trained to be effective. Before you hire, make sure you’ve developed an onboarding plan and a standardized sales process to give your new hire a roadmap of who, what, and how they need to approach sales at your company.

How to onboard & develop your team

Onboarding your new team members is extremely important. According to CSO Insights, effective sales onboarding can improve quota attainment by 6.7%. Not to mention it can dramatically improve employee retention by 82%. The purpose of onboarding is to help people become contributing members of the team in the shortest amount of time possible. You need to provide them with the information they need to be productive and engaged in their role.There are several resources to explore to develop an effective sales onboarding program, but here are some key points you should cover.

  1. Training Curriculum. Create a training manual that takes them through the sales process, product value propositions, competition, sales scripts, common questions, objections, and ways to answer them. Give them the information and schedule a test that they must pass before advancing.
  2. Product Expertise. Have them use the product with common use cases that they will encounter in real scenarios. When they get stuck, don’t help them. They need to engage customer support, read articles, and overcome obstacles just like the customer.
  3. Company Values. Do you have a set of core values that everyone knows and follows? Part of creating a healthy culture is by letting everyone on the team know what the company stands for.
  4. Real-World Training. Have them shadow you or another experienced member of the team. Show them how you conduct the entire sale from beginning to end and explain each step as you go.
  5. Ongoing Development. Training should not end when the initial onboarding ends. Sales success hinges on continued training. Listen in on their calls on a weekly basis to analyze and coach.

Empower your team with the best sales tools

Inside sales teams are cost-effective and efficient because of the technological sales tools they use. There are great online tools for every phase of the sales process. Empower your team with the right tools so they can do their job to the best of their ability. Here is a quick list of the tools you should consider.

Customer relationship management (CRM) software

CRM gives you an overview of all your sales activities and helps you stay on top of your pipeline. You’ll have all the information you need to manage relationships more effectively.

CRM examples:, Hubspot CRM, Zoho CRM, Pipedrive, Agile CRM, Insightly, Salesflare

Sales intelligence software

These tools use databases, machine learning, and other forms of data to give you insights into your markets, competitors, and potential customers.

Sales intelligence examples: LinkedIn Sales Navigator, ZoomInfo (DiscoverOrg), Datanyze, InsideView

Email tracking software

Inside sales teams send a lot of emails. It is the main communication channel. With an email tracking tool, you can detect the exact time and date an email is opened.

Email tracking examples: Bananatag, Mixmax, Mailtrack, MailTag, SalesLoft, Hubspot

Reporting tools & dashboards

Everything you track generates data, which needs to be organized, analyzed and displayed in a way that you can make sense of it. Reporting tools will allow you to create a dashboard of your top KPIs so everyone knows what is happening.

Reporting & Analytics examples: Tableau, InsightSquared, Sisense, Domo, GoodData, MicroStrategy

Online sales communication tools

Web-based meeting tools like Demodesk enable you to schedule meetings with multiple people, deliver and record high-quality demos, and integrate your CRM. These tools are critical for presenting your product and keeping the momentum to close the sale.‍


Motivate with performance metrics

The best way to motivate your sales team is to set clear expectations and use metrics to help everyone know how they are doing. Your expectations can revolve around an activity such as the number of calls expected each day to sales results such as opportunities and closing rates.

Figure out what success looks like for your team and what you want them to achieve. Some common sales KPIs:

  • Time Spent Selling: The amount of time actually selling versus administrative tasks. The current average is 35.2% of a rep's time.
  • Lead Response Time: How long it takes to follow up with a lead. According to one study, a lead that is contacted within 5 minutes of an inquiry is 21 times more likely to enter the sales process than someone contacted after 30 minutes.
  • Opportunity Win Rate: This calculates the opportunities won, divided by the total number created. Rates vary by product, but a survey of over 400 sales organizations found that respondents’ average win rate was 47%.
  • Sales Pipeline Coverage (SPC): Measures your pipeline relative to your goal for a given period. This metric acts as an early warning sign of threats to future growth.
  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): Cost of resources to close a sale. The CAC depends on your product and business model.
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV): Takes into account the total net profit you make from any given customer over an extended period of time, not just the immediate acquisition.
  • Sales-to-Revenue Ratio: Helps measure how productive or efficient is your sales operation by calculating total costs divided by total revenue.
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A framework to get started

This article is meant to give you an overview of the key ingredients of building your inside sales team including the right job roles, onboarding and development programs, and the metrics to measure performance and motivate your team.

The next set of articles will go deeper into each area of building your team while giving you the necessary step-by-step guidance.

Up next: "The Best Inside Sales Management Tools for B2B SaaS" & "What Does Inside Sales Jobs Representative Do?"

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