Only 23% of B2B sales reps believe they are equally effective selling virtually as they are in a live, onsite setting.

However, Gartner’s Seller Skill Assessment, which surveyed 1 122 sales reps September 2020 through January 2021, showed that 58% of sales reps also report they have dedicated coaching sessions with their sales managers on effective virtual selling.

“An overwhelming 93% of sales reps are experiencing significant challenges with virtual selling but, in spite of coaching, most of those sales reps are unsure what they should be doing differently to execute their jobs effectively in this environment,” says Danielle McKinley, director of research and advisory in the Gartner Sales practice. “Sales managers are the lynch pin to this challenge.

“The success of a virtual selling engine depends on the managers ability to coach to the right skills and in the right way.”

Gartner’s State of Sales Manager Coaching research shows how sales managers play a vital role in helping sales reps adapt and improve through coaching. In fact, effective coaching from sales managers can unlock an 8% improvement in sales performance.

“Sales reps are not alone with their struggles in this virtual environment, sales managers are also faced with substantial challenges when coaching in today’s virtual era,” says Doug Bushée, senior director analyst in the Gartner Sales practice. “The three root causes for sales managers’ struggles coaching on virtual selling include an inconsistent coaching culture, inexperience with virtual selling and coaching skills, and a lack of investment in coaching technology.

“Sales leaders must create a clear organisational vision for great sales coaching, while also putting in place the right infrastructure to support effective virtual selling.”

Gartner research shows that only 40% of sellers report they work within a well-established coaching culture at their organisation. This may be driven by the fact that only 42% of sales reps report managers at their organisation are actually held accountable for providing good coaching.

“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,” adds McKinley.

“Sales leaders must understand their role in establishing and maintaining a strong coaching culture. 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.”

To be effective in today’s virtual world, sales managers need a thorough understanding of the new selling competencies required today. Gartner defines virtual selling as the collection of processes and technologies by which human sellers engage with human buyers remotely using both synchronous and asynchronous communications.

According to Gartner, three core virtual selling competencies that sales reps need to be proficient in to succeed today are virtual customer engagement, digital dexterity and data literacy.

The key for sales leaders is to prioritise training and coaching sales reps on virtual selling competencies, while not losing focus on core selling competencies.

Only 39% of sales reps report their managers effectively use technology to coach. As more sales organisations invest in sales training and coaching technologies, it will be critical to ensure they have the infrastructure in place to support and leverage the effective use of the technologies.

Before evaluating different technologies for sales training and coaching, sales leaders should make sure they have properly diagnosed their organisation’s coaching challenges and validate those hypotheses with internal stakeholders.

Once a roadmap is established, sales leaders must also consider how technologies will integrate with existing workflows before investing and deploying the tool.

“Coaching technologies should both decrease the effort to make coaching happen and maximise the impact of manager-seller coaching interactions,” says Bushée.