sales training versus sales coaching

What’s the difference between Training and Coaching?

I had a chat with some other sales professionals recently via Zoom and in that small group of people, there were markedly differing opinions as to the definition of training and the definition of coaching.

Does this even matter? I mean, these are just words. What difference does it make whether you use the word training or the word coaching? 

Well, it turns out that it does matter because:

1 these are completely different interventions

2 the intention and purpose of coaching and training is different

3 the outcome of each is very different

You can ask 10 people – even experts or HR professionals and you will get different answers.

That may not matter much if all we are doing is discussing definitions but when you misunderstand the purpose of each and the outcome of each….you are going to get different results and not always the one you thought you were getting.

Definitions of each

Let’s start with a clear definition of each. I am going to give you other people’s formal defintions and then I am going to give you mine.

Wikipedia – definition of training

“Training is teaching, or developing in oneself or others, any skills and knowledge or fitness that relate to specific useful competencies. Training has specific goals of improving one’s capability, capacity, productivity and performance…”

Wikipedia – definition of coaching

“Coaching is a form of development in which an experienced person, called a coach, supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance…”

Do you see a problem? Coaching is defined as an activity which provides training – and that’s from wikipedia – one of the most visited websites on earth! No wonder there is confusion. 

Practitioner’s Perspective

My definition of training:

Training is the process of imparting new information from someone with that information to someone who needs that information

My definition of coaching:

Coaching is the process of aligning existing information within someone with that persons performance objectives.

These are practitioner’s definitions and are focused on what the end result is rather than a theoretical description. I have more substantive definitions of each of these but let’s keep this simple.

With a practical goal in mind, here are three key differences from your perspective.


1 Training imparts new information. Coaching aligns existing information.

Let’s say that you are hiring 10 new SDRs. These people will need to go through formal training to familiarise them with your products and services, your brand, your HR policies et cetera. To these people, all this information is new. You might test or assess your SDRs knowledge to ensure that transfer of information has taken place. This is training.

The, at some point, you are going to sit down with these people and get them to reflect on how they’re doing and how the information they already can be applied by them. You might ask them how they could better prepare for the next call. You might ask how they think they are currently performing in relation to their goals. You might ask them what they can do to move a deal forward. This is coaching.

I delivered sales training to a new group of SDRs in the UK last month. The subject was asking consultative questions. This was entirely new to them. I gave them a framework for those questions and assessed that they had understood and that they were competent in this model – This is training.

Today, I had a two-hour webinar with the same team and asked a lot of questions. How can this framework be adapted to working with an IT client? You have a client meeting coming up at 4 today. What can you do this morning to thorougly qualify this prospect? What else could you do? How would finding this out today save you time on the next call?  – This is coaching.

** The key point is that I am giving information in training. I am aligining information with coaching


2 Training creates dependency. Coaching creates ownership.

Some people view training as an interruption or some kind of necessary HR procedure to go through so they can go back to work. That is very worrying from the point of view of a business owner when people view a training program costing thousands of dollars as something that they have to do rather than want to do.

I have delivered training and I have received training hundreds of times throughout my career and I can remember how enjoyable it has been because in some respects I’m a spectator. I’m looking at someone at the top of the room do all the work.

That person is going through slideshows or worksheets. I’m taking notes and maybe nodding my head. As an accredited trainer, I know what it means to hold the attention of busy people for a couple of hours or days at a time.

It’s really difficult in this age of digital distraction because people are often distracted and sometimes mentally checked out. Training very often is one-way traffic. The workload is definitely on the shoulders of the trainer. Trainers do most of the talking.

As a coach, I am careful to ensure that the person being coached does most of the talking and thinking. I’m there to make them work through the knowledge they have and come up with a solution for which they will be held accountable by themselves and by me as their sales coach.

Furthermore I’m very careful that people view coaching as an investment not an interruption. I work with clients to ensure that coaching is positioned properly so that people look forward to it, are grateful for it and use it.

Training and coaching are symbiotic and are both needed equally. Training gives knowledge and coaching build upon knowledge. Your business provides the training but payback is that the person provides the results. Coaching ensures people take ownership of those results.

** The key point is that training is to be learned. Coaching is to be earned.


3 Training is information. Coaching is transformation.

This one is key to me. I can give someone information through a range of modalities: webinars, videos, calls, pdfs, websites, whitepapers, case studies. This is information in a range of formats.

Training effectively gives people the information they need to do something but it does not actually make them do something with the information. In other words, there is no guarantee that that information will be used.

I know this because I have been given training in the past which I’ve never used and it’s never seen the light of day. Folders, handouts, loads of paper.

Billions are spent annually by companies on sales training. Much of this information ends up in what I call the sales training graveyard. It is a massive cost particularly when there is no promise of that investment being recouped.

On the other hand, coaching represents what people can and should do with the information. Coaching ensures that investment in training is protected by holding people accountable for its implementation and application.

Let’s say you run a training program in lead regeneration. Have you noticed that very often people revert to doing the same things, in fact the exact same things they were doing before they had the training?

The reason is very simple. They are comfortable doing what they’re doing and they don’t see the need to change. There goes the investment in training.

At the beginning of this year, I had a conversation with the sales manager of a SaaS business and she told me that they were looking for ‘training’.

Naturally, I asked them what training they had received before. It turns out they had received training each year and the training is different each time. Different providers and different content. No new results. No improvement and no accountability.

This is of course a very expensive problem. You can keep training people but training does not transform people. Coaching by its very nature ensures that people are held accountable for your investment in their new training knowledge and skill.

**The key point is that coaching insures training is embedded and that transformation takes place in the form of measurable results.

In conclusion

One of my main intentions today was to avoid going into the technical differences between training and coaching.

Instead, I wanted to outline the differences from the business perspective. In other words, what your business actually needs to know in terms of securing RoI.

As an accredited trainer and accredited coach, I understand the differences between the two and the results from the two and I’m confident when I say that you now know the most important differences as well!

When a new client contacts us for coaching and or training, we challenge their assumptions to ensure that they get the right thing.

Coaching and training ultimately are vehicles. The journey starts with helping you understand where you are and where you want to arrive.

Check out the podcast episode here