Understanding the Difference Between Training, Coaching and Feedback

Coaching is often a misused and misunderstood word in the sales profession. According to research, managers frequently say they coach far more than their sellers report being coached. Do managers stretch the truth in their survey responses to appear as if they are coaching more? Do their reps try to “ding” their managers by reporting less coaching? While I can’t say that misreporting doesn’t happen, in my experience, it’s not the root cause behind the coaching perception gap.

In the heat of the moment, managers often provide rapid-fire advice to their sellers about territories, accounts, and opportunities, but spend far less time purposefully developing their sellers’ skill levels. And when “coaching” is done, it’s often opportunistic, based on something the sales manager just happened to observe (hit or miss, based on luck).

Yet, we know from research that organizations that provide more developmental skills coaching perform better, and those who provide adaptive or dynamic coaching (coaching based on the individual needs of their sales reps), get the best results.

Let’s define the terms field training, sales coaching, and feedback. This is a critical distinction that is often missed and needs clarifying.

What is Field Training?

Training is a teaching method to impart how to do something to meet expectations and get the best possible result. You train when an employee does not know what, why, or how to do something effectively (and as appropriate, perhaps when and where). Training is directive since the employee needs to learn how to do something, and when done properly this method lays a solid foundation for coaching. “Field training” is the training that is delivered by a manager versus training that is provided by the organization (although the content may be aligned).

“The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.”


What are the Types of Sales Coaching?

There are multiple types of coaching and multiple topics and behaviors that can be coached. Most coaching methods fall into one of two buckets: strategic or tactical.

Strategic coaching is about a thought process or approach to a task, such as:
  • Territory planning
  • Account planning
  • Call planning
  • Sales process execution
  • Pipeline management
  • Opportunity strategy
Tactical coaching is about how to perform a task, such as:
  • Prospecting
  • Personalizing messaging
  • Resolving concerns
  • Skills to lead an effective virtual meeting (not the planning)
  • Overall sales methodology

Coaching can be further segmented into three categories, such as opportunistic coaching, developmental coaching, and skills coaching.

  • Opportunistic coaching is a response to something observed in-the-moment. While this coaching is helpful, the benefits vary based on what the manager happens to observe.
  • Developmental coaching is planned to address a performance shortfall or improve already-acceptable performance. This type of coaching is orchestrated and a direct response to diagnosis and root cause analysis.
  • Skills coaching focuses on how and how well the sales reps perform tasks, especially their buyer-facing selling tasks. Skills coaching can be done across all types of coaching, wherever reps need to perform a task well.

For the rest of this article, we will focus on the powerful and purposeful developmental skills coaching, which, in our experience, is done far too infrequently compared to the other types and can yield significant results and ROI for the time and effort spent.

Developmental Coaching

When your sales reps know what to do, why they’re doing something, and how to do the task they may need coaching to do things better. Developmental skills coaching is a formal process where sales managers engage their sellers and partner with them to improve their skills and sales performance.

Coaching is based on diagnostics and root cause analysis to solve performance challenges or enable opportunities to improve. The rep owns their development, and the manager is their guide. Managers and reps diagnose performance, and plan solutions together. The rep executes their plans, and they review results together. As a guide, managers often ask questions, listen, facilitate, and engage their reps.

This chart is from our Sales Coaching Excellence course and represents a framework for developmental skills coaching that can help you create a regular cadence of coaching and continuous improvement.

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