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Coaching for ‘Sales Enablement’

An Emerging Practice by Successful B2B Firms

By Byron Matthews, president and CEO at Miller Heiman Group

The following is an exclusive excerpt from “Sales Enablement: A Master Framework to Engage, Equip and Empower a World-Class Sales Force.” Tamara Schenk and I co-authored this book to explore the exploding business function of sales enablement.

Sales enablement has gone from being used by 19 percent of companies in 2013 to 59 percent in 2017. And for good reason -- there's a direct correlation between sales enablement disciplines and attaining sales quotas. B2B firms that implement enablement programs reach revenue goals at a rate more than 8 percent higher than those that do not.

Historically, leaders believed that successful sale practitioners were more art than science. Today, those successful sales teams will combine sales methodology, robust content, training and coaching services, and technology to meet the needs of current and future data-driven businesses.

Effective content services also result in an 8 percent improvement in quota attainment, while effective training services improve quota attainment between 18 percent and 22 percent.

To succeed, the enablement team must collaborate closely with HR, L&D and other supporting departments. With an evidence-based case for why enablement should offer coaching services and for whom, we should discuss the end state, the types of coaching you will enable. To dive into this a bit, we’d like to share the below book excerpt:

There Is More than One Type of Coaching
Most people think of coaching as conversations in which a manager and a seller consider what to do in order to close a specific piece of business. This is opportunity coaching, and it is assuredly important. Yet, it is only one of five different kinds of coaching that managers should be fully enabled for and executing on a regular basis with each of their salespeople. In addition to opportunity coaching, effective coaches also focus on leads, the sales funnel or pipeline, skills and behaviors, account, and territory.

The sales coaching framework

As we drill into the detail in order to highlight the differences among the five types of coaching (see Figure 7.3) and allow you to consider your own gaps and strengths, we mustn’t forget the bigger picture. No matter what area coaches are discussing with a sales professional, they must always keep the customer as the focus of the conversation. For example, when discussing an opportunity, coach and salesperson aren’t discussing sales techniques to move a customer from awareness to the buying phase. Instead, they are discussing how the salesperson can add relevance and differentiation so that the customer wants to move to the buying phase.

Lead and Opportunity Coaching
We talked earlier about the need to offer perspective and insights to customers and prospects early in the customer path, leveraging a detailed sales methodology for aligning the sales and buying processes. This is critical for organizations looking to climb the vertical axis in the SRP matrix because adding perspectives and insight are how salespeople add value for their customers. Furthermore, aligning the sales and buying process ensure this perspective and insight is offered at the right time.

Coaching to this end result has the greatest impact when it starts in the early stages of the lead/opportunity. If the manager waits to coach until just before a deal is closed, the discussion may narrowly focus on approval for a discount. This is neither coaching by our earlier definition nor does it drive relationship growth.

● In the initial stage, coaches should ask questions to help the sales professional identify the leads that are most likely to turn into qualified opportunities.
● Once opportunities are identified, the discussion turns to engagement strategies, leveraging relationships and how to tailor messaging. In the buying phase, coach and salesperson discuss where customers are along their path and how the sales professional can help them move forward. Note that opportunity coaching for every opportunity within a team may not be practical. Coaches should focus their efforts on opportunities that are stuck in the funnel or those that are must-win opportunities, strategic, high potential, etc.
● During the implementation and adoption phase, the focus turns back to lead coaching as the salesperson looks for additional ways to add value in existing accounts.

Sales enablement can support these kinds of coaching conversations by ensuring that coaches have mastered opportunity management methodologies and technology-enabled data analysis and planning tools and by providing detailed coaching guidelines.

Funnel or Pipeline Coaching
This area focuses on the structure of a salesperson’s funnel or pipeline. Here, the sales manager works with the sales professional to help identify the most valuable deals that can be won and to manage risks and allocate resources accordingly. Funnel coaching also helps salespeople understand how the shape of their funnel translates into quota attainment and how they can best improve their funnel performance.

Sales force enablement can help by providing training and guidelines that help the coach better understand the science behind funnel management. Such training and guidelines can also develop sales managers’ business acumen so they are better able to evaluate the risk/reward trade-off when evaluating opportunities and deciding where sales professionals should spend their time.

In this coaching area, close collaboration between sales operations and enablement is essential. Sales operations usually defines the funnel and forecast process. So, it is important that sales managers understand how their sales teams are expected to follow these processes and that they develop coaching skills to reinforce these behaviors. In addition, sales operations often has access to a larger set of data, often accessed via the CRM or integrated applications. Enablement can help coaches to access data and use it to understand not just whether salespeople are performing the right activities and reaching their targets, but also to identify the leading indicators of performance that show where salespeople might be challenged.

