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On April 27, 2016, SAP won the Bersin by Deloitte Ultimate WhatWorks Award. This program recognizes innovation and excellence in critical areas of HR, learning and talent. More than 170 organizations around the globe applied to be recognized in one of five categories: Developing Tomorrow's Leaders, Enabling High-Impact Learning, Acquiring Top Talent, Optimizing Talent Management and Transforming HR.

We submitted to the "Developing Tomorrow's Leaders" category, which covers the question of how to ensure that the organization is building better leaders to drive agility and growth. This was exactly the intention of the "Coaching to the Challenger" program which I launched over three years ago. I was extremely proud when we received the notification that we had won this category!

But what makes our WhatWorks Award so very special? Out of the five category winners, just one was to win the ULTIMATE Award. Each of the finalists had to present at the Bersin by Deloitte conference in Hollywood, Florida and the 500 conference participants had to vote for the Ultimate winner of the award. Imagine, as a non-native speaker I had to present for ten minutes in a competition against four other well prepared corporations. Well, my team and I accepted the challenge and we achieved the ultimate result.

Why did we win the ULTIMATE What Works Award?

It was certainly not only our capability to run global workshops in over 22 countries to more than 6,500 colleagues. The key factor was that we were able to demonstrate tangible business results. These results are based on the real improvements on the participants after attending the program:

  • 26% increase in win rate
  • 27% increase in sales revenue
  • 26% increase in sales pipeline generated
  • Increase in sales deal size by a factor of 6
  • 25% reduction in sales deal closing time

Furthermore, we asked the program participants to isolate the effect of the training that helped them to generate the sales opportunities. The application of the "Coaching to the Challenger" program resulted in a financial impact of more than €184 M.

So what did we actually do?

In 2012 we analyzed how sales could be enabled to become more successful in the upcoming digital era. Our customers told us that we could improve by differentiating ourselves from the competition. Our sales people would need to understand their needs better, bring some innovative ideas to their businesses and be more proactive and professional in engaging with them.

This resonated very well with "Challenger Sales", a new approach from the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) which focuses around the customer to "teach, tailor, take control and use constructive tension". With the Challenger Sales model, account executives act more like consultants rather than sales people. To achieve success in this consultative role, sales executives need to have a clear and deep understanding of their clients' businesses as well as knowledge of key insights about their clients in order to provide value to them.

We developed two components as part of the program. The first, "Coaching to the Challenger", is designed to equip sales managers with the tools to coach and support their teams' development around this new sales approach. It comprises of three phases, including pre-work, a two day coaching workshop, and post-work. The second component is called "Challenger Selling - Lead the Way", which enables sales executives to apply the challenger approach in their daily work. I find it very important that everything we do in these workshops is applied to real opportunities for the account executives. This enables them to not only learn a new sales approach, but to change their behavior and execute the learnings in their specific deals, leading to higher business outcomes. The role of sales managers as coaches is also key to driving their teams' behaviours, leading to higher performance and greater long-term results. As mentioned above, we have achieved outstanding results that exceeded our expectations.

Winning this award makes me very proud of my team and all the colleagues who have helped us achieve these amazing results. Looking ahead, we are already executing the next version of this program, called "Digital Transformation - Innovation Challenger in Action". We are building on the Challenger foundation to enable our sales organization to become the next leaders in Digital Transformation. The story continues!

Rainer Stern - Global Sales Acceleration and Leadership Programs