Gartner Research: 58% Of Sales Reps Require Coaching To Better Sell In A Virtual Environment

Published: March 19, 2021

With B2B selling taking on an entirely virtual identity, many organizations have turned to digital marketplaces to drive revenue and leads. However, the transition to digital may not be as glamorous for frontline sales.

New research from Gartner Inc. revealed that 93% of sales reps experience challenges that negatively impact their selling capabilities in a virtual environment, with 58% needing dedicated coaching sessions from sales managers to merely function.

According to Danielle McKinley, Director of Research and Advisory in the Gartner Sales practice, 66% of challenges to virtual selling are internal, and it’s up to sales managers to take charge. She explained that this includes overhauling an organization’s sales coaching culture, as it is the lynchpin for true virtual selling success.

“The way sales managers coach, whether it be through ride-alongs or sharing past experiences, has experienced a big upheaval,” said McKinley in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “Most organizations are recognizing that more will be done virtually. Sales executives and managers are realizing that there has to be a greater strategy around engagement, and sales can no longer simply plug in the gaps like they did in 2020.”

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Sales managers are learning how to improve their sales coaching alongside sales leaders, and both are working toward addressing challenges with virtual selling to help improve their reps’ productivity and efficiency in 2021.

“These changes are just as new for the managers as they are for the reps, and many companies haven’t invested as heavily in educating their managers as they have their reps,” McKinley explained. “It becomes more about how we can better support and enable our managers so that they can help our sales reps. All of this leads to a stronger coaching culture and better sales productivity.”

Redefining Coaching Culture Through Education

The research stressed the importance of coaching culture in B2B sales, with 40% of sales organizations having a strong coaching culture for their sales reps. The research also cites that organizations with a strong seller coaching culture can improve their sales performance by 8%.

To create an environment where sales reps can more readily succeed, sales managers need to help their reps understand their workspace, the best methods for engaging customers and strategies for self-optimization. McKinley explained that companies with stronger coaching cultures produce more adaptable and independent sales reps who are better at engaging customers and closing deals.

“A strong coaching culture is built through a set of expectations that are not only communicated, but also demonstrated and operationalized consistently across roles and over time,” said McKinley. “Sales leaders must understand their role in establishing and maintaining a strong coaching culture.”

According to McKinley, this includes:

  • Defining a clear vision for world-class coaching;
  • Communicating the importance of a coaching culture;
  • Adjusting leadership behavior to be consistent with the coaching culture; and
  • Instituting and aligning processes and tools to reinforce and support the coaching culture.”

However, keeping a consistent coaching culture has proven challenging for some virtual selling organizations, as only 42% hold their sales managers accountable for the quality of their coaching.

To combat this, organizations require their sales managers to become well-versed in the processes and skills necessary to help their sales reps operate technology and improve productivity. The research highlighted three core metrics organizations use to help their managers be better prepared to train their reps for virtual selling:

  • Virtual customer engagement – Sales managers can provide real-world examples for sales reps to emulate and become more adaptable;
  • Digital dexterity – Managers are learning to identify, master and pass on the necessary skills their reps will need to engage customers properly; and
  • Data literacy – Sales managers need to understand how to properly use the specific tools and datasets that inform their sales processes and engagement for them to eventually teach their sales reps.

“Sales managers have the role of creating buy-in, motivation and engagement with their teams,” added McKinley. “They need to figure out how to best help their sales reps adapt while providing them with an open, continuous learning environment. They also need to act as a connecter for their internal organizations, and help them identify who to go for data, contacts, etc.”

Improving Manager Effectiveness With Coaching Tech

As more organizations aim to create a stronger coaching culture, they are looking to help sales managers leverage sales technology to improve their coaching. According to the research, 39% of sales reps reported that their managers use sales technology to coach them effectively and efficiently on daily virtual selling processes.

McKinley explained that although sales coaching technology is in its infancy, many organizations are taking the time to diagnose the challenges their sales teams are facing and find the best tools that address those challenges. When sales managers have access to sales technology, they can identify problems with current virtual selling processes and learn how to best use that tool to improve their coaching.

“The most important part of the coaching tool is that the organization has taken the time to diagnose the problem that the tool is meant to solve,” said McKinley. “There are a lot of great tools on the market, but if they do not solve the right problem the manager is experiencing, you run the risk of investing in something that will not yield returns.”

If organizations are going to have an effective virtual selling model in 2021 and beyond, their sales managers need to have the proper tools and experience to effectively coach their reps. Although challenges with virtual selling and sales manager coaching exist, sales organizations are making a concerted effort to address their shortcomings for future B2B sales.

“The changes over the last year are going to dictate how we engage customers going forward, and the research suggests that more buyers are craving virtual selling interactions,” said McKinley, “More is going to happen in digital channels and sales leaders, managers and reps need to adjust to those changes accordingly.”

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