What The Best Inside Sales Representatives Do Differently

In his book The Challenger Sale, Matthew Dixon does a great job of describing the personality of the all-star sales representative and providing tips on how to scale that out to the entire team. It's a good read for building a strong overall sales cadence, but what about strictly phone-based sales? On a team of 10 inside sales representatives, what does the top performer consistently do differently than the rest of the team?  

Adapting the approach

The top performers on our team don't let themselves get stuck in a rut of reading scripts off a screen or constantly asking the same questions in the same order using the same tone of voice. They adapt their approach based on the nuances of each conversation they get in. Here's an example of two conversations with decision-makers: 

Sample 1

"Hello this is Jim" 

"Hi Jim, my name's Timothy, calling with Incept. How you doin' today?" 

"Good, Timothy, how are you?"  

"I'm doing just fine for a Tuesday afternoon - thanks for asking. Listen I was told that you're the person in charge of sales for the company, is that right?" 


"Perfect. I wanted to reach out today to introduce myself. I was hoping to share with you how we are working with other companies here in your industry to increase sales activity and boost revenue. You got 3 minutes?" [Proceed with needs assessment] 

Sample 2

"This is Rob" 

"Hi Rob, Timothy with Incept, How you doing today?" 


"Glad to hear it. Listen I don't want to keep you long - Just wanted to reach out and introduce myself. We at Incept have been working with folks like you for over two decades to help increase sales activity and boost revenue." [Proceed with needs assessment] 

In sample 1, Jim is amicable and open to at least having a conversation, so the caller smiles and takes his time easing into the needs assessment, while being respectful of Jim's time.  

In sample 2, the caller takes a shorter, more direct approach. Why? Because Rob didn't start with "Hello" and didn't reciprocate in asking, "How are you?" Your all-stars intuitively hear these nuanced differences and adapt on the fly. Other mid- to low-performers may need to hear examples of this multiple times and be coached on how to handle each one before they start to pick up them more naturally. 

Knowing when to call back and when to let a lead rest

In many cases for complex solution sales, there are multiple stakeholders at your prospect customer companies. This means that in order to land the initial appointment of sales call, you may be able to (or have to) navigate the organizational chart and make multiple phone calls before getting through to a live decision-maker.  

If you're prospecting into an IVR system or 'phone tree,' you can likely get away with an unlimited amount of calls until you get to a live person. Your all-stars knows this, and do whatever it takes to get to the right person. Sometimes it's easy to use the directory to try multiple stakeholders in a row if you keep getting sent to voicemail. The especially savvy one will use any extension to get to any department and play it off with a simple, "Hi Suzy, I apologize - I may not have gotten to the right place. I was looking for the head of the sales department."*  Sure, they may get a little laugh or an annoyance, but chances are that Suzy wants to prove that she's smarter than the person calling who couldn't figure out the phone tree and will transfer you to the right place. 

If the number on the record is answered by a receptionist, your top performers know how to make multiple calls to the same receptionist without being a bother. "I'm so sorry Jake, I just called a minute ago and you transferred me to Jim in Sales. I got his voicemail - would Rob available?"* This tactic works two or three times before it wears out, and even then, chances are the all-star reps are going to rest the record for an hour and then call it back again. Jake probably won't remember the voice. 

Pushing for the ask

In some cases, all you have to go on is a phone number and a company name. Your mid- to low-performers may skip this record, or try once or twice to capture more information. But the top-performer knows to ask the right questions today in order to have a stronger lead tomorrow. 

In the section above, I starred both examples. Here's why: If your all-star doesn't have a good lead, with a name and email address, these types of conversations are the places to grab that information.  

Suzy answers. 

"Hi Suzy, I apologize - I may not have gotten to the right place. I was looking for the head of the sales department. Do you know who that would be?" 

"Yeah, that's Jim. Not sure why you got transferred to me." 

"Yeah, I’m not sure, I must have pushed a wrong button on the phone menu. What's Jim's last name?" 

"Jim Smith. He's the Director of Sales." 

"Perfect - are you able to connect me over to him?" 

"Sure just a second." 

The caller just used a simple IVR hack to build a stronger lead in order to have a stronger second call. Top-performers do this sort of thing naturally, whereas mid- to low-performers may just ask to be transferred, meaning they'll be in the same position tomorrow. 

Next example from above: Jake the gatekeeper answers. 

"I'm so sorry Jake, I just called a minute ago and you transferred me to Jim in Sales. I got his voicemail - would Rob available?" 

"Sure I can connect you." 

"Perfect, and before you do, is Rob's email address still Rob.Jones@prospect1.com?"

"Nope, not sure how you got that one. All of ours are just first initial last name, so rjones@prospect1.com" 

"Gotcha - my mistake. Thanks for your help." 

In this example, the all-star caller pushed to ask one more question before being transferred. There isn't always a ton of time to do this, but the best performers grab every second they can to capture as much info as possible in order to build a strong lead for future follow-up.  

(Side note - in the example above, the caller just threw out a made-up email address. Jake was either going to say, "Yep, that's it!" or provide the correct one.) 

These three habits are things that your all-star sales representatives probably do naturally. If you spend time listening to them, you'll probably start to see these things coming out, and from there can start to identify ways to coach the rest of the team into these practices and scale out this level of success to the whole team.