Sales Coaching for the Digital Age

Stefan Funk by

Maintaining a position of preeminence in the highly competitive IT industry requires leaders to adapt to changes in the business landscape more rapidly than the competition. Continued success also relies on innovative sales enablement techniques that boost performance, help meet customer needs and achieve bottom line results.

While many corporate sales enablement functions are already leveraging state-of-the-art enablement mechanisms, like online and virtual trainings, chat bots etc., most are still missing an important ingredient: coaching. An analysis published by the Harvard Business Review revealed in 2011 that, coaching “can improve performance up to 19%…even moderate improvement in coaching quality—simply from below to above average—can mean a six to eight percent increase in performance across 50% of your sales force”.

By marrying sales coaching techniques with data analytics and insights, an even higher sales performance improvement can be realized.

So how can you drive sales performance improvement through Big Data and Coaching? Here’s a three-step winning formula:

Step 1: Start with the Why

Before you start, do a careful analysis of your sales executives’ current performance. Then, set target outcomes (in terms of quota achievement, time to revenue etc.) so that you’ll understand what success looks.

Here is how to get started:

  1. Interview your Sales Leadership: Interview sales leadership to discuss options for boosting quota attainment rates and, subsequently, revenue for the organization. Identify the KPIs and skills (such as forecasting, pipeline management, territory planning) that, if improved upon, would help reach your quota and revenue targets. Spend some time interviewing top performing sales reps to identify what they were doing differently as well as the characteristics of winning deals.
  1. Interview your Sales Reps: This part of your analysis is focused on surveys and interviews with members of your target audience (sales reps) to better understand a typical day / week in the life of a sales rep as well as their desire for / perceived value of coaching.

Step 2: Uncover the What

Ideally, your Business Performance Needs analysis you will uncover a variety of KPI areas that need improvement: Below are several that we believe merit consideration:

  • Number of Deals Won
  • Number of (new) Accounts won
  • Total number of Products pitched
  • Number of Opportunities created
  • Value of Pipeline Opportunities created
  • Time to close a deal (Deal Close Time)

Identifying and agreeing on a set of KPI areas is crucial to ultimately measuring the success of your coaching program.

In order to successfully implement a sales coaching program, you’ll need to either 1) identify employees trained in coaching, 2) provide training to upskill employees in coaching, or use 3rd party certified coaches. At SAP, we were able to leverage a large number, approximately 600, of trained and certified coaches with our organization.

Coaches can come from different parts of the organization and do not necessarily need a background in sales. We have had success with coaches from Human Resources, Marketing and even from technical areas. Remember the “expertise” of the coach is in coaching, not necessarily in sales or the product line of the coachee. Prioritize employees with training and interest in coaching over those with domain expertise.

When assigning coaches to sales executives, avoid direct reporting, or even same team, relationships. Using sales coaches who are not direct managers ensures that coaching conversations are strictly coaching sessions (as opposed to check-ins or status updates). This approach also allows for more open discussions than that possible when speaking to one’s manager or even teammate.

Step 3: The How (Implement)

With your needs identified, let’s talk about program delivery. By using Big Data and personalization, you can ensure that coaching sessions are guided by facts and not intuition. Combine sales data with analysis and marry the resulting insights and recommendations with one-to-one coaching sessions. We did this by providing regular reports with the relevant KPIs measuring sales executive performance and behavior to both the coachee (sales executive) and coach.

The reports compare the coachee’s KPIs against those of the top-performing salesperson in the coachee’s line of business and region. A coachee responsible for selling HCM software in North America, for instance, would be compared against the top-performing salesperson selling HCM software in North America.

We have found KPIs such as deal close rates, revenue per salesperson, number of products per deal and overall number of products sold in a year to be useful. We also look at KPIs that indicate risks and probabilities of individual deals closing.

On a regular basis, coaches and coachees receive updated data reports, which help them identify how their performance across relevant KPIs compared the top performers. This allows for a basis for possible topics and goals for each coaching session. For example, a coachee with a low pipeline may believe they need to learn how to close more deals, but the report may show that their deals have significantly fewer products than the top performing salesperson in their region.

The data and insights in the reports, which come from CRM and HCM systems, should help the sales executives and coach decide how best to spend their session. However, while the data can guide, the actual topic and goal of a coaching session should still be driven by the sales executive seeking coaching.

Key Takeaways to Implement Your Sales Coaching Program

  • Use data analytics to help guide coaching sessions. Within your program, produce reports that generate data from your organization’s CRM and HCM, which help coachees select topics to be coached on. Remember though, the sales executive (coachee) should ultimately decide what he or she would like to be coached on.
  • Allow employees outside a coachee’s line of reporting to serve as coach. Any employee who has taken a coaching training could coach others. By not pairing coachees with their managers, it prevents coaching sessions from going off topic into areas managers may typically discuss with their employees, such as ongoing projects or responsibilities.
  • Don’t be afraid to pair up coaches and coachees in different locations. Coaches do not need to be in the same location as their coachee to hold effective coaching sessions. Coaches in different countries or time zones can have sessions over the phone with great success.

Head Center of Promotional Expertise, SAP Sales Learning