Sales Training Vs. Sales Coaching in 2020

3 min readJanuary 4, 2018

Every good manager knows it’s their job to lead and inspire sales reps. The best managers also train and equip their reps to become better at their jobs so they can find personal and professional success. Being an effective manager is more than giving a pep talk and running through a script during onboarding. Sales managers must provide both sales training and sales coaching for their teams. Although they are sometimes used interchangeably and may seem similar, sales training and sales coaching are two distinct methods that are completely different in their implementation and practice. 

Sales Trainers vs. Sales Coaches

One of the best ways to understand the differences between sales coaching and training is to think about the role of a coach vs the role of a trainer.  A trainer is someone who shows you the way to do something. They train you on how to complete an objective in the correct manner. A coach, on the other hand, is someone who shows you how to refine your skills. They help you improve past the basics.

For example, think about your favorite sport to play. You probably had someone show you the fundamentals at some point, like how to score and where to run. They trained you in how the game was played. But you also likely had someone who showed you how to develop your game, like how to throw a perfect spiral or run complex plays. They coached you to improve your game and get better.

Trainers are often the people who help reps learn at the beginning, while sales coaches are the ones who work with reps throughout their careers to help them get better.

Sales Training: Telling, Sales Coaching: Listening

Another key difference between sales training and sales coaching is the emphasis on two-way communication and individuality. Training is about explaining the general concept behind something in a standardized way. It’s essentially telling someone the way something is done without need for their input. Because individual feedback isn’t required for most training, it has a kind of one-size-fits all mentality. This also means multiple people can be trained effectively at the same time, making it an efficient means of relaying information to your reps.

Sales Coaching works almost the exact opposite way, requiring a huge amount of feedback from managers and reps alike. Sales coaching is about listening to your reps, building a relationship with them, and determining how they can best improve their skills on an individual level. Effective coaching occurs one-on-one, with both parties dialoguing on a regular basis. While this means groups of reps can’t be coached at the same time, the individual attention is integral for increasing rep productivity.

Where Sales Training Ends and Sales Coaching Begins

It’s important for reps to have various degrees of training and coaching during their careers, but knowing when to implement each should be front of mind for sales managers. Although training is an important part of initial onboarding, training tactics can also be effective for letting your reps know about new product updates or changes in sales strategy. Training tactics can be particularly effective at keeping your sales team on the same page, and making sure reps are focusing in the right direction.

Sales coaching doesn’t so much come after sales training, as it should be implemented from the start. Steadily using coaching tactics from onboarding forward is beneficial for any rep, but you’ll often find the highest ROI for sales coaching comes from performers right in the middle. Typically, your best performers won’t need as much coaching, and your worst performers are dealing with more serious issues that training might help. Remember that coaching is about building relationships over time, and doesn’t have a point where it should ever completely stop.

Effective sales managers empower their reps by giving them the insight and tools they need for continued development. Sales training is a great first step and can help educate reps, but an increasing reliance of sales coaching is needed to ultimately ensure your rep’s growth and optimization.

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