Analytical Sales Coaching: The Missing Management Skill

We came across an article by Bob Apollo citing Miller Heiman research suggesting that only 34% of all sales organizations believed their management team was “highly effective in helping the sales team advance sales opportunities.” This low figure struck us as extremely alarming – what were the other two-thirds of organizations doing?!?

Not applying analytical sales coaching to their sales management repertoire, that’s what.

In the article, Apollo derides the new school of sales managers that act as “forecast accountants,” largely focused on facts and numbers. Instead, the author advocates that the best sales managers are ones who ask broadening questions instead of narrowing questions.

We here at InsightSquared vehemently disagree with the author’s negative view of data and analytics – we believe that the best form of sales management combines probing questions and coaching with data-backed reports and analysis. Using data-driven reports to spur sales coaching sessions will yield more productive and impactful manager-rep relationships, with meaningful questions backed up by sound analysis. Furthermore, giving reps access to data from advanced sales analytics will give them a more nuanced and well-rounded perspective on their own performances.

Here are some of the top data-driven sales coaching questions that every analytical sales manager must ask their sales reps.

How are you performing against your activity goals / the rest of the team?

Nobody knows the effort and activities of a rep better than themselves, so ask them to diagnose their own performances. They know what their activity goals are, so will know if they have hit them or not. Furthermore, make reports of all rep activities accessible to your entire team, allowing them to not only track their own activities but creating healthy competition and providing motivation. Data-driven activity reports that feature not only raw numbers of activities but also the conversion rates of these activities (from calls to demos to closed-won deals) can help employees keep track of their own progress against personal and team-wide goals, while providing more salient coaching points for managers. 

How much do you have in your pipeline / what opportunities should you be pursuing?

Empower your reps to take ownership of their opportunity pipelines. Give them the resources they need to know every aspect of their own opportunity pipeline. Therefore, when you ask reps these questions, they can give specific answers, pointing to the data for support. If certain opportunities are stalling or veering into negative velocity, sales pipeline reports can reveal those opportunities to reps, who can then adjust their priorities accordingly. 

Managers can also weave in coaching sessions using pipeline reports when asking reps such probing questions. Reps who are coached to work their immediate pipeline smarter by identifying the best bang-for-the-buck to close high-probability deals will perform more efficiently and effectively moving forward.

Where is the weakness in your sales cycle?

No sales rep is perfect, and studying their own sales funnels will highlight the weaknesses in their sales processes. Instruct reps to examine the conversion rates between different stages of their sales funnel to self-diagnose their own weaknesses, before sales managers step in with additional coaching.

For example, if a rep was losing a huge percentage of opportunities between the demo and trial phase, he or she might require additional coaching on demo and presentation skills, or in qualifying opportunities for demos in the first place. Knowing what specific steps and skills to focus your coaching efforts on can be a tremendous boon for productivity.

How many of your opportunities are you winning?

Reps should have this winning percentage number clear in their heads, with goals of regularly clearing it and setting the bar higher. By monitoring their own won/loss rates on opportunities over a long period of time, reps will know if they are improving, stagnating or somehow regressing. 

Employees with consistently low win rates can be coached to focus on specific activities that lead to higher win percentages. Repeated lost reasons can be addressed directly. By regularly monitoring the won/loss rates of reps and using them as coaching points, the overall win rate for the team should increase, as reps become more productive and efficient in their performances.

We agree with Bob Apollo on the value of asking reps broadening questions over narrowing ones during coaching sessions. We also know that sales analytics and data-driven reports add merit and credibility to these types of questions. The data supports the argument that analytical sales management is more effective than sales management that isn’t buttressed by statistical analysis. The best sales managers should all be operating in a data-driven culture.

What type of sales management tactics have your company employed? How effective have they been? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.