Retaining talent is an ongoing challenge for any sales manager. When you consider that most companies lose an average of 16% of their new hires within the first three months, it’s clear that managers need to give every new hire the best chance to flourish in their role.
As a sales leader, you’ll be judged on how you provide development and growth opportunities and create a healthy work environment for your sales team. It’s vital that you develop systematic feedback processes to empower team members to succeed.
Why you should give feedback to your sales team
No matter how effective your sales training is, it’s unrealistic to expect your sales reps to achieve their best without some form of ongoing sales coaching. Research indicates that implementing real-time, deal-specific coaching results in an 8% increase in annual revenue, as highlighted by CSO Insights. This underscores the importance of regular feedback and coaching in driving sales performance.
Even the most talented salespeople can still fall into the same mistakes and bad habits that can negatively affect sales performance.
Some problems, admittedly, can’t be solved with individual feedback. Issues like generic sales collateral or lack of follow-up plan should instead be addressed through better resources or adjustments to the playbook or other management-level initiatives.
But without regular feedback and sales coaching, issues like talking too much on sales calls or failing to focus properly on solving the customer’s problem can creep in.
Teams selling complex technical products can also face an additional layer of challenges, dealing with customers who may or may not have the level of knowledge necessary to understand some of the more complicated technical aspects of the sales conversation. Teams selling this kind of product may require additional coaching to ensure that they’re communicating successfully about these tricky abstract concepts and product features.
In addition to identifying and helping sales reps neutralize these issues, effective feedback processes help create autonomy, trust, and a better working culture.
How to deliver good feedback to sales teams
No matter how well-implemented your current feedback systems are, it’s worth taking the time to read the sales team feedback tips below and reflecting on whether there’s something you could be doing differently.
Optimizing the professional interactions between your sales team members is an ongoing process. There’s always room for new initiatives, especially as remote working practices are still new for many sales teams.
Create a feedback culture
If the only time your salespeople receive feedback is during a mandatory performance review, then you’re wasting a lot of opportunities to improve performance through providing feedback and coaching. You also risk turning performance reviews into an overly-involved and trying process that can potentially demotivate your sales reps.
Kim Scott’s ‘Radical Candor’ offers a great framework for any leader looking to build a culture where feedback is given more freely. Kim’s concept of radical candor revolves around the concept of caring personally and challenging directly. She came up with this concept after her former manager Sheryl Sandberg tried to give her some feedback which she brushed off. Sheryl then challenged Kim directly by telling her what she was doing “made her sound dumb” and encouraged her to take her up on the coaching that was offered. Sheryl was able to offer such direct feedback because she and Kim had a good relationship and Kim knew she was cared about deeply.
Creating a feedback culture like this can massively improve performance and workplace well-being - however, to get it right (and avoid team members feeling constantly judged), you’ll need to ensure the following:
Feedback can be expected as part of the working day.
Sales leaders can be relied upon to provide guidance at any and every stage of the workflow - whether that’s during team meetings or morning briefings, after joint calls, or during performance reviews.
Sales managers are properly trained as sales coaches. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to providing effective feedback. We all have different strengths, weaknesses, and communication styles.
Proper sales coaching requires that we understand our own approach and make sure we use the feedback delivery style most suited to the situation and the individual in question.
Anyone whose role requires them to give feedback regularly should receive full and ongoing training in effective sales coaching. As a sales leader, if this type of training is not part of your current development plan, consider advocating for it and working to upskill around sales coaching.
Feedback is a two-way conversation
No matter how your sales team is structured, encouraging feedback to travel in all directions will empower staff at every level and will also yield actionable insights for sales leaders to improve processes. Sales managers need to actively solicit and reward this kind of feedback to create a culture in which team members at all levels feel comfortable contributing their input.
The best way to encourage sales reps to give feedback about sales team leadership is to implement the feedback they give you. Once your team understands that you’re serious about their ideas, the feedback should hopefully flow more easily.
Let the employee lead the process
Taking ownership of your own growth can be a powerful thing. Studies by the Neuroleadership Institute have shown that employee-initiated feedback is significantly better for productive outcomes - comparing heart rates of subjects receiving asked-for vs. unasked-for feedback demonstrated a 50% heart rate spike when feedback is unsolicited.
Ask your team members up front to help you create a roadmap for their improvement. Brainstorm with them about how you can help them reach their professional goals.
Provide them with resources to independently guide their reflections across each stage of the sales process. If the process involves joining them on a sales call, let them choose which calls you should join. Ensure you have blocked out some time on both of your calendars to debrief immediately after the call.
When you join the call, make sure that everyone present knows you’re only there as a ride-along, and let the team member handle the introductions and lead the conversation as much as possible.
Listen for ways to improve their situation
An open mind is essential when giving feedback. If there’s a problem related to a sales team member’s performance that needs addressing, don’t assume you know why it’s happening. If you don’t listen to their view of the situation, you risk losing out on insights that could improve results for the entire team. You also risk destroying their morale…
When you’re looking to uncover the root cause of what you’re seeing as an employee performance issue, consider asking the following questions:
- Do they feel they have all the resources they need to do the job?
- Are they over-supported or under-supported in any area of their work?
- Could they use more coaching or training? If they say yes, consider asking them what areas or topics they want more coaching or training on (it might not be what you think)
- Do they feel that they have enough opportunities for personal and professional development?
