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When I talk about “sales training” what does that make you think of? Maybe you imagine a sales employee role playing with their manager, or someone reading through a new messaging playbook.
But what about if I say “sales coaching” or “sales practice?” If you picture the same image every time, then you’re missing something.
Sales coaching, training, and practice go together beautifully, like peanut butter and jelly, but each one is a very different type of activity, and you can’t lump them all together under the same umbrella of “training” or “coaching.” And yet I find so many people do exactly that!
I’m here today to define the differences between each of these 3 key sales practices, in ways that help you succeed every time. Once you understand the main differentiators between training, coaching, and practice, it will be much easier to establish a stratospheric culture of learning!
So, here we go! In this article, you’ll learn:
Practice is something that should be happening consistently in every enterprise. When sales teams practice, it means they’re taking a skill or knowledge that they’ve learned and they’re refining the newly learned concept by going over it again and again until they’ve mastered it.
For sales teams, practice can also mean role plays with each other or with sales managers. It’s very common for sales reps to use conversational intelligence tools like Gong or Chorus to listen to recordings of their own practice, to spot where they went wrong and how they can improve.
Practice is what Rafael Nadal does, and he learned how to play tennis decades ago. It never ends for him, and it never ends for your salespeople, either. The thing about practice, though, is that it can take up a lot of time, especially if you don’t have a scalable strategy. That’s part of the reason why it so often goes overlooked by sales teams.
Also, the practice has to be something that sales reps own themselves. Sales managers are inundated with admin work and hyper-focused on their team as a whole. Most sales managers would love to have the time to coach and practice with their team on a regular basis, but their workload makes it difficult to practice and coach, so practice and coaching slip through the cracks.
One tip about practice: If sellers are talking to a real lead in real-time, that’s not practice. Letting people practice on live leads means throwing those leads away, and that’s not a sensible strategy.
Training stands in complete contrast to practice. Practice, like we said, means improving something that a person already knows. But training is when they learn something new.
It could be learning about the new features of a product update, or learning about new messaging that your organization is going to use, or learning about new sales processes and tactics for those sales conversations. It could even be learning how to use new sales tech or how to improve their approach to a cold call. Either way, the operative word here is “new.”
Sales training is actively led and managed by sales enablement teams, and/or learning and development teams, depending on the structure of your organization.
Sales managers need that support; you can’t just throw them into the deep end when it comes to sales training.
Note: Sales training has to be sales-oriented, not marketing-oriented. Your sales training needs to use sales language and be 100% sales ready, so your salespeople can implement it instantly in their selling process.
Coaching and practice are inseparable buddies, so just like practice, coaching is something that never ends. In that way, it’s different from sales training, which only happens at specific times when you roll out something new. Coaching takes place before and after practice sessions to refine sales skills, make sure that salespeople don’t reinforce bad habits, and direct them to improve their key weaknesses.
Just like practice, coaching could apply to one part of your sales cycle, like the elevator pitch; one aspect of the product, like a new feature; or one aspect of your messaging, like polishing the value proposition. It can also focus on how to approach certain personas, like how to talk to people in the elusive C-level.
You’ll need to decide on your goal for this sales coaching program and think about what excellent sales coaching will look like. It has to include setting up an effective sales coaching cadence that’s coordinated with your practice rhythms, and bringing a standardized scoring method to enforce consistency across the company.
There are a lot of ways to manage sales coaching, but in my opinion, the best one is to use role plays. Of course, the main problem with role plays is that they are not scalable, but they can be when you use simulated AI role-play partners like Jenny from Second Nature’s sales training software.
Important point: Sales coaching doesn’t belong in your weekly one-on-ones! Those are for reviewing sales pipelines and tactical planning. You need a different strategy for sales coaching sessions than for one on one meetings.
Sales training essentially means learning something new, in contrast to sales coaching, which involves reinforcing existing selling skills and directing sellers to the weak points they need to focus on. Sales training is led by sales enablement teams, while sales coaching is carried out by sales managers. Sales training occurs at intervals, whenever there is new information or skills that need to be imparted to sales teams. Sales coaching, on the other hand, is constantly ongoing, just like sales practice, usually taking place before and/or after practice sessions.
