In a nutshell: The B2B inside sales force

Scientific articles contain valuable management implications, but are usually not very easy to digest. We summarize the core results so that you can use the latest research findings for your company.


This study aims to explore the changing nature of the inside sales role and the individual capabilities required for success. Additionally, it examines the influence of organizational structure on inside sales force capabilities. […] Using a two-study qualitative approach, the authors examine contemporary inside sales forces’ responsibilities and operational configurations. Study 1 uses a cross- industry sample of sales leaders and professionals to examine roles and responsibilities. Study 2 used the second sample of sales leaders and professionals to explore the impact of various organizational configurations. The study identifies important differences between inside and outside salespeople in terms of job demands and resources; inside salespeople’s greater reliance on sales technology and analytics than outside counterparts; and existing control systems’ failure to provide resources and incentives to match with inside salespeople’s increasing strategic benefits and job demands. […] The study also explores four distinct inside–outside configurations. The differences among these configurations help to explain the distinct benefits and costs of each configuration regarding the company, customer and intra sales force processes, which, in turn, determine inside salespeople’s strategic benefits and job demands. This study informs managers of the unique role of the inside sales force and how it differs from their outside counterpart. The results inform managers of the issues inherent to various inside sales configurations, helping them determine, which configuration best addresses their customers’ needs. Drawing from job demands-resources, organizational structure and strategy-context fit theories, the authors develop research propositions about the underlying structural differences of inside-outside sales force configurations; how these differences drive the inside sales force’s increasing strategic benefits and job demands; and organizational choice of inside sales force configurations.

Key statements

The digital transformation can also be seen in B2B sales. While suppliers and customers used to get to know each other for the first time over lunch, personal interaction is now only necessary at a later stage in the relationship, if at all. Communication increasingly takes place digitally, or customers take care of their issues on their own using self-service options. Against this backdrop, the importance of the inside salesforce is growing. In the study at hand, the authors use two qualitative studies to investigate whether and how the demands on the inside sales staff have changed, and how companies can optimally position their inside sales and field sales. The authors conclude that the tasks and (technical) requirements of employees in inside sales have become more complex. Overall, the requirements profile of inside sales is approaching that of traditional field sales. For example, inside sales is increasingly responsible for developing customer relationships virtually using digital tools and systems (e.g. CRM, social media). With regard to the composition of inside and field sales, the authors conclude that the strategic importance of inside sales increases with the degree to which it can independently serve and develop customers. The following levers are critical for the effectiveness of your inside sales:

  • Skill building: Provide opportunities for your inside sales employees to learn the necessary skills to cope with new tasks.
  • Responsibilities: As inside sales increasingly takes over outside sales tasks, clear rules must be established as to roles and duties. It must be insured that they do not compete with each other and that collaborative work between the two is fostered.
  • Remuneration: Appropriate compensation should be provided for the increased demands on inside sales. In order to prevent conflicts, the remuneration scales of both must be constantly compared.
  • Sales structure: Organize the integration of inside and field sales based on customer needs. For example, with service companies it makes sense to assign not only service but also sales activities to inside sales.

Sleep S., Dixon A., DeCarlo T., & Lam S. (2020). The business-to-business inside sales force: roles, configurations and research agenda. European Journal of Marketing, 54(2), 1025–1060. emeraldinsight