Teaching, coaching and training sales staff | Sunday Observer

Teaching, coaching and training sales staff

28 February, 2021

It is common knowledge that an efficient sales function is one of the most vital aspects for the success of a business. There is plenty of evidence to confirm that the buyers select a vendor and most often make buying decisions according to the skills of the salesperson rather than the price, quality, service, or any other feature.

In my long career of over 40 years in selling, I have been engaged in selling diverse products of good and average quality products and services. I have been employed by companies with good after-sales service and mediocre service delivery. During this period, on numerous occasions I have come across skilled salesmen who have proven that skill supersedes almost all other factors in personal selling.    

When looking at top-ranking business schools, in Sri Lanka and overseas, the general impression is that the curricula of most of their study programs do not extend adequate importance to sales teachings. Business management courses around the world do not offer instructions on selling knowledge or skills despite the importance of the function.


Salesmen mostly learn selling skills either from their superiors or occasional training sessions. The interest in teaching selling in an orderly manner in most of the Sri Lankan small and medium level businesses is sparse or almost non-existent. 

Instead, there are many popular teaching programs for sales management, marketing management, business leadership, business management, and so forth. However, the important factor to consider is that selling and management are two different aspects. I strongly believe that selling is an applied skill and the best performance of a salesman comes with experience. 

The mere learning of theories are not sufficient. Similar to learning to ride a bicycle, the real knowledge comes from trying, failing, trying again and succeeding. Therefore, as a career salesman, I believe that managing a sales team effectively can be done successfully when the leader has practical on the job experience rather than theoretical knowledge.   

Until the 1980s, sales education was simply based on personality development and product knowledge. Salesmen were hired based on the personality and the product knowledge was usually provided by a senior. Organised sales training sessions were occasional and conducted in a few large companies. People skills were not considered teachable in any conventional sense. Their job was to walk up to a customer in a friendly, confident manner and present the features and benefits of a product or service to close a sale. 

Sales coaching is a strategy used by companies to improve the skills of salespeople on an individual basis. This is a deeply personalised approach where the behaviour of salespersons are analysed to guide them individually to succeed in their role as salesmen. Rather than improving the team as a group, the method focuses on a single salesperson at a time to enhance performance. 

Sales coaching predominantly concentrate on individual goals and aspirations, giving a future for the salesman to work on. It is a learning experience derived from the one-to-one and day-to-day work of a single salesperson.

Staff retention

This method is directly associated with their personal development, career advancement, and personal achievements. Coaching ensures the performance of the individual and subsequently contributes to the success of the organisation. Sales coaching also leads to the elevation of individual performance and sales staff retention.

When the sales staff is aware of the personal benefits, not only their morale escalates but also they tend to be more loyal to the organisation. Hence, sales coaching is a good remedy for sales staff turnover. 

Sales training, on the other hand, focuses on the whole sales team to educate them about common aspects such as selling skills, time management, teamwork, products and competition. Usually, the entire sales staff including seniors participates in these group sessions. Currently, most companies invite the customer service and other back-up staff members to participate to share knowledge about the sales process.  

Irrespective of the mixture of the training audience, group settings lead to connect other departments that provide support services to the sales team. The advantage is that the participants who work towards a common goal can use one another as a resource to exchange valuable knowledge, and experiences. If properly designed, training sessions can be extremely effective brainstorming sessions as well. 

Sales training in an organisation is effective because such sessions focus on the common goal of the organisation. Sales training sessions also directly educate participants on sales skills development and sales knowledge development. While coaching concentrates more on individual skills,  behaviour, and knowledge, training sessions provide a deeper insight into the company›s overall objectives.  Therefore, sales training is directly aligned with overall organisational goals. 

With rapidly developing technology and the constantly changing sales landscape, sales training is an absolute necessity for companies of every size to sustain sales efficiency. Training ensures that the staff, both direct and back-up to keep-up with the existing fierce competition. The reality is that if an organisation is not competent and exceedingly competitive from the sales perspective, success can be far-reaching. 


Sales teams need a mix of coaching and training.  At the initial stage of a sales career in a company, a salesperson needs to extensively understand important knowledge related criteria such as products to be sold, company knowledge, competition, industry, and general economic conditions. This information can be conveniently given only through a team training session as such information is common to the entire staff, including the sales team. Information provided to a group of people effectively keeps everyone on the same page.  

Sales coaching, on the other hand, provides more individualistic insights into the sales effort. Coaching is an interactive process to help individuals to develop skills to produce better results. Sales coaching should be done by a senior member of the sales team, ideally the sales manager.

The constant presence of the coach is essentially required as, unlike training, the coaching must be done as frequently as possible. This effort creates a true partnership between the coach and the salesperson due to the relentless two-way conversation, making the coaching a powerful tool.  

In the realm of selling, at present, the buyer is newly empowered because of the existence of the internet. Customers no longer need a salesperson to learn about the company, products, or promotions. Nevertheless, even with the availability of numerous online platforms, many customers prefer to visit brick and mortar and discuss with sales staff when purchasing goods. As existed decades ago, even today, when customers purchase industrial products, customers prefer to invite salespeople to make presentations.      

While, teaching, coaching, and training are fundamentally different, all three functions are important components for successful sales performance. The ultimate intention of all three actions is to generate more revenue for the company and to help the development of professional skills and knowledge of each sales staff member. Sales training is a great first measure to educate the sales team members. In contrast, sales coaching is a reliable method of enhancing the job performance of the individual salesperson.