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  • Mercer Smith-Looper

How to create feedback culture on your sales team

Have you ever played golf? Convention would lead you to believe it should be simple. All you’re doing is hitting a ball that’s sitting in place, right? However, there are a few details about golf that make it more difficult than one might think. 

First, it’s not a very big ball. Second, people are watching you when you’re trying to hit said ball, which is totally nerve wracking. Inevitably, every first-time golfer will totally whiff on at least five shots during their first outing. 

Since you’re not able to see your own attempt (unless you’re a masochist who films your failure) you need someone else to coach you. Having someone else around is the only way to get that feedback. 

Just like in golf, sometimes in sales it’s helpful to have an outside perspective. Feedback is an important part of growth, and 65% of employees want more constructive insights than they’re currently getting. Though there are many ways to offer feedback, one great way is by doing ride-alongs.

If you’re not familiar with ride-alongs it’s when you pair up team members, or managers, to attend sales calls, meetings, or any other sales-related activity, in groups so they can observe and give feedback after.

Why you should do ride-alongs

Beyond the potential to increase rapport between team members, ride-alongs have several benefits for interpersonal and external dynamics.

By encouraging team members to pair up on sales calls, you:

  • Make the customer feel important. Everyone loves a little extra attention.
  • Create autonomy, trust, and develop a culture of peer-to-peer feedback on your team.
  • Build connections between team members who otherwise may stay in their lanes to get sales closed.
  • Improve managerial skills by training team leads, or managers, on ride-alongs to set expectations and offer constructive insights well.
  • Learn first hand about any challenges that customers face during your sales process or with your product. 

How to implement ride-alongs for your team

Though there are plenty of benefits, ride-alongs may be a tough sell for some of your team members. It’s understandable. Having someone watch while doing your job can be intimidating, or feel like an unnecessary distraction. 

For every team, building out the process will look a little different. For instance, maybe you already have some ride-along scheduling in place, or it’s something you’ve done in the past and stopped. The most important thing to nail down before going into this process is understanding what you want to get out of your ride-alongs. 

Are you trying to offer additional feedback opportunities for your team? Are there company metrics that you’d like to impact? Nailing down those details help put you in an excellent place to create structure in your ride-along process. No matter what the structure, there are a few key things that you should include every time.

Put your team members in the drivers’ seat

The Neuroleadership Institute states that employee-initiated feedback is significantly better for productive outcomes. According to the study, it reduces the threat of someone coming in hot with constructive criticism or hard-to-hear feedback.

When you put the employee in control over much of the ride-along, they have shared accountability for their coaching, and the whole process feels much more collaborative, rather than directive.

Some ways that you can do this are:

  • Letting them pick what call you join them on and why. Don’t ever just tell another team member when you’re going to be joining them — it should be their choice, and they should have a heads-up.
  • Asking the team member to lay out the plan. Let them tell you where you’re going, who you’re meeting, their goals, and where they are in the sales process. They are the owner of the opportunity — treat them like it.
  • Sticking to your role of ride-along partner. When in the meeting, do not get involved in the conversation. If they ask you, explain to the customer that you’re just there to bring your company’s leadership insights. The call you are on is not your call.

If you start to dominate the process of setting up the ride-along, it may make your partner feel like you’re trying to steamroll or don’t trust in their process. With the ball in their court, they’ll feel much more confident in bringing you on. They’ll feel like they have back-up, not a babysitter.

Understand where they’re coming from

It’s good to never assume you know how your team members are feeling. The period before jumping on a ride-along is an excellent time to find out a bit more about how your team members are engaging with their roles and responsibilities. Here are a few things that you can set goals to uncover:

  • Do they feel like they have the resources they need to do their job well? Where do they feel like they have support, and where is it lacking? This information can hone your focus during the ride-along and provide them a bit more support in the customer call.
  • Do they feel like they get enough coaching and constructive insights? If not, this is an excellent opportunity to start giving them what they need.
  • Do they feel like the resources that they have at their disposal enable them to do their job well? You can make some of this discovery specifically around the tools they’ll need to use on the call you’ll be joining.
  • Do they feel like they are trained and well-developed? This impacts how the call will go, and can be essential to uncover before talking to customers.
  • Do they feel like they have the opportunity for personal and professional development? Ride-alongs are great times to uncover areas where your team members shine and may be able to develop their career path. 
  • If they’ve just transitioned roles, do they feel comfortable in their new role, or are there still areas in which they are uncomfortable? If so, you can offer constructive or positive insights on these aspects as they show up in the ridealong.

If you focus on the areas where you can support your team members rather than add additional challenges, you’re well on your way to creating a culture of trust with your ride-alongs.

Debrief appropriately

Is there anything worse than expecting to have a meaningful conversation about something, and having the other person just dismiss it? After you’ve completed your ride-along, ensure that you both have the opportunity to talk about what happened. 

Getting it done quickly does the double-duty of providing excellent insights for continuing conversations, and dispelling the dread of waiting for a potentially awkward conversation.

Start by asking your team member that led the call how they felt it went. You can ask things like:

  • How do you think that call went?
  • What would you do differently if you could go back and do it again?
  • Where do you think this account is headed, and why?
  • Is there anything that you want my thoughts about?

After you have a first read on how the “driver” felt about the call, you can delve a bit deeper with questions like:

  • What’s your read on the person we met with?
  • Is that the appropriate person we should be talking to, or is there another person on the account that would be a better decision-maker?
  • What do you know about that company’s position in the market?
  • What do you think the potential to close this deal is, or what else do you think we need to do?

These questions keep the conversation collaborative and safe. It helps the driver feel like you are on their side, rather than just telling them what to do. It positions you as a partner, and someone they can come to work through issues with in the future.

Keep building trust

When you lead with your team relationships and the health of the organization first, the whole tone of rituals, like ride-alongs, shifts. You build rapport and learn things that everyone could be doing better. 

You get better at offering insights and improve the overall performance of your team. Most importantly, though, you open up the opportunity to have vulnerable and meaningful conversations with your team members. You build relationships, build trust, and build a healthier future for your organization.

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