Closing the Coaching Gap: A Guide to Sales Coaching

Sales Teams are Recovering from Covid

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As the world comes out of Covid, a significant number of businesses are now pivoting. Managers have started to seek ways to restore growth while accelerating their path to better sales results. However, when they face reality, they find the journey may be more complicated than expected.

Challenging times for sales teams were initiated even before the pandemic. According to Salesforce’s State of Sales Report, around 57% of reps were missing quota, they weren’t closing 80% of the deals, and 20% of customers were not renewing. 

Sales leaders began to look closer at the selling gap, more specifically, at the customer. The usual aim of this exercise is to gain a better understanding of the customer and customer-facing teams to evaluate what sales professionals, their managers, and their coaches are doing to bring the brand to life and the user’s top of mind:

  • What is the brand about?
  • What is the overall business about?
  • What are the products and solutions really bringing to customers in this context?
  • How are all these messages conveyed in a way that resembles face-to-face interactions when current connections are mediated by video hardware and software?

It has become increasingly difficult to improve these messages and interactions, and it has become just as challenging to maintain good practices over time among all team members. Because of scale and a distributed workforce, manual training and coaching methods have become unsustainable. 

As a result, technology has become necessary to support staff members, especially those with lower win rates, in their ability to tell a compelling story and establish a positive connection with their customers. 

Top performers know how to deliver because they understand there is more to sales than talking about a product. They are authentic and present, appearing trustworthy, knowledgeable and empathetic, just to name a few soft skill traits. 

But how do you measure these essential behaviors and then convert them into data that can help you upskill reps? How can you close the skill gap and grow at a more rapid pace in the aftermath of the pandemic? Continue reading to find out more answers.

Sales Coaching Is Critical to Enhance Human Connection

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Sales coaching can be generally defined as the process by which sales managers or dedicated sales coaches can identify areas strengths and weaknesses among their sales professionals, utilizing a defined approach to enhance specific communication skills. But this traditional approach is often subjective, focused on verbal skills rather than soft skills, and highly manual, making it difficult to scale.

Many sales organizations are leveraging AI-based coaching platforms instead to determine upskilling opportunities at scale and coach lasting behavioral change. Continuous improvement is critical to ensure you focus on not just getting great people into sales roles but also making sure they get better day by day, encounter by encounter.

According to Harvard Business Review, 19% improvement in sales performance can be attributed to high-quality sales coaching. While coaching is only a part of what you do on the job, you know it is one of those areas in that you face the "important versus urgent" dilemma: You know it is critical, you want to do it, but you don't have time for it at this scale. 

On an organizational level, not on an individual one, Miller Heimah Group reports that: 

  • 43% of companies use a random approach for coaching (left up to managers)
  • 20% said it is informal (guidelines, no formal implementation)
  • 25% affirmed it is formal (purposeful and fully implemented)
  • 13% ensures it is dynamic (formal plus coaching services)

The same report says, “Sales coaching is still not a broadly accepted or well-implemented enablement service, despite being shown, year after year, to be one of the best ways to drive sustainable performance improvement.”

The Five Root Causes of the Coaching Gap

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Even though coaching is so invaluable, five concrete roadblocks prevent it from being developed to a sufficiently high level of effectiveness in some organizations.

1) There’s not enough time to dedicate to coaching activities

Our experience indicates that those in charge of coaching typically have one day per quarter to devote to these duties. The problem starts with the way companies structure these roles, which do not give enough time to coach sales reps. We have found coaching doesn’t take place when a sales professional would benefit from it or when it is needed but on those rare occasions when the coach has time. 

What works instead are small amounts of coaching on an ongoing basis. Behavioral change happens best in incremental steps over time, not on a day when your schedule allows it.

2) There’s no objective model to evaluate and quantify “soft” skills or behaviors

Human skills, such as non-verbal communication and connection, have become far more vital than ever before. In some cases, they are called "soft," which can be seen as a negative feature. It would be good to start calling them "essential skills" for the future.

Why is that? You rely on them to reach the hearts and minds of the audience, the customers on whom your representatives are focused. The right soft skills let your reps connect with clients, improve how they listen, respond, build trust and come across as credible and authentic. 

Many non-technical competencies can be considered "soft skills" that contribute to people's success. “Soft skills include the personal attributes, personality traits, and communication abilities needed for success on the job. Soft skills characterize how a person interacts in their relationships with others.”

Soft skill is the ability to interact in a socially acceptable way, communicate effectively, listen, manage time effectively, and exhibit empathy. Soft skills are very important for success in the workplace and can be developed through coaching and complementary to specific technical and job-specific skills.

The most common mistake sales leaders make is underestimating these less apparent, subtle capabilities. While most managers are aware of their importance, they don't believe they can measure or coach them adequately. Behavioral and social sciences and conversation intelligence are advancing in recent years, providing objective verbal and non-verbal behavioral measurements, predictive audience behaviors, and prescriptive training modules.

