Sales Training or Sales Coaching?

A client asks, “I would like to schedule some sales training for my sales staff. Which is better – group training or individual coaching?"

Both choices are beneficial, but your group's results will vary depending on the experience and needs of your sales team.

Sales training frequently involves the teaching of a sales methodology, emphasizing a common terminology, a defined sales process and templated sales tools. Role-play to reinforce lessons is usually included. For a large sales organization the materials can be customized to a company’s needs; for a small sales organization customization is not always practical. Sales training can be the best choice for your sales organization when:

  • All of the sales representatives have tenure of at least one year
  • Booster training (1 – 2 times annually) has been budgeted for the sales staff
  • Underperforming sales representatives have been terminated
  • The entire sales staff is at or above quota

The last two points, while counterintuitive, are backed up by several studies. In "Is Sales Training a Waste?" (Gallup Management Journal, May 2002), Benson Smith and Tony Rutigliano write, “From our observations, we’ve concluded that the individuals who benefit most from training are those who already excel at their job. As performance levels rise, so do the benefits we see from training. And as performance levels go down, the positive impact of training diminishes.”

In sales coaching, a coach works one-on-one with each sales representative to identify areas within the sales cycle that are career-limiting weaknesses, and develops and executes individualized plans to address them. A coach can be the best choice for your sales organization when:

  • The sales staff is of varied talent and tenure
  • All of the sales representatives could use help in one particular area
  • Individual sales representatives could use help in different areas
  • Management would like a sales representative of questionable talent observed and evaluated by a neutral third party
  • The superstar on the staff is hitting a plateau

In their article Smith and Rutigliano write, “The best salespeople gained the most from training... but most training programs are not designed around the needs of the best performers. Best performers need individual coaching that is built around their talents and strengths.”

Evaluating when to train and when to coach involves candidly assessing the composition and performance of your sales staff. The right investment should pay for itself quickly in increased revenue, and build greater employee loyalty for your company.

Though my clients come from many different industries, the challenges they face are similar. In "Sales Management Tips," I regularly answer questions that have been posed to me by my clients. I hope the answers will help you to solve some of the sales dilemmas you face in your own sales organizations. If you would like to ask a question, please contact me. The identity and affiliation of those submitting questions will be kept confidential.