How to Get a Behavioral Baseline of Your Sales Reps Through AI

This is a particularly difficult time for sales professionals. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of them were failing to meet their quotas. Now, in the wake of the disruptions caused by that event, the situation is even worse.

Sales is the lifeblood of any business. That's why, in this challenging environment, it's vital for companies to find ways of improving their sales performance. Research shows that the most effective means of doing so is by providing the organization's sales force with the training and coaching it needs to perform at a high level. In a recent PhD dissertation Emory Serviss reinforces that point:

"One specific managerial tool, sales coaching, has been hailed by academics and practitioners alike as vital to improving a salesperson's job performance."

In fact, according to an article in Training Magazine, businesses that have a sales coaching culture perform 17% better than those that don't.

Yet it's exactly in the area of providing good sales coaching that most businesses fall short. As one survey reports, only about 15% of sales managers believe their companies provide adequate coaching for their salespeople.

What is Sales Coaching?

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Business and sales are evolving, but two aspects remain the same: sellers want to increase productivity, and buyers want compelling purchasing experiences that help them actually solve their main challenges. Using technology to accelerate sales helps sellers streamline processes with advanced tools and resources designed to improve salespeoples’ abilities and efficiency.

So what is sales acceleration? Expert Ken Krogue defines it as increasing the speed at which sales happen by using technology that bridges the gap between existing marketing automation and customer relationship management (CRM). By effectively leveraging content, training, analytics, and resources, sales teams increase deal speed by engaging buyers meaningfully.

Adapting to digital-first sales, sellers and buyers have experienced significant changes in sales cycles. It took time for salespeople who used to network and attend meetings in person, travel on business, and participate in dinner parties to adjust to staring at a screen for hours at home as they tried to make personal connections.

Now, through highly relevant and personalized conversation and content delivery, sales reps can build relationships with customers and accelerate their digital sales cycles, whether they are in-person or engaging in virtual communications. When navigating increasingly complex negotiations, the proper sales acceleration tools can help.

Why Organizations Don't Focus on Sales Coaching

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To this point, many of the businesses that need it the most have failed to recognize the impact an effective sales coaching program could have on their marketplace success. As a recent study points out,

"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."

Actually, it's entirely understandable that so many businesses are deficient in this area. After all, sales managers simply don't have enough hours in their days to personally evaluate, guide, and coach every member of their sales staff. So, in most organizations effective coaching rarely happens; at best, the company's sales force gets generic sales training once or twice a year.

Part of the problem is that organizations typically have a hard time assessing the ROI that effective sales training and coaching could provide—would a greater focus in this area really add value to the organization's sales capabilities, or would it amount to little more than checking a box on the management best practices to-do list?

What's needed is a means of measuring and quantifying the effectiveness of coaching and training efforts in improving the selling effectiveness of both individual sales reps and the sales organization as a whole. And that's exactly what behavioral baselines are designed to provide.

A behavioral baseline identifies where a sales rep currently stands in terms of the specific skills that contribute to a high level of sales success. Having such a baseline for each member of the sales team provides leaders with two very important benefits:

  • It maximizes the efficiency and effectiveness of their coaching efforts by identifying the specific skill areas in which each sales rep needs improvement.
  • It provides "before" and "after" snapshots of each salesperson's effectiveness that allow sales leaders to quantify the ROI their training and coaching program provides.

By employing the sophisticated AI-enabled, automated analysis tools available today, an organization can get objective, individualized feedback about their sales team at scale. That information will, in turn, provide behavioral baselines for each of their sales reps, and give them a better understanding of their team's overall strengths and weaknesses. Developing such behavioral baselines is a critical first step in the process of creating and implementing an effective sales coaching program.

What is a Behavioral Baseline?

To understand what a behavioral baseline is, let's start by looking at each part of the term in the context of sales training and coaching.

A baseline is simply "a starting point used for comparisons." Identifying your starting point is critical for reaching your goal: even if the goal is clearly defined, you're unlikely to get there without knowing your starting point. For example, if your travel goal is to get to Chicago, knowing whether you're starting from Los Angeles, Dallas, or New York will make a huge difference in your route planning!

In the context of sales coaching, a baseline is an assessment of where a sales rep is in terms of their skills and performance at the start of the coaching process. That assessment should be based not just on subjective observations, but on quantifiable metrics. Why is that important? It's because of what Peter Drucker, one of the world's most influential management experts, has stated as a basic principle for improving performance in any area:

"You can't improve what you don't measure."

For our purposes, then, a baseline is a set of quantifiable metrics that describe a sales rep's skills and performance at the start of the coaching process.

But what is it that's being measured? That brings us to the behavioral part of a behavioral baseline.

Behavior is simply the things a person does. For success in sales, a person must behave before customers in ways that lead to positive interactions and outcomes. The Association for Talent Development has identified the behavioral skills that are most important for sales success:

Product knowledge is important, but in a customer-facing, relationship-driven business such as sales, strong soft skills make all the difference (emphasis added).

