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Increase the Amount of Positive Feedback Up Front

08.20.2013
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The following is an excerpt from Sales Coaching: Making the Great Leap from Sales Manager to Sales Coach.

Increase the Amount of Positive Feedback Up Front

Most coaches need to increase the amount of positive feedback they give up front. By doing so they can start out a coaching session by sending the message that they feel the salesperson is competent, or at least is doing some things right. This builds a positive foundation that makes it easier for the person receiving the feedback to accept the areas for improvement. But the heart of this is the feeling that the person is good or has the potential to be good. This in turn forms a foundation for trust.

Without trust, the developmental coaching process doesn’t really work. Fortunately, the process of coaching can help create and build trust and avoid misunderstandings and distrust.

It is a bit like the chicken-and-egg debate. It is not a matter of which comes first. Trust and skill go hand in hand. Experience shows that a coach who has a positive attitude about his or her people and has coaching skills can have tremendous impact.

By using positives as well as areas for improvement, the coach can not only build trust but can keep things in perspective. The truth is that no one is 100 percent effective or 100 percent ineffective. Therefore, it is up to the person giving feedback to be able to observe both the strengths and areas for improvement.

When unsure of how much to give of each, coaches should err on the side of positives. It is also important to realize that many salespeople want to focus on the negatives, and they need help to hear the positives and not dismiss them.

If a coach really can’t find any positives, it is important not to make them up. The basic rule is to be honest. In such a situation the coach might say, “Because I am so focused on X, I’m not really seeing positives” or “I’m trying to look for positives and am coming up short!” Whenever possible, however, the coach should acknowledge the positives to put things in perspective and to establish common ground. When the coach disagrees with the positives the salesperson identifies, he or she should ask for specifics around them. When the coach agrees with the positives, he or she can build on them.

Here are some examples of balancing strengths and areas for improvement when giving feedback:

  • “Beth, I know you are putting in long days and handling ‘fires’ around here everyday. Believe me, I am well aware of that and appreciate the job you are doing. Today I want to talk with you about your prospecting effort. I have looked at your call reports, and I noticed that of the 12 calls you planned to make over the past week, three were with prospective clients. Our priority and focus at this time is new business. How does your effort support that?” or “Why three prospect calls?” (Get salesperson’s perception.)
  • “Look, Joe, I know you were here long into the night on Thursday to finish the proposal. In spite of that there seems to be problems. Tom called me to say there were several errors in the proposal that he feels cost us the deal. What happened?”
  • “Mike, I’d like to give my perceptions. I agree that you were excellent in summarizing the client’s objectives and in describing our response to those objectives. In addition to that, I really liked…(coach’s positives). And you were great on getting clarification on….I think a key area for you to work on is your description of our firm. You emphasized our capabilities in….While generally that is fine, did any of that relate to this client? Since they do…, there was a chance to link to the client’s interest. What could you have said to tie to that? What do you think? (Check perceptions.) In your followup what will you emphasize about us for them?”

Of course, there will also be times when a problem is so severe that it warrants discussion without anything else on the agenda. The point is that there should be many, many more times when more balanced feedback is given. In situations when the coach can’t find an area for improvement, for example, with a “top performer,” the coach can ask him or her to identify an area to work on next. Together they can figure out resources to support this development.

While some coaches don’t give positives, many are uncomfortable giving feedback on the negatives. This usually results in giving no feedback at all. By understanding that it is appropriate and preferable to give both strengths and areas for improvement, many coaches can get more comfortable with feedback. What they formerly saw as “bad news” they now begin to see as a part of a total development process to help their people see and achieve possibilities.

Richardson, Linda (1996). Sales Coaching: Making the Great Leap from Sales Manager to Sales Coach (Kindle Location 682). McGraw-Hill. Kindle Edition.

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Published at DZone with permission of its author, David Austin.

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