AI Sales Coaching is the New Efficiency Lever for Sales Process Transformation
Negotiation skills do not come naturally to everyone. Even the most experienced salespeople benefit from having a negotiation coach.
This white paper explores multiple sales coaching topics, including:
- The many challenges facing sales leaders,
- The role of sales as a driver of organizational transformation,
- The importance of negotiation training,
- The limitations of traditional training and coaching,
- How always-on AI-powered negotiation coaching can fuel sales transformation.
THE CHALLENGES FACING B2B SALES LEADERS
There are many challenges facing B2B sales leaders today.
- Increased competition: B2B sales organizations face increased competition from traditional competitors and new entrants to the market. Buyers are commoditizing vendors and forcing price concessions.
- Time constraints: Sales managers and leaders typically spend significant time coaching their teams on deals. Deal coaching can be time-consuming, especially when done manually. It involves reviewing sales calls, analyzing data, and providing feedback.
- Evolving customer expectations: B2B buyers expect a more personalized and consultative approach, which can be a challenge for sales organizations that are used to more transactional sales processes.
- Changing market conditions: B2B sales organizations face changing market conditions, including economic volatility, regulatory changes, and geopolitical shifts. These changes create uncertainty and make accurate forecasting difficult.
- Technology disruption: Technology rapidly transforms the B2B sales landscape with regularly emerging tools and platforms. Sales leaders must navigate this changing technology landscape and determine which tools and platforms are most effective for their organizations.
These (and other) challenges keep B2B sales leaders up at night, but many sales organizations are adapting by embracing various growth programs and initiatives:
- Digital transformation: Many B2B sales organizations are undergoing digital transformation initiatives to meet the needs of modern buyers. This may involve implementing sales enablement tools to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
- Sales process optimization: Optimizing sales processes to better align with the needs and expectations of modern buyers with consultative sales processes or streamlining the sales process to reduce friction.
- Sales training and coaching: B2B sales organizations invest in sales training and coaching programs to help their sales teams adapt to changing market conditions and customer expectations. This involved training and development opportunities, implementing coaching, or using AI-powered coaching platforms to provide personalized feedback and guidance.
- Data-driven sales: Leveraging data-driven sales approaches to gain insights into customer behavior, using predictive analytics to identify sales opportunities, or using data to inform sales messaging and outreach.
THE ROLE OF SALES IN ORGANIZATIONAL TRANSFORMATION
Sales Leadership is likely familiar with the concept of “always-on transformation.” This refers to the idea that organizations must constantly evolve and transform in response to changing market conditions and customer needs. Sales processes are no exception, and as the sales leader, you must train your sales team to adapt to these changes and stay ahead of the curve.
In a recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) article, “A People & Organization Leader’s Guide to Always-On Transformation,” the authors outline the key components of successful transformation. The article emphasizes the importance of a transformational leader who can guide the organization and the critical role of training and development in ensuring that the team is equipped to adapt to the new environment.
Sales leaders must guide the sales team through change and help them develop the skills and knowledge they need to adapt to the always-on sales process transformation. This includes providing ongoing training and development opportunities.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NEGOTIATION TRAINING AND COACHING
In traditional parlance, a negotiation coach provides salespeople guidance, advice, and support to help them improve their negotiation skills. A negotiation coach can help salespeople learn the art of negotiation and develop the confidence to negotiate effectively. A good negotiation coach can help salespeople to identify their strengths and weaknesses and develop a personalized approach that suits their style and personality.
In our more than 20 years of coaching experience, we’ve seen firsthand the ROI coaching delivers. In fact, we have documented case studies that show a 466% average ROI for our clients.
With the guidance of a negotiation coach, salespeople can learn how to communicate more effectively, build rapport with their clients, and close more deals.
The Strategic Account Management Association (SAMA) emphasizes the importance of sales negotiation coaching for salespeople in complex B2B sales environments. SAMA states, “Negotiation coaching is the most impactful investment you can make to improve your team’s negotiation results.” This supports the idea that negotiation coaching is crucial for success, especially in high-stakes B2B sales environments.