What are soft skills in sales? According to HubSpot,

Soft skills are a set of interpersonal and intrapersonal competencies that help a salesperson relate to and communicate with others. These skills can also help the salesperson work more efficiently and achieve their full potential in a sales role.

In its list of important soft skills, HubSpot includes characteristics such as adaptability, empathy, communication, humility, emotional intelligence, and resilience.

We can say, then, that as it relates to sales coaching a behavioral baseline is a quantitative measure of a sales rep's competencies in a specific set of soft skills.

Why Having a Behavioral Baseline is Key for Sales Improvement

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There are several ways in which having a good behavioral baseline is fundamental to the sales coaching process. Let's take a look at some of the things having such baselines allows organizations to do:

1. Identify areas where improvement is needed

When a baseline is established for one of your sales reps, how do you determine the areas in which that person needs to improve? It can only be done by comparing their baseline measurements against those of an "ideal" or highly accomplished salesperson. 

It's by noting the deficiencies a sales rep displays as compared to how a top rep performs in a particular area that you can identify areas where improvement is needed and develop a coaching plan to drive toward that improvement.

This should not be a one-time effort. Rather, by regularly resetting their baseline and performing that comparison with the ideal, sales reps can continually reassess their skills and make progress toward mastering the specific behaviors that lead to sales success.

2. Tailor a specific action plan for each individual

Individual development plans are the most effective in spurring ongoing and lasting change. The best action plans are not generic; rather, they are tailored specifically to each person's existing skill set and learning style. As Carlin Nguyen notes in his PhD dissertation,

Researchers have also found that coaching is more effective when it is adapted or customized to the individual based on such characteristics as age, gender, career stage, and coachability. In addition to these characteristics, the results show that coaching is more effective when the sales manager adapts specifically to the salesperson's communication style and management preferences. This information is important because it provides coaches with information on how to customize coaching to the individual

Having a behavioral baseline for each member of a sales team allows sales managers to craft a coaching plan that takes into account not only the learning style of each individual, but also the specific areas that person needs to focus on to improve. One article on building new habits puts it this way:

The most powerful action plans are tailored specifically to their users based on their existing skill sets. So when it's time to start building a new habit, the first step is to establish a baseline of your current strengths and development areas, and then use that baseline to create a step-by-step action plan, complete with research-based strategies, practice steps, and expert guidance.

The baseline is also important for tailoring your coaching to where a team member is in their sales career—what a seasoned veteran needs is far different from what a novice requires. The last thing you want is to waste time (and sales team members' patience) by focusing on skills they've already mastered or that won't help them garner more sales in their particular circumstances.

3. Assess improvement

By definition, improvement can only be demonstrated by comparing measurements taken both before and after some action. When it comes to coaching sales reps to help them improve their skills and performance, an initial baseline measurement is indispensable because it establishes where that individual stands at the beginning of the process. Without such a baseline, there's no way to know how much improvement the coaching has brought about.

Being able to demonstrate improvement is vital to keeping team members engaged with the process. There's nothing more demotivating than putting a lot of effort into a program and not seeing results. On the other hand, being able to see how they've advanced beyond their baseline metrics helps people to remain excited about their efforts.

4. Provide personalized feedback

Having a baseline enables the kind of personalized feedback that's critical for tracking improvement during the sales coaching process. By comparing their current behavioral profile against their previous baseline metrics, or those of established top producers, sales reps can assess their progress toward mastering the specific skills needed for sales excellence. Tracking and celebrating their progress from milestone to milestone can be a powerful motivator at each stage of a rep's improvement journey.

5. Enable individuals to guide their own coaching experience

In his dissertation, Carlin Nguyen relays a description by previous researchers who characterized coaching as a "process of equipping people with the tools, knowledge, and opportunities they need to develop themselves and become more effective" (emphasis added).

That statement highlights the fact that the greatest improvements take place when individuals become personally invested in the process and focus on developing themselves. Having baselines that they can update at each step and see the improvements they've made encourages team members to take ownership of the improvement process.

How Artificial Intelligence (AI) Maximizes the Effectiveness of Behavioral Baselines

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As we've seen, behavioral baselines should provide specific metrics that enable before and after comparisons to identify performance improvements. Humans have a hard time doing that with objectivity and precision. But AI-enabled coaching platforms can do it with ease. That's because an AI platform's measurements are based on values calculated from the data it examines rather than on the subjective observations a human might make. As a research paper published in the Journal of Marketing puts it,

A core advantage of AI technologies is their hard data computation skills. AI's distinctive strength lies in processing big data and learning the latent patterns hidden in the structured and unstructured data.

AI solutions are trained using data captured from a large number of audio and video scenarios that highlight best (or worst) sales practices in true-to-life situations. Once training is complete, the AI can apply what it has "learned" to new situations it has never seen before. That allows it to produce a set of calculated metrics that quantitatively describe specific behaviors displayed in those situations. 

