Sales coaching

Good sales coaching is a balance – a mix of feedback on things that go right, as well as, things that don’t. The problem is we tend to get out of balance. It is easier to see the ineffective – faults and mistakes than to detect and analyze skillful performance. Inevitably, this colors the feedback we give. It is much easier to focus on the negatives than the positives.

As a correction a common how-to instruction for giving feedback suggests – start by saying something encouraging, and then move on to the behavior that needs to be improved and close with something positive.

A second and more effective approach is don’t wait to give positive feedback on good performance until it’s time to correct a mistake. Reason: under the first idea the praise part of the feedback can come across as patronizing and insincere. Instead, be on the lookout for good sales performance and immediately provide some positive feedback – if you are the one on the other side of the table the difference is absolutely dramatic.

Let’s take the example where a sales rep has successfully closed a deal. One of the unique aspects of this situation, of course, is the inherent positive feedback a salesperson gets from closing a deal. After all, closing a deal is great! And for large opportunities the win often is celebrated inside the sales team – again automatic positive feedback.

Yet, positive feedback often stops there. All too often sales managers do not sit down with a salesperson who has closed a winning deal and leverage the win as an opportunity to have a second-level feedback discussion with the sales rep. Two best practices for conducting such sessions are worth highlighting:

  • Analyze the win. Particularly in complex accounts it can be difficult for sales reps to analyze the critical activities that lead to winning the accounts. So in the feedback session the sales manager cannot only congratulate the sales rep for the achievement but also help the sales rep to better understand why the win was achieved.
  • Leverage the win. Helping salespeople 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. It is also possible for the sales manager to blueprint how the win was achieved into a set of best practices that can be shared with others members of the team.

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