Top 10 OTI: Microsoft Corporation: Pitch Perfect

For the first time since the creation of the Training Top 10 Hall of Fame in 2008, Training magazine required all Hall of Famers to submit an Outstanding Training Initiative that would be shared with our readers throughout the year. Here are the details of Microsoft Corporation’s submission.

“Our sellers have deep product knowledge, and they excel at leading product-focused, technical discussions,” says Chris Pirie, general manager of Microsoft’s Sales, Marketing and Services Readiness (SMSGR) Group. “But we found that our sellers were less confident when talking to business decision-makers (BDMs), who really want to know how Microsoft can solve their unique business challenges. It was imperative that we give sellers the tools needed to lead solution-centric conversations with this new audience.”

Of course, training more than 11,000 geographically dispersed sellers is no small feat.

The Solution
In 2012, Microsoft launched the comprehensive Pitch Perfect program. Pitch Perfect pairs sellers with their managers and peers to boost sellers’ skills and confidence in leading more targeted and impactful conversations with BDMs. In its first year, key elements of the Pitch Perfect program included:

  • Required online courses: Through four 45-minute online courses around priority solution areas, sellers gained insights to help them uncover business requirements and align and differentiate the value of Microsoft solutions.
  • Role-play and practice: Successful customer conversations depend on the commitment from sellers and their managers to help sellers practice their pitches and fully utilize role-play exercises, scripts, and pitch planners. In addition to one-on-one role-play sessions, group practice sessions are easily integrated into regional and local readiness events and team meetings.
  • Manager coaching: Pitch Perfect equips managers with coaching guidance, so they can practice with sellers in a structured way and ask probing questions.

Wendy Dutton, Pitch Perfect program manager, has played a pivotal role in helping to shape the program. “What differentiates Pitch Perfect from our other training programs is that it provides sellers with a simulated customer conversation where they can practice hard listening,” she explains. “It is customizable and applicable to all our sellers, and it is helping to build a culture of practice and coaching.”

Now in its second year, Pitch Perfect continues to build upon its success. Four new 30-minute courses around priority conversations were released. In addition, Pitch Perfect introduced a formal Peer Coaching and Endorsement element.

Since July 2013, more than 200 leader-nominated “Super Coaches” have been trained to lead Coaching and Endorsement sessions around priority BDM conversations. To participate, sellers role-play a specific customer scenario with their assigned Super Coach. The coach offers feedback and partners with the seller to brainstorm ideas and next steps to reinforcing the customer conversation.

Sellers who achieve an Endorsement demonstrate their preparedness to align Microsoft solutions to their customer requirements, profile business needs, remove sales blockers, and articulate the value of Microsoft solutions. Already this fiscal year, more than 1,000 sellers have earned their Endorsements. 

In its first year, Pitch Perfect impacted roughly 11,000 sellers, even though the program initially targeted approximately 6,000 sellers, who were required to complete the online courses—in fact, greater than 99 percent of the target audience was reached. Approximately 5,000 learners outside the targeted seller group completed each of the online courses based upon their training roadmaps and peer recommendations.

“Our sellers and managers are telling us how Pitch Perfect has improved the way they approach customers, helping them to build the pipeline and accelerate deals,” says Jim Federico, director of Business Process Management for Microsoft’s SMSGR team.

Adds one Microsoft sales manager in Russia, “Pitch Perfect has given us a structure for continuing to practice and enhance pitches with our team. As we demonstrate a clear understanding of our customers’ business priorities, we are opening the door to new opportunities.”