Sales coaching feedback – don’t forget the positive

Sales Coaching

Most people in senior sales leadership would agree that coaching is the single most effective activity for improving sales performance.  Most would quickly add there are lots of pieces to put in place to get it right.  One such piece is the skill of giving feedback.

One of the cardinal rules about feedback is there should be a balance– a mix about things that don’t go so well and things that do.  The problem is we tend to get out of balance.  It is easier to see the ineffective – faults and mistakes than to detect skillful performance.  Inevitably, this tends to color the feedback we give. It is much easier to focus on the very visible negatives than on the positives that we may be less skilled in detecting.

This problem is often magnified by how we give the feedback.  Recently we can across an interesting article by Michael Flatt in Inc. Magazine that addressed this point.  Michael made the point that the problem often originates from tips in “how to give feedback” training sessions.

The how-to instruction suggests, “using the cheese sandwich model. Start by saying something encouraging (the bottom slice of bread), then move on to the behavior that needs to be improved (the cheese) and close with some heartening parting words (the top slice).” What happens? Naturally, the recipient only “tastes” the corrective cheese, and forgets all the positive stuff.  So, although balance is attempted, it isn’t achieved.

The morale of the story is don’t wait to give positive feedback on good performance until it’s time to correct a mistake. The reason? The praise portion of the feedback will often come across as patronizing and insincere.  Instead look out for good performance and immediately provide some positive feedback – if you are the one on the other side of the table the difference is dramatic.

One of the unique aspects of sales, of course, is the immediate feedback a sales person gets from closing a deal. After all, the closing alone is positive feedback! And for large opportunities or those that focus on a solution sales management is spotlighting, the win often is celebrated inside the sales team

Yet, positive feedback often stops there.  All too often sales managers do not sit down with a sales person who has closed a winning deal and used the win as an opportunity to have a comprehensive positive feedback discussion with the sales rep.  A couple of best practices for conducting such sessions are worth highlighting:

  • Analyze the win. Particularly in complex accounts it can be difficult for the sales rep to analyze the critical activities that lead to winning the opportunity.  So in the feedback session the sales manager can not only congratulate the sales rep for the achievement but also help the rep to better understand why the win was achieved.
  • Leverage the win. Focusing on the positive has a number of secondary advantages. One case in point in sales is helping sales reps to understand how what they did well in winning one account can be leveraged for handling difficult situations in other accounts.  If someone is good at something, helping them to parlay that something in as many ways as possible is not only positive feedback it’s smart business.

Positive feedback tends to be under utilized and its power under estimated.  Doing a better job in determining what to provide positive feedback about and how to provide it can be another step towards improving sales coaching.

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©2012 Sales Horizons, LLC

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About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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