THE LIMITATIONS OF TRADITIONAL COACHING AND TRAINING
Training and coaching are essential to any sales team’s development. Still, they have limitations:
- One-time event: Training is usually done in a classroom setting or a one-time event, and the lessons are often forgotten after a few days or weeks.
- One-size-fits-all approach: Many sales coaching and training programs take a generic approach that doesn’t consider individual salespeople’s unique needs and styles. This can make the coaching or training less effective because it doesn’t address each salesperson’s specific challenges and strengths.
- Time and cost: Sales coaching and training can be time-consuming and expensive, particularly if it involves taking salespeople out of the field for extended periods. This can make it difficult to justify the investment, particularly for smaller organizations or teams.
- Limited scope: Coaching and training can only cover so much ground in a limited time. Salespeople may be unable to practice and reinforce new skills and techniques after the training or coaching program.
- Resistance to change: Some salespeople may resist change and may not be receptive to coaching or training. This can limit the program’s effectiveness and make it more difficult to achieve the desired results.
- Lack of follow-up: Sales coaching and training programs may not include sufficient follow-up and reinforcement to ensure that the new skills and techniques are being implemented and are effective.
While these limitations can make sales coaching and training less effective in some cases, it’s important to note that these limitations can be addressed through personalized, always-on coaching and AI coaching. These approaches can provide customized feedback and guidance that addresses the unique needs of individual salespeople and can be more cost-effective and scalable than traditional coaching and training methods.
EXPLORING THE ROOT CAUSES OF NEGOTIATION FAILURE
In the negotiation field, looking beyond the surface-level symptoms of problems such as declining margins or salespeople conceding on prices too quickly is essential. These issues are merely indications of a more significant underlying problem that needs to be addressed to achieve a successful outcome. There are several factors that contribute to negotiation problems, including selling-related and cross-functional issues such as:
- Selling the wrong product or service to the wrong person or at the wrong level
- Inconsistent execution of the sales process
- A lack of a well-defined or highly variable sales process
- Problems with the company’s value proposition or the lack thereof
- A complex, silo-driven, internal negotiation approval process
- Complicated deal-approval portals
- A disconnect between sales and contracts managers
- A perception that negotiation is separate from selling
- External factors such as emerging competitors buying market share
Although these symptoms can be addressed, it is critical to understand their root causes to achieve lasting solutions.
TACTICAL PROBLEMS INTERFERE WITH STRATEGIC SOLUTIONS
Tactical solutions such as attending a sales training course or speech at a sales meeting may not result in lasting changes to negotiation effectiveness. In the real world, the problem is quite simple at face value.
According to one VP of Sales interviewed for this paper:
“Reps stuff data into Salesforce and think about closing too late in their pipeline. Weekly 1-on-1s lack context and often are rushed.
This leads to reps struggling in the last mile when pricing pressure happens, facing internal negotiations and deep discounting fire drills.”
It’s easy to see how the root causes of negotiation problems are often simultaneously tactical, strategic, and cross-functional. A comprehensive diagnosis and solution must address all three issues head-on.
Selling and negotiation are soft skills AND core competencies that impact a company’s brand. Therefore, a more strategic approach is required to diagnose and prescribe sales-related training interventions. For example, a company with 300 geographically dispersed salespeople, each executing 50 transactions per year, has 15,000 customer negotiations on the table. Each interaction represents an opportunity to build brand equity, revenue, and margin opportunities. A strategic approach can help diagnose and solve these issues to ensure that each interaction is positive.
NEGOTIATION IS PREDICTABLE
Unfortunately, traditional negotiation training, as you no doubt already know, consists largely of memorizing long lists of tactics, countermeasures, and tips and tricks designed to prepare sales teams for every possible negotiation situation. This is based on the assumption that in a negotiation, you never know what’s going to happen and must, therefore, be prepared for anything.
