Sales Training and Sales Coaching: What’s the Difference?

Sales training and sales coaching are two of the best ways to improve the sales performance of your team. But sometimes people aren’t really sure what the difference is, or even if there is one. As it turns out, they are in fact two entirely separate things – dealing with different areas, approaches, and expected outcomes. Being aware of the distinctions will help you determine which you need to use and when, accelerating the development of your sales team.

Sales Training
In a nutshell, sales training involves the acquisition of newly learned skills and techniques, which can include such things as a universal language, product knowledge, and understanding of the sales process for members in your sales organization (though this is by no means an exhaustive list!). Sales training often tends to be a large-scale event involving the entire team and/or organization – an intensive classroom and/or workshop environment. But it doesn’t have to be – it can be a small, one-on-one micro session. The key takeaway here is that it’s about learning new skills – whether it’s something like training new sales reps in your company and their role, or even something as basic as teaching team members how to use the new CRM as a sales tool.

Sales training typically occurs much less frequently than sales coaching but can also be used as a refresher. As we’ve said before and other studies have noted, much of newly acquired information is lost within the first 90 days, and so consistent reinforcement is needed to ensure the information sticks.

Another best practice of a good sales training event – whether a week-long organization-wide program or a half-day session for top performers– is not just the imparting of knowledge that allows the student(s) to acquire knowledge – the why and the what of a skill – but also the ability to practice what they’ve just learned (as in roleplaying during a workshop). While mastery isn’t expected after sales training (it’s new after all), those being trained should at least know the information and/or skills well enough to be comfortable practicing it on their own.

Sales Coaching
The other half of the coin, sales coaching isn’t about new knowledge and skills acquisition. Rather, it’s about helping employees apply learned material and theory to their daily job, and to use those skills and information sets to the highest possible level. The objective here is mastery of skills and knowledge, and coaching is arguably the single greatest factor in whether or not sales training is ultimately successful. Far too often, we see sales leadership think the solution to failed sales training is to provide more training. But the reality is, the employees already understand the knowledge, skills, and theoretical foundation for what they’ve been taught. The problem is, they don’t know how to implement what they’ve learned into their jobs. And that’s where properly executed sales coaching can correct the issue.

In practice, sales coaching involves refinement, adjustment, and tweaking of an employee’s currently possessed skillset and knowledge. Furthermore, unlike sales training, which is static (the information and skills are learned and practiced or refreshed, and the training event ends), sales coaching is a dynamic, constantly reoccurring process – happening much more frequently than sales training.

For example, let’s say your company is a manufacturer of widgets, Deluxe Widgets Worldwide. You hold a two-day sales training workshop with your inside sales team on learning telesales techniques to improve your conversion and close rates. It goes well, and you’re looking forward to seeing your sales metrics improve.

A few weeks later, you listen to a call where a sales rep is trying to close Johnson’s Widget House, a major widget retailer. The rep uses some of the new techniques they learned in the workshop, but not quite effectively enough to close the sale. So after the call, you coach the rep on the parts they did well, but also where they need to master the techniques so that they could have closed the sale then.

It can be easy to confuse sales training and coaching. But once you’re clear on their distinctions and the objectives of each one, you can ascertain when to train and when to coach, thereby maximizing the efficiency and productivity of your sales team or organization.