Sales Coaching or Sales Training? 3 months ago

Around 20 years ago I was booked to do a one day Negotiation course for a multi-national computer hardware company. The sales team was about 20 young men and women all selling to national accounts, but who regularly lost business on price. My job (as they and the sales manager saw it) was to simply give them a few sets of words and phrases that they could practice and then trot out, that would overcome the price objection! This was 20 years ago, so you’d hope sales management and realistic expectations had moved on a bit since then.

Most of these young people were highly educated and articulate graduates and had been successful when the company had been the market leader, with no real competition. Unfortunately, as more companies saw their success and wanted a piece of the action the job was becoming much more difficult and was no longer a case of order taking. They had moved into a real selling environment, for which few of them had any real experience or detailed training. Most had received the standard sales training which was about the features, benefits and order process, but had never had to do much hard selling.

As you can imagine, the day did not progress well, with nobody wanting to participate fully in the case studies and role-plays. In the breaks individuals would confide that they wanted to learn and understand, but the group mentality was to look for a quick fix that didn’t involve too much change to how things had worked in the past.

Apart from being much more rigorous about the details of the training courses I accepted, this led me to completely re-appraise my training courses and how I went about training. I no longer worked with large groups, or did one day quick fix, sticking plaster courses. They were not cost effective for anybody in the long run, client or trainer, as they rarely achieved lasting results. I started to look at working more in-depth with small groups and individuals and so moved gradually into what we now call coaching.

Coaching and training should go hand-in-hand, as to receive the long-term benefits of any training course, there needs to be reinforcement of the learning and constant practice of the skills. Without this most training will be only minimally effective. Even 4 or 5-day courses, where trainees have enough time to practice the skills being taught are not normally enough time to perfect them. For that you need constant and structured coaching to make improvements to skills and knowledge.

Few companies will pay to have the services of an external coach available for their salesforce for the amount of time that would make a difference. So most use the person who is closest to their salespeople and have a vested interest in improving their performance – the sales manager. This should be a good fit and in many organizations works well, but the questions of the sales manager’s training, resources and time are still not addressed by many companies.

For those where lack of training, resources and time are an issue, the use of software coaches like SalesStar could fill the gap by being the salesperson’s constant coaching companion. This can also provide additional analysis to guide the sales manager when they have time for their personal coaching sessions.

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