Sales training is commonly understood to be a must-have component in managing quota-carriers. How do Best-in-Class enterprises take standard selling instruction to the next step?
Today, no sales leader is foolish enough to deny the value of basic training for their B2B sales team members. Competing in tight markets to capture highly-educated buyers requires far more than throwing a script, territory, phone, and laptop at a new hire, and expecting them to hit the ground running and meet quota, based only on the innate skills or experience they bring to the job. Indeed, only nine percent of survey respondents for Aberdeen’s recent report It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint: Best-in-Class B2B Sales Training for an Ever-Changing Market, indicate that they have no current or planned sales training activity, and among all companies, we see an average planned budgetary increase in 2014 of 7.3 percent above 2013 sales training spend levels. The strongest-performing sales teams, though, add extra elements to their educational activities in order to achieve superior business results. A new Research Report analyzes the specific competencies around the more in-depth sales coaching tools that help shrink the sales cycle window for the most successful sales operations teams.
Taking Training Beyond The Basics
Among the many ways in which Best-in-Class companies differentiate their sales coaching practices from under-performing firms are the two items displayed in Figure 1. First, these winning organizations are 26 percent more likely than All Others (49 percent vs. 39 percent) to move beyond the basic, generic training on products, prices, and messaging, to a formal one-to-one coaching methodology that is specific to individual deals in the pipeline or key accounts. Then, they are 61 percent more often (45 percent vs. 28 percent) turning to external consultants or trainers for assistance. This is a highly effective opportunity for sales managers to act less like a lieutenant (“Now, get out there, and sell some product!”), and more like a sergeant (“Follow me, boys!”) in the battlefield of B2B business development. Too often, sales training is conducted in a classroom-style setting by managers whose own glory days as individual contributors ‒ which most likely served as the rationale for promoting them to a leadership role ‒ are becoming more of a distant past. When these same managers, however, are asked to conduct “ride-along” coaching with their direct reports, they’ll often opt out for a more “realistic” opportunity to teach their rep. This is, of course, due to the gravity of having to directly face a real prospect in a real revenue opportunity after being out of the trenches for so long. Conversely, when coaching services are provided by an external consultant, that organization’s services are likely to be closely watched for return-on-investment (ROI), instead of taken for granted as internal training initiatives may be. Naturally, this makes external coaches highly motivated to actively see every possible deal through to a win.
Figure 1: Customize, Coach, Close: Best-In-Class Sales Guidance
In other words, the manager who stays active in the field is compelled to keep his or her own skills sharpened, instead of hiding behind pipeline reports and grousing about “when I carried a bag…” – especially considering competition from external coaches. These managers can also help individual contributors benefit from their experience in real-time, true-life deal situations. In addition to physically joining reps for selected meetings, savvy sales managers will select one or a few representative sales opportunities, and coach their rep from behind the curtain throughout the lifecycle of those specific deals. This should be implemented with regular meetings or calls to discuss what conversations and action items have recently occurred, and to plan next steps and messaging on a very granular basis. How the rep responds to the manager’s coaching, and whether these deals successfully close at a higher rate than average, are notable results that can impact the performance evaluation of both rep and manager; hence Best-in-Class firms support sales leaders with more “skin in the game” who are held accountable for more than simply generic team selling results.
Figure 2: Let’s Get Specific: Better Deal Management Yields Better Quota Attainment
In fact, when we analyze the performance of companies reporting that they take this augmented approach to sales training, compared with those who stick to the basics, we see in Figure 2 that the business results of opportunity-specific coaching are measurable and significant. The current performance metrics that Aberdeen sales research traditionally collects includes three KPIs around the all-important sales quota: what percentage of first-year reps hit their number, the same metric for all reps, and the entire team’s progress toward that “one big number” that everyone in the company watches: the annual company sales goal. Figure 2 reveals a rather rare occurrence in the research slicing-and-dicing to which Aberdeen’s Sales Effectiveness data are aggressively subjected: all three of these quota KPIs show enhanced performance for adopters of a specific competency, in this case, deal-specific coaching.