We always talk about feedback on the blog, specifically how giving (and asking for) feedback helps in a sales rep’s development. Not getting and/or responding to feedback is one of the things your sales reps could be doing wrong.
And feedback is not just for sales reps. It’s for anyone in the team—junior, senior, or supervisor. In fact, a sales manager should even encourage his members to give him feedback about himself. It’s one of the best ways to promote feedback as an important tool in a team’s communication and development processes.
But not every feedback is the same. The kind of feedback you give will make all the difference. It has to be actionable—it must have practical, measurable value and your sales rep must be able to act on it.
How do you give productive and constructive feedback to your sales reps?
7-Step System for Providing Actionable Feedback
1. Keep it SMART.
We always defer to the SMART model when setting goals and providing feedback.
Specific: Be direct about your feedback to effectively communicate what you want to say. Don’t say “You’re not doing so well.” Instead, say “Your sales have been declining since the start of the second quarter and it’s now down by 60%.”
Measurable: Your feedback and succeeding action plan (more on this below) must be quantifiable or able to be measured by sales metrics (which you should have, in the first place).
Achievable: When you communicate what you want them to do next to improve (more on this below), make sure what you want them to achieve is actually doable.
Realistic: Your assessment must be realistic and, as mentioned, measurable. You will also be communicating your expectations moving forward. Make sure to keep those realistic.
Time-Bound: There are two ways to follow through on this. Give timely feedback (see no. 2 below) and the succeeding action plan for improvement must also be set within a specific timeframe (again, more on this below).
2. Make it immediate and regular.
Providing feedback doesn’t have to be in formal, scheduled formats. When you see a negative incident that requires feedback, you may give feedback at the moment—given that it’s appropriate. It’s microtraining in effect. If circumstances are not so ideal for on-the-spot feedback, you may take note of the incident and give feedback later, but not much later.
It’s best to give immediate feedback and not let the problem/issue last longer than necessary. It also works better—for you and the sales rep—when the memory of the incident/issue is still fresh.
Feedback doesn’t always have to be negative. So if you see something positive that merits a commendation, do so on the spot. It motivates the performing sales rep and it also reinforces the commendable action to those witnessing the feedback.
It’s also important to give regular feedback. This shows sales reps that they are constantly monitored and this keeps them on their toes. It also helps foster a culture of learning, with sales reps constantly provided with tools for development.
3. Create a safe environment.
The receiver of your feedback must feel safe and comfortable during the process. This allows them to really absorb the message you’re communicating. Here are ways to create a safe environment:
- Be tough, but not mean. Say what you mean; mean what you say. But don’t forget the tenets of diplomacy and kindness. You should come across as willing to help, and not judgmental.
- Do a one-on-one. Certain feedback and certain sales reps warrant a one-on-one. Know how to discern.
- Let receiver go first. You will be starting with the positives, specifically: what the sales rep does well. Why not ask him/her about this first? Also, before you give your feedback on the incident/issue/event that warranted the meeting in the first place, you may ask the sales rep for his/her side on the matter.
4. Construct a balance.
Your feedback should be honest and balanced. So it’s important to include some positives. That said, we’re not big believers of the "sandwich" feedback model—that is: start with a positive, then say a negative, then end with a positive. We don’t think it’s necessary, and it may even cause confusion or water down the real, important feedback.
Instead, we propose you structure your feedback with these notes in mind:
- What does the sales rep do well?
- What do you want the sales rep to keep doing?
- What specific incident/issue/event warranted this feedback?
- What do you want the sales rep to stop doing?
- What do you want the sales rep to start doing?
5. Connect it with team goals and objectives.
It needs to be established that you are providing feedback for improvement and attainment of team goals and objectives. So make the connection between the feedback you’re giving and the team goal it will help achieve once addressed or corrected.
This is also a way to communicate that the feedback is strictly professional, and that it’s never personal. This is important since a lot of people react negatively to feedback.
6. Enforce a post-feedback action plan.
Again, the feedback must be actionable. So you have to lay out a plan of action after the feedback is given. And your action plan must also be SMART.
You may also ask rep for his/her input. Ask, for example, “What specific steps will help you to improve your numbers?” You may also ask, “What do you need from me to help you improve your numbers?” This gives the sales rep the impression that you are there to help. It also makes the whole experience positive for him/her.
7. Monitor the progress.
The whole process will only be effective if you monitor the progress post-feedback. Require the sales rep to submit reports that indicate his/her progress on a weekly and/or monthly basis. Do on-the-spot, regular checkups.
Sales managers are responsible for their reps’ continuous development, and providing actionable feedback helps with that. But make sure that you’re there for the good and the bad. Call out negative actions, but commend the positive ones too.
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