Each discipline has its own strengths and weaknesses because each one is designed to address a different aspect of the sales process:
Sales training is vital for informing sellers about changes to product features or company messaging, and for introducing them to new approaches to sales calls or closing deals, but it’s not sustainable for the long term. You can’t run training every week of the year (or at least, not if you want to keep your sales teams!).
Sales coaching is critical for guiding sales representatives toward the skills they need to improve, giving them regular encouragement and motivation, and making sure that they feel confident about their work. But it also has its drawbacks; if you throw new information or capabilities into coaching sessions, your sellers will probably get flustered and confused.
Now you understand the important differences between practice, training, and coaching, you’ll be ready to build a coordinated program that rocks the house. These are my favorite parts of sales enablement, and I hope that now they’re your favorites, too!
What is the difference between sales coaching and training?
Coaching involves guiding sellers to recognize their weakest points, so they know which areas to focus on when they practice. Training, on the other hand, means teaching people something new, whether that’s information or a skill. Training also happens less often than coaching, and it’s led by sales enablement personnel rather than sales managers.
What do sales coaches do?
Sales coaches primarily encourage sellers to push themselves a little bit more. It involves listening to or taking part in role plays, so you can hear how confident, fluent, and assured the sales rep is in conversation, and assessing each person’s strengths and weaknesses to be able to give them customized feedback.
Who should take responsibility for sales practice?
In many organizations, sales enablement or sales managers are “in charge” of sales practice, and they spend hours reminding sellers to practice more. It’s not usually effective – sellers end up annoyed, sales enablement gets frustrated, and sales managers run out of time for other tasks. That’s why sellers need to take responsibility for their own sales practice.
How do you know when your salespeople have practiced enough?
The truth is that there’s no such thing as “enough” practice. Sales practice needs to carry on indefinitely, and even the best sellers still need practice from time to time. The amount of practice needed will vary between different salespeople, so you can’t really set a fixed number of hours per week or month. As long as your salespeople understand your value proposition, feel confident about sales calls, and can explain your products/services clearly, you’ll know they are getting enough practice.
Why is coaching in sales important?
Sales training is there to teach your salespeople new skills, like objection handling, or new information, like a new product line or value messaging. It doesn’t teach sellers to feel confident about their sales pitch or to speak clearly. That’s what sales coaching is for. If you only have sales training, you won’t give your sellers the time and support they need to develop selling skills.
How can I implement an effective sales coaching program?
Setting up a good sales coaching program is always a challenge, but it’s one you can achieve. You’ll need to set goals for your sales coaching, make sure to coordinate the cadence with your practice rhythms and implement standardized scoring so that everyone feels they can trust the evaluation they receive.
What does Second Nature help with, sales training, sales coaching, or sales practice?
Second Nature helps with all three! The platform incorporates sales videos that teach sellers new skills or product information as part of sales training. Jenny and our other AI-powered simulations serve as expert sales coaches who gently correct mistakes, point out sellers’ weak points, and help them improve. Finally, Second Nature’s role-play partners are available 24/7 for salespeople to practice their selling skills whenever and wherever they like, in a private and non-judgmental space.
Why do I need sales coaching as well as sales practice?
Sales practice is when salespeople practice sales conversations until they feel confident that they’ve mastered the relevant information and know how to speak clearly and listen carefully. Sales coaching is when somebody else, like a sales manager or a sales coach, listens to the conversation and provides targeted feedback about the seller’s strengths and weaknesses, together with advice on how to improve. Sales coaching and sales practice can take place at the same time if the salesperson holds a practice sales conversation with an expert role-play partner, but usually, salespeople need to practice a lot, and the sales coach isn’t always available. Of course, if you use Second Nature’s AI sales coaches, you can provide sales practice and sales coaching together as often as you like.
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