We recently introduced the Sales Coaching Best Practices Series—a mini-series designed to highlight the high-gain coaching activities that EcSell Institute—a research firm specializing in sales coaching, leadership, and management—has identified through their research as having the greatest impact on a sales rep’s ability and willingness to produce at higher levels. We’ve already dug into One-to-One Sales Meetings, Sales Team Meetings, and Joint Call Sales Plans, so check them out in case you missed them.
Today we’re discussing Evaluation and Feedback —the opportunity you have as a sales manager to deliver feedback to your reps for the purpose of performance improvement.
Follow these 3 tips to increase the chances for your feedback to receive follow-through in the field.
1. Change the negative perception of evaluations
Sales call evaluations can naturally create some level of anxiety and defensiveness in your reps because their performance is the focal point. You can help to alleviate that negative perception by letting your salespeople know you don’t want them to completely change their style, just to make a few tweaks to what they’re already doing.
Try to structure your feedback in the following way:
Keep Doing: Keep the feedback positive by starting out with 3 examples of things they are doing well and should keep on doing.
Stop Doing: Follow with 1 thing they should stop doing in order to increase their success.
Start Doing: End with 1 thing you recommend they start incorporating into their sales calls.
In a study by Zenger and Folkman, 72% of respondents said they thought their performance would improve if their managers would provide corrective feedback. If you communicate that the purpose of your conversation is to help them grow and improve their skills (as opposed to inspect them) they’ll actually welcome the opportunity instead of dreading it.
2. Focus on targeted, incremental feedback
Your reps want coaching, but according to research from EcSell Institute, one of reps’ biggest complaints about feedback is that it’s not in-depth or specific enough for them to take action on it. Only 18% of sales reps surveyed “strongly agreed” that the feedback their manager provides helps them improve their sales skills.
Create a dedicated sales call evaluation form that covers the key selling competencies a rep needs to be successful in your specific sales environment—but as with sales metrics, less is more so keep it concise. Focus on the 8-10 competencies that create the highest gain and include a place for you to score their performance in each area with a numeric value. Assigning a number helps to ensure clarity and allows your salespeople to track their improvement over time.
When you deliver your feedback, focus on no more than 3 competencies at a time and provide specific suggestions for improvement. The more clear and direct you can make your recommendations, the more likely they are to get applied.
3. Allow your salespeople to own the solution
Your reps would rather learn for themselves than be told what to do, and they will be more willing to try to improve if they have an active hand in the improvement plan. Make the evaluation a collaborative process by asking questions that help get to the bottom of the root challenge. You want your reps to consider the reasoning behind their own behaviors because that added self-awareness will help them to recognize and self-correct in the future.
Ask questions like:
- How were you hoping the customer would respond to your strategy?
- What could you have done differently to achieve your goal?
If you’re using workplace assessments and you know that your salesperson has an assertive demeanor with a low level of empathy, for example, you can use that information to talk through their challenge of taking over the conversation with a prospect. Once they connect how that part of their personality directly affected their performance, they will be more aware of it in future situations.
Have your salesperson write out a plan of action after your evaluation and revisit the plan at your next one-to-one meeting. The ownership will lead to better execution of the new strategy, and as a coach your role is to hold the rep accountable for following through on their commitment.
To stress this point again, the sales call evaluation shouldn’t make your reps feel as though you are simply criticizing their performance. Eliminate that negative connotation and you will make plenty of room for effective coaching to take place.