Giving critical feedback to your salespeople is a key element of coaching and improving sales behaviors. It’s also challenging for sales leaders to do it the right way.

Giving salespeople feedback is hard to do. Sadly, most sales managers have never been trained to give critical feedback so they default to what they’ve have experienced in their own career.

There’s the “Nice job today, but…” Anyone who’s ever been critiqued in this manner usually tunes out because the leading compliment is intended to soften the blow of the negative statement. People see this coming a mile away.

Then there’s the Praise, Critique, Praise Sandwich. It’s as bad as it sounds. “Nice job today, but you need to do a better job of…, oh and I liked the…” It’s the equivalent of “Nice shirt, ugly pants, but I like your shoes.”

Effective Critical Feedback

Know where to start. You can’t coach a result, CRM dashboard, or a call report (or any report for that matter). That’s managing not coaching. That’d be like my golf coach looking at just my scorecard at the end of a round and telling me to “Putt better.”

I’ve heard plenty of sales manager have 1 on 1’s with a salesperson and, after a quick review of whatever tool they use to measure things, say something like “You need to close more” or “You need to close better.” Again this is not coaching.

What’s more, it won’t likely have a positive effect on the person or their future performance. The place to start is in the field. You can’t coach to what you can’t see! If you spend time in the field with your team, you’ll gain a real understanding of how your company is represented in the marketplace.

When riding with salespeople, I use a pretty simple method of capturing notes. When I observe or hear something they do well, I write it down. Same goes for things that aren’t so good. I usually jot down keywords and use a smiley face or frowny face. Think of it as an old school emoji.

At the end of the call, or at the end of a full day of multiple calls, I take a few minutes to review my notes before I start my coaching session.

Here are the Three Steps to Giving Critical Feedback to Your Salespeople

  1. Lead with critique and end with praise

    Start with what needs fixing, and then tell them what they did well. This method is proven to be the most effective way to give and receive effective feedback. Think of it this way. If someone started a conversation by asking you “I have good news, and bad news, which do you want first?” you’ll likely always want to hear the bad news first. It is how we are wired. We want things to end on an upbeat or positive note. So do your sales people. Don’t sugar coat your message, or try and hide in soft praise.

  2. Only give them one thing to work on

    Even if I observed multiple areas that need to be addressed, the best bet is to give them one piece of coaching. I usually start the conversation like this: “We had a full day, and I made lots of notes. If I were to give you one piece of coaching it would be…” It’s essential to provide training or give specific examples of how to improve along with your coaching.

    If the feedback, for example, is “I noticed at the end of all of your calls you closed by saying ‘Thank you, and you’d follow up.’ You’ll shorten your sales cycle, likely close more business and spend less time trying to reconnect if you get in the habit of closing each call by gaining agreement on next step(s), date and time. Let’s get in the habit of planning in advance what the next step should be, or at the very least, ask them ‘So, what’s our next step?’”

  3. Tell them what they did well

    If you observed them doing something well, you need to let them know. You’ll want them to do it again! Make sure you praise meaningful specifics, and never praise mediocrity. Using this method has repeatedly proven effective. More often than not, when I finished debriefing, they’ll ask “What else do you think I should be working on?” Now they’re far more receptive to critique. Don’t go overboard with this. If they are open to more, don’t give them more than 1 or 2 more pieces of feedback.

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About the author

Les Lent

Les Lent is a Sales Trainer, Coach, Consultant, and holds 20 years experience as…

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