• June 1, 2014
  • By Jim Dickie, research fellow, Sales Mastery

A Case for Sales Coaching

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Ask chief sales officers today to rate the value of sales coaching, and the vast majority will tell you it is either mission critical or very important. If you follow that up by asking how effective their managers are at consistently and continuously coaching sales teams, few executives will tell you that this is a core competency of their firm.

What is the cause of the disconnect here? The answer appears to be time. As part of the CSO Insights 2014 Sales Management Optimization study, we asked more than 1,000 sales executives to tell us how much coaching their salespeople were getting on a weekly basis from their sales manager.

It is not uncommon for a salesperson to have dozens of deals in his pipeline at once. So when you consider the fact that in nearly 65 percent of the companies surveyed, coaching time per rep is an hour or less per week, and that there are multiple opportunities to discuss, the amount of help reps may be getting on any single deal is not very much. But the study also found that technology is poised to help deal with this challenge in two ways: via more informal coaching and more formal (virtual) coaching.

Let's start with informal coaching. I have often hypothesized that the answer to every sales challenge your company faces today probably already exists inside the company. Some enterprising salesperson has figured out a way to effectively engage certain types of key stakeholders, cost justify your product offerings, differentiate what you do versus what the competition does, etc. The problem is those insights are rarely collected, synthesized, and shared with the rest of the sales force. However, that is changing.

Our 2014 Sales Performance Optimization study found that 34.7 percent of the organizations we contacted have implemented a sales force networking/collaboration solution, such as Chatter, Jam, Jive, or Yammer. When implemented correctly, these systems allow salespeople to tap into the collective wisdom of their peers to get coaching or mentoring advice.

Take the case of a salesperson who has a prospect interested in a product the rep has not sold before. If his manager doesn't have the time to coach the rep on how to effectively engage the prospect, he can turn to his peers for help. To do this, he can use a sales force networking platform to see if other reps have already been sharing best practices on how to sell that product. Reps can often filter those discussion threads to take into account the industry they are selling to, the business issues the prospect is trying to address, the competition, etc.

Salespeople often find that the insights they need already exist within the sales collaboration repository, and they can access them on a 24/7 basis. And if they need to know more, the system can help them get to the person within their company who can answer questions and provide the guidance needed to more effectively manage that opportunity.

Our study also found that a smaller, but growing, minority of firms are taking this a step further. Just over 12 percent of the firms we surveyed told us they have implemented a virtual sales coaching/playbook solution. CRM/sales process firms such as Axiom, Callidus, Revegy, Savo, and SPI have created applications that do many of the things their sales managers would do if coaching the rep directly.

In these applications, as a rep starts to describe the opportunity he is beginning to work on, the coaching system can offer a sample account management plan to consider, suggest sales tools and collateral to use at different stages of the sales process, provide insights into who the likely competitors will be, provide proposal and business case templates, etc. Again, this is a 24/7 resource that reps can access. The systems also provide an easy way for salespeople to provide feedback on the information and insights they actually used so that the suggestions made get better over time.

With the amount of changes bombarding salespeople today in terms of customer expectations, changes in the competitive landscape, and increases in the depth and complexity of the products they sell, sales teams will need more coaching support, not less, going forward. CRM can help provide a high-tech answer to complement the high-touch support they are getting from their sales managers, so they get the answers they need when they need them.

Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm specializing in benchmarking CRM and sales effectiveness initiatives. He can be reached at jim.dickie@csoinsights.com.

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