However, based on CloseStrong’s research, 97% of what a seller is likely to hear coming out of a buyer’s mouth in a negotiation can be anticipated and fall into two categories.
Buyers either referred to their alternatives in an attempt to commoditize, or they leveraged that attempt by asking for some kind of concession. In the process, sometimes buyers focus on the second category, saying things like:
- “It’s not in my budget.”
- “Lower your price.”
- “Sharpen your pencil.”
Most of the time, however, buyers focus on both categories at the same time, arguing that:
- “Everyone else does that for free.”
- “You’re much harder to deal with than everyone else.”
- “Your competitor just lowered their price by 10%!”
In fact, our research shows that globally the most common buyer tactic is:
As a result, the salesperson heads back to HQ, repeats the buyer’s tactic, and the company winds up offering a discount; thereby reducing its profit. In other words, buyers all follow the same pattern of leveraging the alternative to ask for something.
THE ROLE OF ALWAYS-ON SALES COACHING
By relying on facts, data, and concrete insights it is possible to overcome these objectives. However, taking this approach essentially means moving away from training salespeople on generic negotiation methodology. Instead, provide them with data enabling them to change, and lead the negotiation conversation, rather than just reacting to it.
What makes all this possible is the fact that what salespeople are likely to hear during negotiations is almost entirely predictable (97% of the time!). Once they understand that, they can arm themselves with the facts they need to change the conversation early on in the sales process to avoid problems and counter whatever arguments they may hear in the final stages. Perhaps most important, these facts give them the confidence that comes with having a realistic view of the future, This, in turn, provides them with an edge they can’t get anywhere else.
There is no question that training and coaching are essential to a salesperson’s career development. Given the many constraints on managers’ time, low adoption of training skills, too much emphasis on one-time training events, and not enough reinforcement of lessons learned, there is a need for ongoing coaching and training.
Always-on coaching is a continuous process that never sleeps or stops. It provides ongoing support and guidance to salespeople, helping them to improve their negotiation skills and close more deals.
AI-powered negotiation coaching is a powerful tool that provides continual reinforcement for the entire sales team. It ensures that salespeople always learn and adapt to new negotiation strategies and tactics. With always-on negotiation coaching, salespeople can receive personalized feedback and guidance that helps them improve their negotiation skills in real time.
Salesforce.com, a leading customer relationship management (CRM) software company, stresses the importance of always-on sales coaching. In a blog post titled “The Benefits of Always-On Sales Coaching,” Salesforce explains that always-on coaching is essential for building a successful sales team. Salesforce states that “in order to achieve sustainable results, sales leaders must adopt a culture of always-on sales coaching.” This highlights the significance of always-on coaching in building a successful sales team, which includes negotiation coaching as a critical component.
You can download the Salesforce workbook here: https://www.salesforce.com/resources/guides/sales-coaching-workbook/
Research from Bridge Group, a sales consulting firm, supports the idea that always-on coaching is superior to traditional sales training. In a study titled “The Sales Effectiveness Report,” Bridge Group found that companies that provided frequent, always-on coaching to their sales teams had better win rates than companies that did not provide coaching.
AI-POWERED NEGOTIATION & SALES COACHING IS A NEW LEVER FOR SALES PROCESS TRANSFORMATION
By improving negotiation skills, sales teams can better compete with traditional competitors and extract more value from every customer relationship – creating more profitable organizations. Buyers are increasingly commoditizing their vendors and forcing greater price concessions. This puts pressure on sales teams to negotiate effectively and to be able to secure better deals for their organizations. By improving their negotiation skills, sales teams can more effectively negotiate with customers and achieve better outcomes, even in a highly competitive environment.
In short, improving negotiation skills for a sales organization solves multiple problems and supports digital transformation in many ways. Sales leaders should prioritize negotiation coaching and training for their sales teams to achieve sustainable growth and long-term success in the ever-evolving B2B sales landscape.
