Creating a great sales team begins by creating a great learning environment.

Consider this: The best hospitals in the country are found at universities because they emphasize learning, and they earn their reputations because of the outstanding research that takes place there. It should be no different for a great sales organization. If you want to develop a great sales team, begin with a commitment to learning.

There are two essential components to learning: training and coaching. You already know that training is an essential component of the development process. As a manager you probably also know that coaching can reinforce behaviors and improve performance. But do you know the difference between training and coaching?

Coaching involves the observation of on-the-job performance for the purpose of creating feedback. Observations can occur in the field during the actual performance or by examining data afterward. During the coaching process, the manager provides advice, both praise and constructive feedback, in order to enhance performance. The manager also should invest time with salespeople to determine opportunities for training.

Training occurs separate from the field of battle. The purpose of training is to teach skills and create confidence, and to ensure that your salespeople have the ability to perform in the field. Talent alone is not enough to ensure success; skills are the behaviors that are carved out of talent during the training process. While training, the manager does not assume that the desired skills even exist. When a salesperson completely lacks ability (or suffers a severe gap between actual and expected performance levels) it is time for formalized training.

Too many managers believe that a training session involves merely standing up at a meeting and telling their salespeople what to do. These managers quickly become frustrated with the performance of their salespeople, failing to realize that the performance is actually hindered by the manager's lack of clear instruction. Force-feeding information is not training.

Without proper training, coaching success is difficult to achieve. Professionals in all stages of life and business require ongoing training and coaching to improve and correct performance. Even Tiger Woods continues to go through extensive training to modify and improve his already superior performance in golf.

Create a Learning Environment Training is a process, not an event. However, successful training is a process that is made up of a series of events. Properly structured sales training creates the behaviors that will increase the likelihood for success.

The key to creating a winning training initiative begins when you identify the specific skills you want to teach. At a minimum, your objective should be to teach salespeople specific skills that they can use during the course of their normal workday. For example, a training session should focus on just one of the selling skills—e.g., questioning, phone prospecting, presentation—at any given time.

You also should take time to consider how you will structure and present your training. Methods have evolved in recent years, and it is important for you to recognize the best ways to structure your program. For hundreds of years, the lecture format was the basic model of teaching. But now we know that simply calling a meeting and spending a few hours in front of a PowerPoint presentation usually is not effective.