There are success stories across industries and sectors that demonstrate the importance of effective communication in helping a speaker engage an audience and have them respond positively to their presentation. Despite having the most robust credentials, even the best leaders will ultimately be ineffective if they lack the essential abilities necessary to inspire others' confidence, dedication, and commitment. Similarly, sales professionals will be unproductive if they lack these vital skills.

If you want your sales professionals to excel and see a skyrocketing increase in sales metrics, then including soft skills coaching is a wise decision. With the advancement in technology and thanks to machine learning, leading companies are adding soft skills coaching to their sales teams to help them become more effective. 

3) Sales coaches are not trained for the role 

Sales coaches are frequently not selected for their roles based on whether or not they have the qualities of a good coach or are they suited to be a sales coach. Many times, those reps who perform best are promoted or accept the additional responsibility of mentoring their former counterparts.

Often, companies assume that they will be able to coach and train people for them to become like them in the future. However, that premise is flawed. Being an excellent coach takes a lot more than just personal high sales results and sales skills. Sales coaches need precise training as well to coach their teams at an individual level.

4) There’s no way to measure baseline or improvement  

There hasn't been a standard method for evaluating coaching baseline and progress in the past. You can't manage what you're not measuring, such as non-verbal communication. As a result, you tend to focus on quota attainment and other metrics that may give you a nuanced view of how to improve your reps as sales professionals and help them achieve more.

5) There’s no way to link improvement in skills to customer response or sales performance 

Due to this common roadblock, there is typically no observation data, only CRM records or recordings, for coaching purposes. If your reps improve their skills and can engage better with the customer, how do you link those results with customer response? How do you know how this customer responds and reacts during the conversation? Did the customer find your rep more authentic and more credible?

Beyond that customer response and experience, how does that translate into sales performance? Is this going to drive and help achieve those quote attainment results?

With the help of these questions, we are already on our way to finding a solution. Taking a look at some of the things that exceptional sales teams have done to tackle these root causes might be of some help.

Here’s what the Highest Performing Sales Teams Have Done

We will provide you with some of the solutions that we have seen in the industry as we go along. With all of your sales experience, you may already sense some of the solutions. 

It is encouraging to note that high-performing sales teams have taken matters into their own hands with concrete steps to close the coaching gap. 

Following is a list of them:

  • Overachieving sales teams have concentrated on adopting a customer-focused mindset, going beyond looking at the customer journey or even the product itself.
  • These teams have become experts in obtaining the tools that let them collect conversation intelligence focused on customer response and connection. Leveraging a dynamic coaching platform for sales reps and managers is one of the most important.
  • Leaders from high-performing sales teams immediately started taking soft skills as “essential” to drive relationship success. They have focused on generating close connections with customers instead of just sales pitches.
  • These teams have also built high-performer competency models for onboarding and skill development.
  • Involving, engaging, and empowering sales managers has become a top priority in these teams.
  • Leaders measure the impact of sales tech investments on sales performance while also standardizing their intelligence and coaching to the entire customer-facing organization.

Would it be possible to find a single solution to help your company implement all of these actions simultaneously? Of course. In the next section, you will find out more about it.

What’s the Solution? Artificial Intelligence

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Advanced conversation intelligence and coaching platforms use the powerful combination of behavioral science, social science, big data, and AI to help every sales rep have winning conversations. Here are some of their main features:

Behavioral science

With a model rooted in behavioral science, the tool offers a meta-analysis of organizational behavior, psychology, computational social science, neurological, and communications research. The tool augments human behaviors to drive performance outcomes, creating objective, personalized behavioral assessments and AI coaching to improve human connection and perceptions and boost people’s performance.

Unique analytics

Its unique science-based, universal model for effective connection and communication measures critical quadrants and key drivers based on over 15 billion conversation data points. Human-trained, deep-learning AI uses sight, sound, and language understanding to assess 1400+ behaviors across a massive global communication content database. 

It relies on over 250,000 audience response panel databases of human conversations, scored by actual audiences for real-world perception and impact.

Integration

It can calibrate your sales data and fine-tune its behavioral analytics and recommendation engine to actual sales data with a clear ROI. You can integrate this platform with your selling model, offering you the visibility and precise quantification of how your reps are performing every day versus your selling model.

Automated assessments

You can assess your conversations, receive scores and benchmarking, improve selling performance, enhance behaviors and preparation, facilitate sharing and AI coaching; and get personalized guidance.

There are not many platforms available that offer you specific feedback and actionable tips to improve in critical areas customized to address the needs of your sales staff and your organization's long-term development goals. Managers and other company leaders can use this tool to close the coaching gap and measure and improve the soft skills of their salespeople objectively, accurately, and at scale. 

By implementing innovative AI-powered technologies, Quantified eliminates the guesswork and measure sales performance predictors at scale. Request a Quantified demo to learn more about how our science- and data-based coaching platform can help your organization assess and improve soft skills within your sales teams.

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