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Sales Coaching vs. Sales Training: What’s the Difference?

I’m often reminded of a common conversation between a CEO and CFO. The CFO asks how much will it cost us if we train a rep and they leave? To which the CEO responds, “How much will it cost us if we don’t train them and they stay?”

Sales training and sales coaching are two completely different educational modalities and should be considered different parts of your reps’ career development package.

Without burying the lead, in short, sales training is providing your team with the information, materials, and tactics they need to succeed. Sales coaching, on the other hand, is the act of helping your rep come to an understanding of what actions they took (or didn’t take) that resulted in the outcome. Training is a one to many activity, whereas coaching is usually a one to one activity.

To explore the difference between training and coaching, I’m going to dive into my approach when kickstarting a new team.

Effective sales onboarding is training

I hire a lot of entry-level sales reps. These are folks that come from a variety of walks of life and for one reason or another end up in my business development representative (BDR) boot camp. They have zero experience cold calling, zero experience crafting personalized business emails, zero experience working with a CRM, and pretty much no experience in a professional setting.

Not a problem. That’s why I run my boot camp.

Working at start-ups, I am under the gun from management to get these people (some are mature candidates, so not all kids), at full ramp within a fiscal quarter, or faster. I do this in two phases of training; two to three days of sales onboarding training, then two to three weeks of on the job training (OJT).

The first two or three days I walk them through the sales playbook. This is an ever-evolving document has everything a rep needs to follow in order to be successful. Everything from the network passwords, how to properly log of information into our CRM, and even how to open conversations with leads from every source.

Currently I share the document via Box, previously I built it using our enterprise catalog app, Bigtincan FatStax. It doesn’t matter where you house your playbook, as long as it is accessible and easy to use.

While there is no test to complete at the end of the three days, there is a one month grace period after which if they ask a question that is answered in the playbook, they pay me a dollar. If it isn’t in the playbook, I pay them a dollar.

In the next two weeks during OJT, I help them pull up the right information, tell them the tactics to follow, tell them how to adjust their pitch, verbiage, and tone while conversing with prospects, either on the phone or over email. All of which should be documented in the playbook.

The key here is that during training, I tell them what to do to succeed. I reinforce the information with the materials they need to follow, and correct errors. Similar to having students following a course; they come with curiosity and desire to succeed, the training they receive lays out the pathway they need to follow to be successful.

At the end of the two or three days of classwork and two to three weeks of OJT, they typically graduate into the sales pit, at which point I turn to do more coaching than training. We still do training, however, that comes in the form of our weekly sales meeting, maybe more on that another time.

Training without coaching leads inconsistent reps

Once a BDR has graduated into the pit, they should have all the information and materials they need to succeed. Now the goal is having them turn the corner and become journeyman BDR.

The key here is that when you coach you have to try really, really, hard to stop training them. For your BDR to turn the corner you need to turn the corner too. Where training is telling and showing, coaching is guiding and questioning. As a coach, you need to help lead them down the path so they can find their own answers.

In this regard coaching is similar to selling:

  • You ask a lot of leading questions
  • You have them come to the right conclusion on their own
  • You have them realize why other tactics and strategies may not be as effective

The hardest part of coaching is making sure I ask the right question and allow the rep to consider it carefully and internalize the training.

Coaching can both be live, in-flight, or post-hoc. Live right after a call or during a break, managers can analyze recorded calls, using tools like,, or; these platforms record calls, analyze speech, and in some cases give managers the ability to grade and tag conversations.  

Coaching can also be post-hoc and hypothetical; such as what would you do in the particular case when a persona presents you with a unique dilemma. Bigtincan Zunos’s video coaching allows reps to record themselves practicing in certain sales scenarios and be provided feedback by their manager in an engaging way.

There are a ton of parallels between sales and sports, training and coaching, particularly when it comes to sales, training and coaching fall perfectly in line with this paradigm. A well trained rep without coaching is an inconsistent rep. A well-coached rep without training is a confused rep. A team that is well trained and well coached will work better together, become more successful individually, and help your company crush quota.

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