Old School Sales vs New: The Rise of the Modern Sales Model

We all know Tom: the sales guy trying to sell you something you don’t really need on a Tuesday afternoon. As soon as you answer the door, you regret it— big grin, button-down shirt, and lots of charm, despite the 90-degree weather —out of pity, curiosity, or a mix of both, you decide to hear him out.


Then there’s Kate. She sits at a desk and sends emails all day. She’s equally as charming as Tom, but you don’t see that. All you see is an intriguing note about integration services from an unknown sender in your inbox.


The difference between Tom and Kate, though, is not just in how they’re pitching to you; it’s in why they’re pitching to you.


Tom is pitching to you because his office is based a few blocks away from your house and your street happens to fall within his territory. Kate is pitching to you because she knows your company recently acquired another company and that you might need to integrate Salesforce instances.


Tom doesn’t know whether you need his product and neither does Kate — but she at least knows there’s a chance. Because Kate has something that Tom doesn’t have:


Data — and the tools to wield it.


The Old World vs. New World of Sales

As technology continues to advance and commerce continues to globalize, the Toms of the world are dwindling as the Kates multiply.


Tom represents the old world of sales, which was limited by location, highly based on geography, and heavily reliant on how well he could persuade his prospects.


Kate, on the other hand, represents the new world, which is characterized by a lack of geographical constraints, a seemingly infinite pool of prospects, and the ability to narrow down that pool by a whole host of factors — the most important of which is what the customer actually needs.


Old world New world

Local Global

Door knocking Virtual outreach

Must be well connected Must be well informed

ICP is geography-driven ICP is customer-need-driven

Reliant on how well salesperson can persuade Reliant on how well salesperson can predict potential need

In the new world of sales, being well connected is no longer as important as being well informed.


The Rise of Inside Sales

Inside sales became prevalent in the 1980s when companies wanted to sell large volumes of their products without having to travel. One early adopter of inside sales was Marc Benioff, CEO and founder at Salesforce.com.


By Benioff‘s own admission, Salesforce.com “grew their company for the first five or six years with a telesales [or inside sales] model.”


(Note: They added outside sales to go upmarket when they wanted to sell to enterprise-class companies, but the company still does a majority of their innovative sales work remotely.)


Throughout the 90s, inside sales teams grew in prominence. They became more efficient and brought in clients that outside sales teams would then be able to grow. Outside sales teams also started to adapt the tools and technology of inside sales, which allowed for some automation of the process.


An article from the 1989 Harvard Business Review praises these automation systems:


“These [systems] make direct sales and direct marketing more efficient by automating highly repetitive support tasks … and by reducing the time salespeople spend on non-selling tasks, like scheduling sales calls, compiling sales reports, generating proposals and bids, and entering orders.”


By the early 2000s, both inside and outside sales teams were receiving leads from their companies’ websites; logging into CRM systems; and showcasing their services via glitchy video conferencing. The defining aspect of the new era of sales is the adoption of technology that gave salespeople the power to acquire more detailed information about their prospects.



Caption: Throughout the 2000s, interest in “inside sales” eclipsed searches related to “field sales.”

The Rise of Global Commerce

The good thing about the new era of sales is that reps can sell their product to anyone in the world. Conversely, this means that competition is now everywhere. Companies — large and small — are no longer competing against similar local retailers. Instead, they’re competing on a global scale.


As global commerce has risen, so has the advancement of inside sales. So while Tom has gone national and is more likely to get in a car or on a plane to go visit a client, Kate is dialing, emailing, and messaging her prospects. While Tom stands in line at the airport, treats himself to an expensive meal on the company dime, and reviews his meeting notes in a hotel room, Kate sets up automated workflows that scan news events to alert her of new accounts to go after, optimizes her best performing email sequences, and uses AI-assisted call analysis to find the messaging that most resonates with her customers.


The New Era of Sales

Although sales and marketing may have transitioned into the new era, there are a few key things that haven’t changed since the 1950s.


Salespeople benefit from having more information. Whether that means knowing the neighborhoods your prospects live in; understanding if a company is using your competitor’s service; or being tipped off that your target account is looking for a solution to a problem you can solve, insights are priceless.


And efficiency always wins over time. While people often highlight powerful brands, great products, or putting the customer first, the ability to deliver a product or service cost-effectively continues to be a long-term advantage.


Inside sales is simply a better model than field sales. Company leaders have adopted tools and technology because it makes their teams more efficient. Being able to reach out globally, target effectively, and close deals quickly allows businesses to reinvest in growth, product, and brand.


The new era of sales is about utilizing the next step in a long line of technological innovation. It’s being defined by sales reps who use data and automation to surface a needle in a haystack—the ideal customer within the total addressable market.


In this sense, success in the new era of sales is defined not by location, connection, or even persuasion, but by having access to information and the knowledge of how to use it.

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