Skills and Behaviors Coaching
Many of the actions that are identified in opportunity coaching involve conversations that the seller should have with the customer. The success of these conversations is predicated on the skills and behaviors of the seller: questioning techniques to surface needs that the customer was unaware of, presenting perspective in a way that enhances the customer’s thinking, surfacing and resolving customer concerns. Perspective Selling is the method for acquiring, growing and retaining key customer relationships. Conversational skills are how those relationships take place, one interaction at a time.

Sales enablement supports this through deployment of selling skills to the frontline, developing coaches to a mastery level in these skills, providing support tools and training on how to role play critical sales conversations as well as technology-enabled call planning tools.

Account Coaching
Before we go into the details of account coaching, let’s be clear: Account coaching is not another word for coaching opportunities in an account. Account coaching is focused on selling models where salespeople are selling into named or strategic accounts where they may manage multiple opportunities in multiple buying centers or fields of play.

Account coaching conversations focus on the broader nature of the account, the customer’s strategic business context (including their customers and their marketplace), the potential the sales organization has to impact that business and the myriad of relationships that need to be initiated and nurtured through providing perspective and insights. These kinds of accounts are usually those where you are aiming for Trusted Partner status (or as close as is reasonable in your industry) as highlighted in the SRP Matrix.

Sales enablement can support these kinds of conversations through deploying account management methodologies, creating coaching diagnostic questions and guidelines for analyzing account plans, identifying technologies to uncover account information and providing tools and a visual structure for relationship mapping.

Territory Coaching
Territory coaching leverages market and territory analyses, data and definitions (usually supplied by sales operations) to keep salespeople focused. Without this focus, salespeople can be working constantly but never get any closer to their targets. As with account coaching, territory coaching is not about coaching opportunities in the territory. It takes a more strategic look at how to approach the territory: the right accounts, industries and buyer roles. Sales enablement supports this coaching by deploying territory management tools and working with sales operations to create manager level dashboards.


Within the book we’ve outlined specific skills we recommend are a focus for each type of coaching. We hope you find these insights valuable as you explore the process of implementing coaching services that aid in the success that can come of sales enablement initiatives.

Sales coaching approach impacts win rates

Coaching is the best way to drive adoption and reinforcement of the initial investments in enabling salespeople. Developing coaching skills is also essential for an organization looking to make any sort of significant transformation, such as a move from a transactional, product-oriented approach to one focused on business outcomes.

In fact, the 2017 Sales Enablement Optimization Study found that organizations that achieved dynamic coaching maturity by actively targeting sales managers with enablement services and purposefully driving coaching services aligned to an overall enablement framework could improve their win rates for forecast deals by 28% compared to the study’s average of 52% (see Figure 7.1). If you are not there yet, you are not alone. Only 11% of respondents had achieved this level of coaching maturity at this point in their enablement journey.

There are a myriad of ways to start or enhance your sales enablement efforts. But
don’t let the daunting nature of the scope of enablement stall your efforts. Start socializing it with executives today. Start the conversation!

Byron MatthewsByron Matthews, President and CEO, leads Miller Heiman Group’s commitment to championing customer-management excellence throughout the customer life cycle and across the enterprise from one source. Byron brings to bear in his role a firm grasp of providing organizations worldwide with an expanded, holistic approach for developing and managing, and sustaining, long-term customer relationships.

Byron’s depth and breadth of prior experiences include serving as Senior Vice President of Sales at Aflac, where he led over 30,000 sales professionals across multiple channels, and over five years at Mercer as Global Sales Leader and Global Head of the Sales Performance Practice, where he grew revenue over 30 percent. Purchase his new book on sales enablement, here.

About Miller Heiman Group
Miller Heiman Group is the global leader in providing organizations the sales methodology plus technology to drive revenue. The organization consults with successful brands, both large and small, to implement training, technology and coaching that drastically changes business outcomes. Through a combination of system innovation, unique industry research and proven learning approaches, Miller Heiman Group is future-proofing clients through the next wave of sales disruption. For more information, visit

About CSO Insights
CSO Insights is the research division of Miller Heiman Group, dedicated to improving the performance and productivity of complex B2B sales. The CSO Insights team of respected analysts provides sales leaders with the research, data, expertise, and best practices required to build sustainable strategies for sales performance improvement. CSO Insights’ annual sales effectiveness studies, along with its benchmarking capabilities, are industry standards for sales leaders seeking operational and behavioral insights into how to improve their sales performance and to gain holistic assessments of their selling and sales management efficacy. Annual research studies address sales and service best practices, sales enablement and sales performance optimization. For more information, visit


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