So, when an AI platform is used to establish baseline metrics for sales coaching and training, those calculated values provide a standardized yardstick that enables consistency in behavioral assessments and comparisons across individuals and over time.

Sales coaching involves guiding learners through the types of scenarios they will encounter on the job and observing and correcting the ways they handle themselves in those situations. Because of their big data capabilities, AI solutions can do this at scale and with a level of effectiveness that would be very difficult for any human coach to match. The Journal of Marketing paper explains the AI advantage this way:

Because AI coaches can process extensive amounts of speech data more effectively, they can detect a broader range of mistakes in conversations than human managers. Further, AI coaches are trained with a vast amount of past call data tagged as best and worst practices to persuade customers, so they can provide more solutions for each mistake identified in speech data processing. Overall, AI coaches' hard data computation skills suggest their relative advantages over human managers in generating feedback for sales agents.

Note that this doesn't mean that AI coaches should replace their human counterparts—a sales manager, for example, can provide a uniquely personal touch in the coaching process that's vital for maintaining a high level of morale and engagement among team members. Rather, an AI platform can be employed as a force multiplier to enact at scale portions of the coaching process a human coach has neither the time nor the computational ability to perform.

How Having AI-Based Behavioral Baselines Can Strengthen an Organization

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What can establishing AI-generated behavioral baselines do for your organization? One article sums it up this way:

AI enables unprecedented, continuous data capture of individual rep selling behaviors. This information forms the basis of personalized, context-specific coaching, delivered in the flow of work, at an unlimited scale by an AI coach.

[With AI] organizations can create a closed-loop, always-on/always-learning environment that enables them to continually improve winning behaviors and sales outcomes to get ahead and stay ahead.

Let's take a look at some of the specific advantages the use of behavioral baselines can deliver for your business.

1. Allows you to provide individualized sales coaching at scale

For larger and dispersed sales organizations, it's not possible for sales managers or coaches to personally evaluate, guide, and coach every rep; and they certainly can't do so with 100% objectivity. But by leveraging AI-based coaching platforms to produce behavioral baselines and ongoing reevaluations, a company can provide individualized, objective, and comprehensive coaching to its sales staff at scale to drive lasting behavioral change.

2. Provides highly realistic coaching

An AI-based coaching platform can establish behavioral baselines by capturing the behaviors displayed during actual sales calls or true-to-life simulations. The platform records sales reps in action on video and provides personalized assessments, feedback, and recommendations based on how the rep performs in those realistic scenarios.

3. Allows you to set personalized goals and action plans for each rep

As Melissa Hilbert, senior research director at Gartner notes:

"In order to have a more performant sales organization, training and coaching content must be delivered based on individual learning styles."

An AI-based coaching platform will allow you to establish individual baselines, improvement goals, and coaching roadmaps for each member of your sales team. Not only is that far more effective in honing the behavioral skills of each individual, but it also has the important advantage of not requiring team members to sit through material that they've already mastered or that isn't relevant to their needs or goals.

4. Encourages reps to take ownership of their improvement program

Sales trainer Johnny-Lee Reinoso observes that "salespeople tend to be independent self-starters who prefer to operate within a set of guidelines, rather than being told what to do." AI-based coaching is a perfect solution for such individuals.

  • Because the platform is accessible from anywhere and at any time, reps can guide their own progress—they are in control of their own growth and success.
  • Coaching isn't dependent on the availability of a human coach. Reps can use any internet-enabled device to pull up their personalized training protocol from the cloud and engage in self-training on their own schedule. The sales manager only needs to oversee the process.
  • Reps can record themselves practicing their skills, have the platform provide instant assessments to see how they compare to peers and established benchmarks, make immediate changes to see their effects, and then repeat the cycle until each behavior is mastered. And they can do all this in a safe space with feedback that's objective, personalized, and perhaps most importantly, confidential.

5. Helps create a company culture that values continuous improvement

The fact that reps are, to a large degree, in charge of their own coaching and improvement process, can engage in it on their own schedule, and can use AI-generated behavioral baselines and reassessments to track their own progress encourages them to see continuously improving their skills as an integral part of their jobs.

Using an AI-Based Coaching Platform to Generate Behavioral Baselines for Sales Reps

In many businesses sales coaching is implemented ineffectually, if at all, because sales managers simply don't have time to review hours of recorded sales calls, present role-playing scenarios for reps to practice, and provide personalized feedback to each rep. But a good AI-based sales coaching platform can do all of that and more.

Quantified’s platform not only performs those processes automatically and at scale, but goes even deeper by objectively evaluating message content, vocal delivery, visual delivery, and the most likely audience response. It uses AI to produce behavioral baselines and reassessments by measuring more than a thousand behaviors across 24 conversation skills. It then uses that information to provide standardized scores and rankings against top performers at scale across the entire sales organization.

Request a demo today to see for yourself how Quantified can help improve the effectiveness of your entire sales team.

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