In the quest for developing and improving their reps, sales managers’ three primary tools are training, coaching and mentoring. They’re often misused, because sales leaders fail to understand the differences among the three. Indeed, they often treat them as synonymous, when each one has its own purpose, timing and role under the larger umbrella of sales rep development.

Sales Training: Where It All Begins

When you want to teach new techniques, skills and knowledge, or even language and culture shifts, training is where you should turn. The idea is to provide team members with information and strategies they didn’t have before or to codify and standardize your sales procedures and verbiage so that everyone is on the same page.

The ways to implement sales training run the gamut from a massive event with all hands on deck (best used in a large-scale initiative that involves a significant overhaul) to a one-on-one session, such as a train-the-trainer meeting to help a sales manager become a more effective leader.

Whether it’s a broad overview or a more targeted focus, like teaching new closing techniques, sales training normally occurs with less frequency than sales coaching, primarily because of the significant investment in time, money and other resources it represents. That said, reinforcement and refreshers on previously trained skills can also fall under sales training.

Sales Coaching: Making It Last

Once training is complete, it’s important to follow up with coaching. Training teaches the basic information and often provides role-play scenarios to start to become familiar with learned material. It’s in coaching, however, where the training really sees an impact. More specifically, post-training sales coaching guides employees in taking the theoretical and hypothetical and applying it directly to their work. It’s in coaching that the employees gain true mastery of what they’ve learned and realize the practical utility in their working lives and interactions with customers.

But coaching doesn’t just apply to the nuts-and-bolts implementation of recently trained material. In fact, the bulk of sales coaching involves assessing areas where sales reps need to make changes in their workflow, performance, strategies and behaviors. Most of daily or weekly coaching involves reviewing current or recent sales efforts and how the manager can help close the deal or examining how the rep could have performed better and assist him or her in improving the areas in need of adjustment.

Effective sales coaching also involves praising what the sales rep has done well. After all, if the only things the rep and the manager discuss are the areas that require improvement, coaching could potentially have a negative impact on the rep’s morale. An important caveat applies here: Some sales reps only want constructive criticism and are impatient with praise, while others prefer praise alongside opportunities to improve. The best coaching strategies to use depend on the sales rep, so sales managers need to flexible and armed with an array of coaching techniques.

Sales coaching is ongoing and, therefore, happens far more frequently than sales training. Training, after all, is about newness with an eye toward long-term goals and improvement. Coaching, conversely, looks at day-to-day work for more immediate improvements.

Mentoring: The Map to Career Success

While every sales team uses training and coaching to varying degrees, not every organization takes advantage of mentoring. It’s easy to see why: Badly implemented, a mentoring program will impede sales rep acclimation and career growth rather than advance it.

Mentoring takes a high-level perspective, much like training. The difference is that while training concerns knowledge and skills, mentoring looks at a sales rep’s overall career arc and trajectory. It’s typically in the relationship between a veteran sales rep or sales manager and a sales rep that we find the teaching of philosophy of sales and company, looking at how to structure a workday, thinking about five- and 10-year goals, and other topic.

Mentorship also involves the fostering of close relationships and can sometimes involve outside-of-work advice due to the intimacy that develops. It’s not unusual for a mentor and mentee to meet outside of work for coffee or to have a conversation about things that aren’t work-related. In short, training is provided within the framework of the organizational structure and is solely work-related. Mentoring, on the other hand, involves discovery of the self as a sales rep and as a person and is focused on that individual identity.

Knowing the differences among training, coaching and mentoring will help you plan your sales staff development strategy and optimize the productivity of your reps. It’s a process that can generate excellent outcomes for your business’ short-term and long-term goals, growth, stability and success.

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