What Are Outside Sales?

Outside sales refers to the sale of products or services by sales personnel who go out into the field to meet with prospective customers. Outside sales professionals tend to work autonomously outside a formal office and formal team environment. They often travel to meet customers face-to-face, as well as to maintain relationships with existing customers. Some companies may consider telesales a form of outside sales.

Understanding Outside Sales

Outside sales (also known as "field sales") tend to work without a formalized schedule, which may offer flexibility but also means that the salesperson is always on call to meet the demands of the customer. That means maintaining a schedule of client meetings, 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 subject to unexpected delays and 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. Outside sales help tends to costs more than inside sales professionals. They also tend to out-earn inside sale people by 12-18%. Outside sales pros are often compensated via commission.

Outside Sales vs. Inside Sales

When defining inside sales it is helpful to consider its analogue, "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 Skype, email, web conferencing, social media, or screen shares. They rarely travel to meet clients, if at all (though there is a trend toward a hybrid inside/outside model). 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.