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STAMFORD, Conn, February 24, 2021

Gartner Research Shows Only 23% of B2B Sales Reps Say They Are Equally Effective Selling Virtually as They Are in Person

Sales Organizations Must Address Three Main Challenges Around Coaching in a Virtual Sales Era

Only 23% of B2B sales reps believe they are equally effective selling virtually as they are in a live, onsite setting, according to Gartner, Inc. 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,” said 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,” said 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 organizational vision for great sales coaching, while also putting in place the right infrastructure to support effective virtual selling.”

Inconsistent coaching culture

Gartner research shows that only 40% of sellers report they work within a well-established coaching culture at their organization. This may be driven by the fact that only 42% of sales reps report managers at their organization 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,” added Ms. 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.”

Inexperience with virtual selling and coaching skills

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 prioritize training and coaching sales reps on virtual selling competencies, while not losing focus on core selling competencies.

Immature coaching technology infrastructure

Only 39% of sales reps report their managers effectively use technology to coach. As more sales organizations 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 organization’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 maximize the impact of manager-seller coaching interactions,” said Mr. Bushée.

Learn more at the Gartner webinar “Build an Organizational Coaching Strategy for the Virtual Sales Era” on March 16, 2021. Gartner for Sales Leaders clients can learn more in Key Virtual Selling Challenges Sales Enablement Must Solve and State of Sales Manager Coaching, as well as the inaugural Magic Quadrant for Sales Training Service Providers.


About the Gartner CSO & Sales Leaders Conference

Sales leaders face unprecedented changes in B2B buying behaviors, customer expectations, technology and the talent needed to drive results. At the Gartner CSO & Sales Leader Conference, taking place virtually on May 17-18, 2021, sales leaders will learn from the latest research and Gartner experts covering sales talent, customer buying behavior, account-based marketing strategies and leveraging digital channels. Follow news and updates from the event on Twitter at #GartnerSales.


About Gartner for Sales Leaders

Gartner for Sales Leaders provides heads of sales and their teams with the insights, advice and tools they need to address mission-critical priorities amid mounting pressures to drive growth through new and existing customers. With extensive qualitative and quantitative research, Gartner for Sales Leaders helps sales teams combat commoditization and price-based purchasing, develop critical manager and seller skills, elevate the value of sales interactions, unlock existing growth potential, and optimize sales force enablement. Follow news and update from the Gartner Sales practice on Twitter and LinkedIn using #GartnerSales.

About Gartner

Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) delivers actionable, objective insight to executives and their teams. Our expert guidance and tools enable faster, smarter decisions and stronger performance on an organization’s mission critical priorities. To learn more, visit