What Are Outside Sales?

Outside sales refer to the sales of products or services by sales personnel that physically go out into the field to meet with prospective customers. Outside sales professionals tend to work autonomously outside of a formal office setting or a formal team environment. They often travel to meet customers face-to-face, as well as to maintain relationships with existing customers.

Key Takeaways

  • Outside sales consists of sales professionals that are physically active in the field, outside of the office, to bring in business for a company.
  • The professional characteristics of an outside sales force does not include those of a typical office job with specific working hours or an office setting.
  • Outside sales professionals are often on the road, meeting with clients, entertaining potential customers, and constantly available for when a client needs assistance.
  • The costs of an outside sales professional include travel, such as car rentals or plane tickets, accommodation in hotels, and a budget for entertainment expenses.
  • Because of the nature of the job, an outside sales workforce is more costly than an inside sales workforce; however, an outside sales workforce also brings in more business.
  • Given advancements in technology, such as video conferencing, inside sales and outside sales jobs are becoming more of a hybrid nature.

Understanding Outside Sales

Outside sales employees, also known as "field sales," tend to work without a formalized schedule, which may offer flexibility but may also mean that a salesperson is always on call to meet the demands of a customer.

This type of work entails maintaining a schedule of client meetings and having to meet and adjust to their demands and changes, such as delays and cancellations. Outside sales professionals also must manage their own travel, which may be subjected to unexpected delays or other issues. In addition, since outside sales professionals must meet face-to-face with potential customers, they have to pay close attention to their appearance and must be prepared to entertain clients and network at all times.

Maintaining an outside sales force can be expensive since companies typically have to compensate outside sales personnel for miles traveled, housing, food, and entertainment. In some industries, outside sales forces are the norm because customers will not move forward with a purchase solely through inside sales strategies.

Though an outside sales workforce tends to cost more than an inside sales workforce, it also tends to out earn an inside sales workforce by 12% to 18%. Outside sales professionals are often compensated via commission on the business that they bring in. As such, the dollar amount of the business they bring in must always be weighed against the dollar cost of the nature of their profession.

Outside Sales vs. Inside Sales

When defining outside sales, it is helpful to consider its analog, inside sales. Inside sales professionals tend to work inside an office environment during set hours while utilizing the telephone or a variety of other communications technologies, such as email, video conferencing, social media, or screen shares. They rarely travel to meet clients, if at all. However, given the significant advancement in technology, there is now a trend towards a hybrid inside/outside model of employment, which only requires outside sales when necessary, rather than as an essential function of bringing in business. This is particularly beneficial when a company needs to reduce costs.

Inside sales personnel tend to work within a team, with more direct supervision. They must be comfortable with cold calling to earn new business and conversant enough to be able to explain a product or service inside out with few or no visual aids or prototypes. The widespread adoption of communications technologies has seen inside sales grow by leaps and bounds compared to outside sales. One estimate has it that for every one outside sales professional that is hired, 10 inside sales people are brought onboard.

Outside sales tends to be more strategic in nature, meaning that it can entail meeting with C-level decision-makers to help them devise and implement business strategies. Outside sales is more likely to be utilized when selling more complex and expensive goods and services. The orders placed from the outside sales process also tend to be larger than those made by way of inside sales. Inside sales, in practice, is more of a function of the quantity of interactions over the depth of those interactions.