How to give feedback to sales people

How do you give feedback to sales people?

This is a question that’s come around a number of times just recently.

It’s perhaps revealing that it rarely shows up as a question about “building a buzzing sales team” or “getting the very best out of” someone.

When people pose this challenge it’s much more likely to be presented as a management headache:

  • My new business sales person isn’t paying back
  • We’re busy fools, I’m sure leads are being dropped!

Or the old chestnut:

  • My sales and marketing team seem to be out to do each other down

Very often our first question on hearing these problems is: Just how clear is the individual on what’s expected? What does good look like and do they understand what they need to change to achieve it?

So often the business leader has been carrying this problem on their back for months. Diligently memorising each example whilst watching it happen over and again.

Meanwhile the individuals concerned continue to spread discontent, happily unaware their “authentic” style is causing worries for the boss.

This conundrum is amplified by the formality of performance reviews that run to a regular schedule. If performance is really only reviewed annually – or at best six monthly – then feedback is always out of date.

How can feedback be meaningfully received when you’re referencing something that “upset Julia” last October?

Nobody’s memory is this good, so the “evidence” often comes down to generalisations about the employee’s style, rather than specific, actionable examples. It’s a conversation that can end in frustration for both parties.

How to give positive feedback?

Act now

Forget the rigidity of the annual review. If you offer feedback right away it’s easily digested and it prevents the problem festering into something larger.

You might not speak out in the middle of a meeting, but you can take someone aside shortly afterwards. Thanking them quickly for something you appreciated – or nudging them to change something you didn’t has much more clarity if done there and then.

Plus of course it saves you worrying about it for the next three months!

Choose positive language

This can be quite a difficult technique to master, but it can have a transforming effect on how people receive your observations. “Feedback” needn’t always involve the iron fist, even if you’ve carefully squeezed it into the velvet glove.

There’s a world of difference between saying you’re unhappy with the amount of gossip in the sales team versus asking for them to make more fact-based decisions.

Even if people agree with the first description your observation is based on examples in the past. Some might just see it as an insult and become defensive.

The second way of phrasing it paints a brighter future for the organisation. You might need to explain why fact-based decision will help, and you might need to offer training and support to get there. But you’re leaving the door open for them to be part of the solution you’re looking for.

Be clear

Until you become comfortable with giving feedback this is perhaps the hardest of the three steps to adopt.

Anticipating the upcoming conversation makes many managers feel awkward or nervous. And looking ill at ease and stumbling over your words is a sure-fire way of ensuring the message is lost.

Yet if you’re having conversations in the moment and adopting positive language it’s surprising how transformative your action can be.

Adopt these three steps and the problem is instantly off your back. You’ve explained what you like and what you’d like to see that’s different. Your team have received the message promptly and simply – in a way that they can contribute to the required improvement.

Being transparent and timely like this makes it so much easier to follow up too. It’s simple to go back a few days later and ask how they’re feeling about “our conversation”, what progress they have made and what support they need.

So if you’re not entirely happy with the performance of your sales people and are wondering how to give the feedback: Act now, be positive and be clear. As a very famous brand says: Just Do It.

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