3 Tips to Transform Your Virtual Mentoring and Coaching Programs

SAP’s Sales Learning Organization focuses on building a world-class experiential learning portfolio that meets the needs of its sales executives whose busy schedules demand mentoring and coaching on-the-go.

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While most organizations have met the initial challenges posed by remote and hybrid work, there is still tremendous opportunity for enablement teams to help learners thrive in the virtual space.

Undoubtedly, there are irreplaceable aspects of in-person learning that are lost, but the benefits of virtual interaction—particularly for employees in highly distributed, time-constrained environments—are worth striving for.

Virtual mentoring and peer-to-peer learning have proven particularly effective at SAP—a highly distributed organization with more than 105,000 employees in locations around the world.

Our Sales Learning Organization has helped lead way in this effort, thanks to an intense (pre-pandemic) focus on building a world-class experiential learning portfolio that would meet the needs of our sales executives whose busy schedules demand mentoring and coaching on-the-go.

It’s likely your organization has some form of virtual mentoring/peer learning already in-place, but here are three tips to bring your new or existing programs to the next level:

Tip #1: Keep mentoring programs action-oriented

At SAP, we run virtual peer learning programs for both sales executives and managers using Zoom (a similar collaborative platform would work equally well). High-performing sales executives are matched with groups of their peers during one-hour sessions to discuss/share best practices on a specific sales topic (e.g., business acumen, negotiation, etc.).

In these sessions, the high-performing sales executive serves as a mentor to their colleagues, providing actionable guidance to the group based on their experience.

Similarly, in separate sessions, sales managers meet in a more traditional, yet confidential, peer-to-peer setting to converse and share best practices on topics related to coaching and mentoring their team members—topics such as building trust, building empathy, and active listening.

The common denominator for both peer learning programs is that both sets of participants leave with an action plan and new contacts to keep the conversation going. Sales executives who may benefit from more regular mentoring can reconvene with their mentor two weeks following their initial session to “report back” on the actions they’ve taken and resulting outcomes.

Tip #2: Remove the guesswork with skill and customer relationship management (CRM) analysis

If you’re looking to move your virtual mentoring sessions beyond traditional conversation, there’s no better substitute than using data (collected via employee skill assessments or CRM analysis, along with other methods) to remove the guesswork and give your mentors and mentees unmatched insight into the areas where more focus and/or enablement is needed.

At SAP, we use personalized reports to supercharge our Data-Driven Coaching program—an otherwise traditional “coach/coachee” program that matches sales executives with an internal, certified coach who is outside of their reporting line in a confidential, safe virtual setting.

These reports combine CRM data and skill analysis drawn from our learning management system (LMS) software to give both coach and coachee valuable insight into how the participating sales executive comapres against top performers in their region and role. With the report serving as a single source of truth, our coaches more easily guide coachees toward developing their own solutions and goals for improved performance.

At a broader level, we also use the data we collect to locate potential mentors and mentees.

For example, our annual skills assessment asks mangers to rate their direct reports across a range of key skills using a standard proficiency scale ranging from 0 (“new to a skill”) to 4 (“skill expert”).  Wherever a manager rating for a particular sales executive falls below a designated “target rating,” a gap is identified and matched—via personalized plan—to the latest and greatest available learning content. Sales executives then use these plans as a development tool moving forward.

Peer learning programs such as the ones described above are included in learning plans. The insight we gain from the data (e.g., skill gaps impacting the largest percentages of our learning audience) help us decide which topics to cover in future mentoring sessions.

Tip #3: Empower mentors to grow externally

There’s a chance your organization has opportunities that would allow your mentors to gain external mentoring experience.

At SAP, for example, our SAP.IO program works with external start-ups and early stage companies to help grow and scale their businesses. Here again, our Sales Learning Organization saw a unique opportunity to help support the program by empowering our more experienced SAP sales executives to serve as mentors to participating, external start-up teams. Our program, called, “Experience.IO,” has given our internal mentors a unique opportunity to further expand their mentoring capabilities, while also expanding their presence as subject matter experts in areas such as enterprise sales basics, objection handling, and understanding the sales cycle.

Mark Crofton
Mark Crofton is the head of Sales Enablement at SAP. He leads a team of sales enablement professionals responsible for boosting the performance of SAP colleagues in sales and sales-related roles around the world. The team’s primary focus is the collection and in-depth analysis of sales executive performance and skill proficiency data—then used to provide sales executives with highly relevant, personalized learning plans and one-on-one coaching from certified, internal coaches. Crofton previously led the SAP Academy for Sales (SAP’s flagship training program for Early Talent) and was SAP’s VP Sales, Latin America. Crofton was also a consultant with McKinsey & Company and worked with Thomson Reuters in client services, pre-sales, and sales. He has a BA from Tufts University and an MBA from Columbia Business School. He is fluent in Spanish and German.