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ATD Blog

Understanding the Difference Between Training, Coaching, and Feedback

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Coaching is often a misused and misunderstood word in the sales profession. According to research, managers frequently say they coach far more than their sellers report being coached. Do managers stretch the truth in their survey responses to appear as if they are coaching more? Do their reps try to ding their managers by reporting less coaching? While I can’t say that misreporting doesn’t happen, in my experience, it’s not the root cause behind the coaching perception gap.

Let’s define the terms field training, sales coaching, and feedback. This is a critical distinction that is often missed and needs clarifying.

What Is Field Training?

Training is a teaching method to impart how to do something to meet expectations and get the best possible result. You train when an employee does not know what, why, or how to do something effectively. Training is directive since the employee needs to learn how to do something, and when done properly, this method lays a solid foundation for coaching. Field training is a term I use to indicate the training that is delivered by a manager versus training that is provided by the organization.

Types of Sales Coaching

There are multiple types of coaching and multiple topics and behaviors that can be coached. Most coaching methods fall into one of two buckets: strategic or tactical. Strategic coaching is about a thought process or approach to a task, such as account planning. Tactical coaching is about how to perform a task, such as prospecting.

But what about developmental skills coaching? When your sales reps know what to do, why they’re doing something, and how to do the task, they may still need coaching to do things better. Developmental skills coaching is a formal process where sales managers engage their sellers and then partner with them to improve their skills and sales performance.


This coaching is based on diagnostics and root-cause analysis to solve performance challenges or enable opportunities to improve. The rep owns their development, and the manager is their guide. Managers and reps diagnose performance and plan solutions together. The rep executes their plans, and they review results together. As a guide, managers often ask questions, listen, facilitate, and engage their reps.

Providing Feedback

Feedback is your opinion, perspective, or advice. You provide feedback when a rep needs direct advice and guidance. Feedback can be delivered during skill practice sessions while training and during practice in coaching sessions. Feedback is often corrective or evaluative and focuses on fixing previous or current behavior. It’s usually directive (telling versus asking). When using feedback while coaching (versus training), it’s respectful to ask your employee if you may offer your perspective.


Feedback helps employees understand what prevents them from reaching their current goals or what specifically to do differently. Many managers believe they are coaching when they are simply offering feedback or telling their sales rep what to do differently. I believe this is what fosters the coaching perception gap.

When to Apply Field Training, Sales Coaching, and Feedback

Train when your sales rep doesn’t fully understand what, why, and how to do something (and possibly when and where, if those apply). Coach when they know what, why, and how but need to do it better. Provide feedback to help your rep understand why they are or aren’t doing something effectively and to improve their skills to achieve better performance.

There is so much more to effective coaching, but hopefully this brings some clarity to the difference between field training, sales coaching, and feedback, and when to use each.

Learn more about effective coaching for sales managers in our Sales Coaching Excellence e-book.

About the Author

As VP of sales effectiveness services for SPARXiQ and a nationally recognized thought leader in sales improvement, Mike Kunkle designs sales training courses, delivers workshops, and works with clients to implement sales effectiveness systems that dramatically improve results.

You can connect with Mike on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @Mike_Kunkle.

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