Sales training, coaching, and practice: What’s the difference?

BY:  Crystal Nikosey
February 3, 2022
7 MIN. READING

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.

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!

Sales Practice

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 for sales teams.

Also, 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.

Sales Training

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 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.

Sales Coaching

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-suite.

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 role play partners like Second Nature!

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.

Practice, Coaching, and Training: The Ultimate Trifecta for Improving Seller Performance

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!

To learn more about how to build a smooth sales enablement strategy sign up for our demo.  Want to continue the conversation, connect with me on LinkedIn.

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About the author

Crystal Nikosey

Crystal is the Customer Enablement Lead at Second Nature

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