TAKING NEGOTIATION TRAINING AND COACHING TO THE NEXT LEVEL: WHY ALWAYS-ON COACHING IS THE FUTURE OF SALES PROCESS TRANSFORMATION
Always-on negotiation coaching can help salespeople build on their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. With always-on coaching, salespeople can learn from their mistakes and receive immediate feedback that helps them to improve their negotiation skills. This feedback can be in alerts, notifications, or real-time coaching.
Always-on coaching is better than training because it provides ongoing support and guidance to salespeople. Always-on coaching can help salespeople learn from their mistakes and develop their skills. It also ensures that salespeople are always up-to-date with the latest negotiation strategies and tactics.
AI COACHING: LEARNING AND ADAPTING TO IMPROVE ORGANIZATIONAL NEGOTIATION SKILLS
AI coaching is a powerful tool that can help salespeople to learn and adapt to improve their negotiation skills. AI coaching uses machine learning algorithms to analyze salespeople’s behavior, identify patterns, and provide personalized feedback and guidance. With AI coaching, salespeople can receive customized coaching tailored to their needs and learning style.
AI coaching can help organizations improve their negotiation skills. AI coaching can help salespeople learn from their mistakes and develop their skills. As AI coaching analyzes each salesperson’s behavior, it can learn and adapt to provide more effective coaching, which leads to better results for the entire organization.
The individual impacts are significant:
- Salespeople connect strategy to tactics one deal at a time
- Easier onboarding
- Higher % of deals coached
- Increase in win rate
- Smaller discounts
- Shorter deal cycles
A report from McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, highlights the potential of AI in sales coaching. In the report “Artificial Intelligence: The next frontier for growth in the industrial sector,” McKinsey & Company discusses how AI sales coaching can help salespeople to “capture and scale best practices, providing personalized feedback and nudges to individual sales reps.” This supports the idea that AI coaching can help salespeople improve their negotiation skills by providing personalized feedback and guidance tailored to their individual needs.
AI coaching can also help sales teams identify patterns in their negotiation strategies that may not have been apparent. With the help of AI coaching, salespeople can determine which strategies are working and which ones need improvement. AI coaching can also provide real-time feedback during negotiations, allowing salespeople to adjust their approach and increase the likelihood of closing a deal.
Constant reinforcement of best practices also enable sales leadership to catch bad deals before they appear. The continual analysis of deal dynamics throughout a buyer’s journey from qualifying to close applies lessons learned from training to individual deals. Over time, a library of best practices is built, and evidence for certain approaches validates every phase of the sales process from qualify to close.
Finally, instead of coaching being used reactively (before the end of the quarter) – it becomes much more intentional and long-term, with coaching beginning 12 to 18 months before renewal. Used in this fashion, sales organizations solve the chronic problem of price concessions and discounting by proactively addressing account engagement.
When the sales organization changes the conversation from price to value, the impact on the organization is transformational:
- Stops price concessions before they happen
- Reduces discounting
- Increases the quality of the deal for both sides
- Improves and deepens account relationships
- Increases closing percentages
- Improve long-term forecast accuracy
THE SCIENCE OF NEGOTIATION
In today’s competitive business environment, strong negotiation skills are crucial for success. Investing in negotiation coaching for your sales team can provide significant benefits, including increased success rates, improved revenue, and a more confident sales team.
AI coaching is a valuable tool that can help salespeople to learn and adapt to improve their negotiation skills. By investing in always-on AI-based negotiation coaching, businesses can achieve significant ROI and become better negotiators, resulting in more closed deals and increased revenue.
CloseStrong is an AI-based negotiation and “sales close” coach with a proven record of solving sales negotiation problems at scale. Developed using research collected across more than 40,000 individual negotiations, CloseStrong’s proprietary diagnostic process uses a data set that deeply understands the root causes of a client’s negotiating symptoms, issues, and successes.
At CloseStrong, we provide hard data with which salespeople can counteract “I can get the same thing cheaper,” and then train them on how to leverage that data in a negotiation, giving them an advantage not only with their buyers but also with their competitors.