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ATD Blog

What Sales Coaching Is, and What It's Not


Fri Jul 12 2013


As a three-time certified coach with twenty-five years of sales coaching experience, the question I get asked most often is what is the difference between training, mentoring, and coaching?  Many times I’ve seen sales leaders use the terms interchangeably and synonymously. However in ASTD’s “Sales Coaching for Business Impact” we spend time in class discussing how these terms are differentiated and yet can still harmoniously co-exist under the roof of high performance sales.  



In the class we use the following graphic to explain the relationship between training, mentoring, and coaching as well as explaining the terms skill, talent, wisdom, knowledge, ability, and experience.

What Sales Coaching Is, and What It's Not-43e69dd46234ffd0911409116c33b4abfc6d0df929d0a8b5a1aac8e3fdcdc858

When a sales organization within a company, for example, shares its knowledge with inexperienced sales reps or experienced reps new to the sales culture, the efforts hopefully translate into sales skill development. In many circumstances sales skills are developed through applying a variety of training approaches. The training could be product or service oriented and is defined within ASTD as “putting your best into someone.” The training, for example, could be a blended learning approach of virtual and classroom sessions. Management observation, student pre-testing, and post-testing are just several ways that sales leaders can determine whether the training has been successful and the desired skills have “stuck” and turned into behavior change. There are many excellent courses, programs and classes both inside and outside a company’s sales culture for tapping into the available knowledge resident within the profession of sales.

Mentoring, both formally and informally, is an excellent way of taking the experience of a sales manager or leader and sharing that wisdom in service of accelerating sales development in others.  Mentoring is teaching, advising, and consulting, many times on a one-to-one basis.  

There is also sales career mentoring which is an excellent way to connect someone who has higher aspirations in the sales profession and match them up with someone who has the established credibility of having successfully traveled the sales career path. That experienced individual can share his or her wisdom with the mentee who now has the benefit of standing on the shoulders of successful sales professionals and accelerating their own career development. Successful mentoring relationships, whether for skill development or career progress should begin with thoughtful “contracting” between mentor and mentee to ensure that mutual expectations are properly framed for best results.  

So if training is using knowledge to transfer sales skills and mentoring is applying experience to develop wisdom, what is coaching? Taking a sales professional’s ability, no matter at what level, and applying fundamentally sound coaching techniques will help accelerate their talent development.   


As John Whitmore writes in his excellent book Coaching For Performance, coaching is “Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize his/her performance.”  Coaching is not yelling, telling, or selling.  Those approaches may be appropriate depending upon the person and the situation (although I’m never been an advocate of a “yelling” approach towards sales performance development), they are not coaching.

Coaching is developmental.  Coaching is using observation, motivation, and developmental feedback as “anchor points” for a firm foundation of coaching the sales professional (see my blog on the Three Legs of the Sales Coaching Stool”). Coaching is about helping a sales rep take his or her knowledge, experience, and ability through the resources of training and mentoring, to enhance that person’s skill, wisdom, and talent.  

ASTD’s Sales Coaching for Business Impact Certificate devotes its entire two days to teaching participants the best practices (ASTD’s World-Class Selling Model), concepts, and most recent intellectual capital residing under the roof of Sales Coaching. Effective sales coaching can become the skill differentiator accelerating the development of a high performance sales culture.

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