sales training versus sales coaching

The Differences Between Sales Training and Sales Coaching in Life Sciences

February 27, 2024 – 6 min read

The terms “sales training” and “sales coaching” are sometimes used interchangeably, leading to a misconception that they serve the same purpose. While these terms are related, they are distinct approaches with specific roles in shaping the success of sales professionals.

Consider how top athletes achieve their elite status. They all go through training (strength building, skill drills, endurance and agility conditioning, etc.), and likely go through similar or even exact training exercises. The coach then takes that foundational work and builds on it, providing specific feedback, correction, and insights to refine the athlete’s technique. Throughout their career, athletes receive coaching and opportunities to enhance their skills. The same is true for top sales reps. Effective sales enablement, training, and coaching stand as crucial pillars to improving a rep’s skills. Understanding the synergy between these elements is vital, as they work seamlessly together to drive success.

PDG recently released a State of Coaching Report that draws insights from nearly 350 sales leaders and representatives from over 200 life sciences companies, revealing disparities between managers’ perceived coaching efforts and sales reps’ actual experiences. This discovery indicates a prevalent confusion between sales training and sales coaching in this sector.

This article will explore the nuances that set sales training and sales coaching apart, shedding light on their individual characteristics and emphasizing the pivotal role of coaching, particularly in life sciences sales.

Sales Training: Laying the Foundation

  • Focus on Product Knowledge
    In sales training, the primary emphasis is on imparting comprehensive product knowledge. This involves ensuring that sales professionals have an in-depth understanding of the features, benefits, and clinical applications of the products they are selling.
  • Standardized Processes
    Training sessions are designed to instill a standardized approach to sales processes and methodologies. This creates a common framework for sales professionals, ensuring consistency in their interactions with HCPs.

Sales Coaching: Nurturing Skills and Performance

  • Individualized Development
    Sales coaching takes a personalized approach, tailoring sessions to address the specific needs and challenges of each sales professional. This individualized development is crucial in a field where nuances can significantly impact success.
  • Continuous Improvement
    Unlike training, which focuses on building a foundation, coaching is an ongoing process with the goal of continuous improvement. It involves providing regular feedback, adapting strategies, and refining skills over time to enhance overall sales performance.

Classroom vs. Field: Contrasting Environments

  • Sales Training in the Classroom
    Training sessions are often conducted in a classroom setting (or via e-learning), where simulated scenarios and role-playing exercises are employed to replicate sales situations. This format is also used to demonstrate how the sales process works, how to use software, etc. This controlled environment allows for the controlled learning of concepts.
  • Sales Coaching in the Field
    Sales coaching, on the other hand, extends beyond the classroom into the real-world sales environment. Coaches accompany sales professionals on actual sales calls, offering real-time guidance and feedback. This on-the-job learning is invaluable in preparing sales reps for the unpredictable challenges they may face.
Sales coaching perceptions graph

Despite 100% of managers indicating they provided coaching for their direct sales reports, less than half (49%) of sales representatives said their managers were directly involved in sales coaching.

PDG’s 2024 State of coaching Report

Skill Acquisition vs. Skill Refinement

  • Sales Training: Acquiring Fundamental Skills
    Training primarily focuses on the acquisition of fundamental skills, such as effective communication techniques and a deep understanding of product knowledge. These skills form the basis for a sales professional’s ability to articulate the value proposition of Life Sciences products.
  • Sales Coaching: Refining and Perfecting
    Coaching, on the other hand, is more concerned with refining and perfecting existing skills and behaviors. It delves into adaptive selling strategies, emotional intelligence, and other nuanced aspects that go beyond the basics. This refinement is vital in navigating the complex landscape of Life Sciences sales.

Metrics and Measurement: Gauging Success Differently

  • Sales Training Metrics
    Metrics in sales training often revolve around knowledge tests and process adherence. Success is measured by how well sales professionals retain and apply product knowledge and adhere to standardized sales processes.
  • Sales Coaching Metrics
    In sales coaching, success is measured differently. Performance metrics, such as actual sales performance, conversion rates, and revenue generated, take precedence. Attitude and aptitude for specific skills can also be measured and coached against. The focus is on the tangible outcomes of coaching efforts and the individual growth of sales professionals.
Wood blocks forming steps that read step by step on each

Top performers reported receiving more coaching in understanding the market and competitors (61% vs. 39%) and customer relationship building (55% vs. 35%).

PDG’s 2024 State of Coaching ReporT

The Importance of Coaching in Life Sciences Sales

  • Complex Sales Environment
    Life Sciences sales present a unique set of challenges, including intricate product details, regulatory considerations, and evolving market dynamics. Coaching becomes indispensable in preparing sales professionals to navigate these complexities.
  • Adaptive Strategies
    The ability to adapt is critical in Life Sciences sales, where healthcare professionals (HCPs) may have varying preferences, and regulatory changes and competition can impact the sales landscape. Sales coaching equips professionals with adaptive strategies to tailor their approach based on specific client needs and changing circumstances.
  • Emotional Intelligence
    In a sector where relationships and trust play a pivotal role in sales success, coaching focuses on developing emotional intelligence. Sales professionals need to understand and navigate the emotions of customers and other key decision-makers.

Sales coaching provided by direct managers was linked to higher retention among representatives to remain with their current employers for the long term and a greater willingness to recommend their companies to others as a great place to work.

PDG’s 2024 State of Coaching ReporT

Integrating Sales Training and Coaching: A Synergistic Approach

  • Initial Training Foundation
    Sales training lays the initial foundation by providing comprehensive product knowledge and standardized processes. This creates a baseline for new sales professionals entering the Life Sciences arena.
  • Ongoing Coaching Support
    The real strength lies in the integration of ongoing coaching support. Coaching ensures that sales professionals not only retain their training but also adapt and refine their skills in response to the dynamic nature of Life Sciences sales.

In Sum

In the world of sales, recognizing and understanding the differences between training and coaching is crucial. In Life Sciences sales, where the stakes are high and the environment is complex, the importance of coaching cannot be overstated. It goes beyond building a foundation, focusing on continuous improvement, adaptive strategies, and the refinement of skills. By embracing both training and coaching in a synergistic approach, Life Sciences companies can cultivate a sales force that excels in the intricacies of the industry, driving success in a highly competitive market.

Our Expert
Jeanine Soucie

Jeanine Soucie, Ph.D.
Jeanine Soucie brings over 20 years of experience in sales performance improvement, behavior change, and organizational culture change to help companies execute strategy and produce sustainable results.

2024 State of Coaching Report

A comparative Analysis of Managerial and Sales Representative Prioritization of Sales Coaching in the Life Sciences Sector

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