The Difference Between Sales Training and Sales Coaching

Difference Between Sales Training and Sales Coaching

How do you differentiate between Sales Training and Sales Coaching? Do you collapse the two together or leverage each one to complement the other? Learn how to distinguish between a coaching or a training opportunity and when to leverage both.

8-Steps to Creating a Coaching Culture by Keith RosenA client of mine, the owner of an executive recruiting firm, emailed me a question after our coaching call regarding some confusion around the difference in approach between coaching and training and when exactly do you use each discipline, especially when it came to new hires who typically went through a structured training program.

Here’s what the email read:

“After reflecting on our conversation I have a couple thoughts I wanted to run by you. You mentioned I need to tap into people’s own wisdom and strength, and let them come up with their own solutions and along the way I should sprinkle in questions along their vision line that cause them to think, and I can then add truths to their solutions vs. telling them they are wrong or how to do it or what the answer is, etc…

I do believe this is a more mature approach in coaching sales managers and senior sales associates. However; this is a bit contrary to how we initially train new associates.

We only hire entry level and train from within. We tell new associates that they need to subscribe to the “blind faith” model as they are learning the job. We do this because the trainers and managers have to literally walk new associates through most of their initial phone calls so they can not only achieve measurable success quickly but help us in determining whether they have what it takes or will disqualify themselves from this position. We want them to implement our sales model because we know it works. We have a very in depth and hands on training with new associates, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room for creativity when they are being walked through how to prospect and cold call, how to deliver effective presentations, how to close the sale, how to speak with customers, how to make a proper phone call, etc. We believe this is such a difficult job to break into, we want to do everything in our power to get them performing to our expectations, so they can eventually learn how to do the job on their own.

Although it is necessary for new associates to go through this type of training, it does not seam effective for Sr. Sales Associates or Managers. It seems that if I truly want self reliant and self motivated salespeople and sales managers, I need to coach them towards the right solutions and let them get there on their own rather then tell them what the answer is or what to do.

Ultimately, my question is, am I thinking along the right path and how do you determine whether the situation requires more of a training approach where I need to show them how to do something or more of a coaching approach where I rely more on their ability to find the solution within themselves?”

Here was the response I sent:

GREAT question and highly insightful! Yes, you’re beginning to think like a coach. So the question is, when is it a training issue and when is it a coaching issue. Here’s an analogy.

If you want to learn how to play golf and you’re going to take the game seriously, one of the first things you’re going to do is find a great instructor or enroll in a golf training class. You find someone who can show you the mechanics of the game, teach you the game and help you develop your own swing. Since you’ve never done this before, you need to be shown how to do so. More than just being shown the basics and fundamentals you want to be shown the very best way to do it (best practices) in order to cut down your learning curve and you want to be taught by a champion who’s already doing it or who has already done it. At that point, the instructor would then ask you to swing the club and hit some balls. That’s the training aspect to learning the game and wanting to learn the best practices and core competencies needed for playing.

Now, some time has passed. You’ve learned the basics. You’re out on the golf course playing consistently. You’ve taken what you learned from the golf pro and are doing your best to apply it. You noticed you’re only getting so far. While your score has improved since you’ve started playing, you’ve capped out and can’t seem to shoot better than a 90.

Since you are ready to take your game to the next level, you now return for another lesson with your instructor. Now, does your instructor take the same approach they did when they first trained you? No, because initially you needed a baseline, a framework of best practices to build from. Now, it’s time to build upon the foundation that was poured and refine your game.

Distinct from what a trainer does, the coach is going to assess what you want to refine and improve and what  areas you don’t even know you need to improve. Your coach is going to uncover where you want to be in terms of how well you want to play the game. What do you ultimately want to shoot? That’s the measurable end result or destination; your gauge for winning.

Rather than tell you how to play, the instructor is going to observe you play.  As you move from hole to hole, the coach is observing not only how you swing the club but how you play the inner game of golf as well. The coach is going to want to get a good sense of your own style, strengths, areas of opportunity and how you currently play the game. The instructor may ask some questions along the way, such as, “For that last shot, why did you choose your 9 iron?” or “I’m sensing you were a bit frustrated from that last hole. What was going through your mind?”

Then, after observing you, the instructor will then share an observation or two. And that might sound like, “Okay, I’ve watched you play a few holes, on the next shot, just keep your head down.” The instructor did not offer ten different things to change but one. Why? Think about your direct reports. Imagine if you were in the field going on joint sales calls with your salespeople. After the first call, you share several things they need to improve on by the next call. What do you think you just did? You destroyed this salesperson for the next call and set them up for failure. Now, rather than focusing on the customer, they’re focusing on what you told them they need to change! The point is, limit your observations in the field and then take them back to the office where you can then discuss them during your next one one one coaching session with that person.

Here’s the quick distinction. A teacher or trainer is going to show you how to do something; something you’ve never done before or tried before in a consistent manner. They may share knowledge around a certain topic, product or even company policies during your on-boarding process in a new role. The trainer is going to provide you with a foundation, a process, a benchmark of best practices to give you a starting point and foundation in relation to where you would begin on your path of development.

A coach, however, is going to show you how to do what you are doing even better. Now, coaching becomes the process to reinforce and refine best practices, while tapping into the individuality and strengths of each player on your team. First, the coach would need see how you swing a club. Then the benefits coaching are recognized and apparent when the coach watches from the sidelines seeing the things that you, as the player cannot and gently tweaks and refines your game and approach to the point where you’ve made it your own. Coaching is the discipline management uses to leverage all of your salespeople’s individual strengths and talents to keep them on top of their game and recognize their fullest abilities today, rather than by what could be tomorrow.

If you’re learning how to do something for the first time, you want to be taught best practices. Like golf, the instructor isn’t going to let you invent your own swing. You need to be shown the right form etc. Then as you learn the fundamentals you need to then be coached to refine your game around both skill set and mind set, advance your game and ultimately, make the swing your very own.

First you need to show them the best way, show them best practices and train them how to do something they’ve never done. When it comes to refining your game, removing obstacles, and challenging limiting thinking, that’s when coaching comes into play.

Tip From the Executive Sales Coach: Sales training is what you need to become a salesperson. Sales coaching is what you need to become a sales champion.

Photo Credit: Fevi in Pictures