- If they’re new to the role, are they comfortable with their new responsibilities and expectations?
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If you ask a sales team member to improve an aspect of their performance, you’re going to need to provide them with all the sales tools they need to make that change and resources to track their efforts and improvements.
Be as specific as you can. This involves;
Setting and tracking progress against targets and goals. They should already know what they’re working towards. Clearly define the expectations - set goals that are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timebound) and help the individual retain that focus wherever possible between performance reviews.
Using examples. Organize your feedback around real-world specific examples drawn from the individual’s work. You can brainstorm together some alternative approaches, and ask them to evaluate how they could have done things differently.Examples can be used for both positive and constructive feedback - a positive example can be particularly useful if it demonstrates how a previous area for development has been improved.
Using data. Performance metrics can provide a concrete measure to inform feedback and stimulate reflection. Taken as a starting point, data can help identify knowledge gaps and opportunities to change behavior or refocus sales conversation approaches.What does this look like in real life? Telling a rep they need to close more business is not as specific as saying that you expect the rep to be able to close $150,000 in the next 60 days (and helping them with the tools and resources they need to be able to do it).
Stay positive and honest
Frontline sales is a very challenging role. Few jobs can match a sales position for the level of relentless rejection. While some are more temperamentally suited for it than others, even the toughest sales reps have good days and bad days - and on bad days, the job can take an emotional toll.It’s essential to bear this in mind when designing sales team feedback processes - the key word is ‘team.’ As a sales leader, your rep’s successes are your successes, and their failures are yours, too. It can be useful to reflect on your own experiences of receiving feedback as a sales rep. Which pieces of feedback did you learn the most from? What felt fair or unfair?
Perhaps the most over-used feedback device is what’s known as ‘the praise sandwich.’ Popularized during the 1980s, this idea demands that any negative feedback should be preceded and also followed up by positive feedback, to offset the emotional impact.
In practice, it’s difficult to pull this off without sounding insincere. Most salespeople are smart enough to understand when they’re being patronized. The conflicting intentions of the positive and negative feedback can also muddy the waters, placing emphasis on the wrong message and leading to confused communications.
A more effective way to offset the discomfort of negative feedback is to use what’s been described by the celebrated creatives at Pixar as ‘plussing’. When offering criticism, ensure you immediately follow up with a practical solution to the problem you’ve described.
In addition to finding the best ways to deliver negative feedback, good sales managers actively seek out opportunities to use feedback to provide motivation and positive reinforcement for team members.
Your feedback processes should be designed to keep the whole team moving forwards. Mistakes are an essential part of learning, and you’ll need to demonstrate to your team how our missteps can be actively welcomed as useful opportunities to improve.
If you want to embrace future-focused feedback as an explicit training opportunity, you could consider sharing one of your own experiences. As a senior sales leader, what mistakes have you learned from? Which of your biggest errors have resulted in your professional growth?
By using your own mistakes as examples, you encourage open communication by demonstrating your vulnerability (but be careful which examples you choose - as celebrated author and theologian Nadia Bolz-Weber says, ‘lead and preach from your scars, not from your wounds’).
Sales team feedback examples
Example 1 - you’re arranging a mandatory performance review with one of your sales reps.
- Don’t say; ‘I need to get your performance review done this week. Can I join your call on Tuesday morning?’
- Instead, say; ‘I’d like to join you on a call. Can you have a think and come back to me tomorrow with a couple of suggestions of calls you’d like to get some input on?’
Example 2 - One of your sales reps is underperforming, and providing a lower standard of sales experience than is expected.
- Don’t say; ‘You need to get your Net Promoter Score higher’.
- Instead, say; ‘Your NPS score is down 18% over the past two months. But your win rate is above average for the team. If we stopped focusing so hard on hitting your quota, what changes could we make to improve your NPS score?’
How to give feedback to a sales team?
For effective sales team feedback, create a culture where people are confident to discuss their performance. Provide specific, data-driven feedback using examples. Try to be positive and supportive in your feedback and help sales reps think through solutions to challenges and next steps.
What are some examples of good feedback?
If a sales rep is struggling to reach the minimum expected number of sales calls, don’t say, ‘You’re not making enough calls.’ Instead, use data and open questions to reframe the situation. For example, ‘I can see that your call rate dips slightly on Tuesday afternoons. What do you think might be the reason for that, and is there anything we could do differently to get around it?’
How to give feedback when the sales team is remote?
For minor or day-to-day feedback, asynchronous communication tools such as Slack or Teams are helpful. For anything more involved (where a discussion could be potentially difficult or emotive), a video or phone call is essential.
Try and keep as complete a record as possible of all communications, providing a ‘paper trail’ to track any changes made as a result of the feedback received. Send an email after the call recapping what was discussed and any next steps of action items. Both for you and the sales rep. This way you can look back and evaluate progress against implementing the feedback and take the appropriate next steps.
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Feedback - An essential tool for managing your sales team
Regular, effective feedback is an essential tool for any sales leader looking to support their team. It can help drive business results and professional growth for everyone involved.
Alongside high-quality training processes, sales strategies and compelling sales collateral, feedback processes that nurture your sales team and make them feel valued will ultimately help your sales team achieve its full potential.
About the author
Dan Lever|Brand Consultant and Copywriter
Dan Lever is an experienced brand consultant and copywriter. He brings over 7 years experience in marketing and sales development, across a range of industries including B2B SaaS, third sector and higher education.