This August, the best athletes from all over the globe will flock to Brazil to compete in the world's most prestigious sporting event -- the Olympic games. Participants have been training for Rio for years to prepare mentally and physically for the competition. But not all training is created equal, and depending on the type of sport, the attributes necessary to win can be completely different.

The Olympics have always struck me as being strongly divided between team sports -- such as crew, basketball and volleyball -- and individual events like running or swimming. There's a distinct art to team sports which is quite different from the talent required for individual competitions. Many of the same distinctions apply to different sales approaches.

The migration from field sales to inside sales brought many changes to the industry, but one of the most profound was a switch from a focus on individual accomplishment to team success. There's a place for both models in every sales organization, but each type of selling requires its own specific set of skills.

Field Sales is a Game of High Risk, High Rewards

Imagine a sprinter racing down a track toward the finish line. If she falls, she has lost. If she comes in first, the glory is exclusively her own. Whatever the outcome is, it's completely up to her. That's your traditional field sales rep.

Unlike inside salespeople, field sales reps don't have as much of a safety net. They often have to adapt quickly to new and unexpected circumstances with little help. It's a lot of pressure, but also allows for greater flexibility to adjust strategies in real-time.

Whereas adherence to process is a critical part of success in inside sales, field salespeople can improvise. For example, when field reps are in the physical presence of their prospects, vs. talking over the phone, they get more of the potential buyer's attention and can take more risks. Their focus isn't processing a high volume of leads: it's engaging with the buyer on a personal level. And just like runners spend months training, field salespeople can spend months trying to win a buyer over. And in the end it can all come down to you or your competitor. Its high risk, high reward, which is why great field salespeople need to be confident, sharp, and able to execute well consistently.

Pulling Together for Inside Sales Success

Inside sales is a different game. Inside sales is a true team effort, with shared resources and common goals. There's less flexibility in terms of individual approach, but more opportunity to experiment with the sales process, sales roles, and organizational structure.

An inside sales model enables sales managers to play to the strengths of each individual rep (rather than having to be a jack-of-all-deals). And for salespeople, it's an opportunity to be part of a team consulting one another and exchanging ideas - which can be a benefit in and of itself. Gallup found that close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent, and that people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their job.

The best inside salespeople tend to be resourceful and adaptive--ready to jump on leads when they're made available and able to convert them quickly. They can shift gears seamlessly, moving from call to call efficiently. Individual losses aren't as costly for inside salespeople as they are for field sales reps, so there's more opportunity for net gains.

But inside sales also comes with its own specific set of challenges. A successful inside sales team needs alignment. Consider your inside sales team an Olympic rowing team. When everyone strokes in tandem, you're an unstoppable force, but if the unity starts to disintegrate, you have a real problem.

That's where technology comes into play. Like a coxyn who calls out strokes, software tools that help sales teams implement process and establish a rhythm, can help bring sales teams instant uniformity (and therefore greater conversion power).

Whether your sales team skews more toward sprints or regattas, there's always opportunity to grow. Building out both areas with reps who excel in those environments is the best way to ensure your business wins "gold medals" in sales.

Published on: Jul 20, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.