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The Right Way to Provide Sales Reps with Feedback

Kevin HigginsToday’s guest post is by Kevin Higgins, president of Fusion Learning.



In a recent survey of North American sales leaders, we at Fusion Learning asked, “Do sales managers have a model they use to provide feedback to their people?” The response was amazing: 56 percent said yes, and 44 percent said no. This was an aha moment for us. Almost half of sales managers do not have a model for providing feedback. We also know from our experience in our sales-management training sessions that feedback offered without a clear model ends up as a one-way conversation delivered from the manager to the performer.

These one-way feedback conversations come in one of two types: the first is the “sandwich,” when the manager presents the performer with what he or she did well, “sandwiches” negative feedback in the middle, and wraps it up with more positive feedback. It’s a habit based on years and years of giving feedback – and it’s a habit we have to break.

The second is the “seagull” model, which is even worse. This is when the manager doesn’t attempt to engage the performer; he or she simply states negative feedback and moves on. This is why I liken it to seagulls: they fly by, poop, and fly on. You never want to provide “seagull” feedback. Remember, if you simply tell the performer, the conversation is one way, but if you ask the performer, this facilitates a two-way conversation.

If you constantly praise your team members without suggesting improvements, you will have an extremely confident, unskilled team. If you constantly suggest how they can be better without celebrating their success, you will have a skilled team that is lacking confidence. Balance in feedback is critical – but it’s not necessarily 50/50.

A two-way Effective Feedback model makes self-discovery by the performer the first and most critical part of this process. The model has four easy-to-follow steps:

1.     Ask performers what they did well.

2.     You add what you feel they did well.

3.     Ask performers what they will do differently next time.

4.     You add what you suggest they do differently next time.

Steps 1 and 2 build confidence. We need confident team members. Steps 3 and 4 build skill. All four steps create a confident, skilled, and engaged team member.

Do we spend an equal amount of time in each of these steps? Definitely not! Different people have different capacities for feedback and different abilities to assimilate information. Those who lack confidence need more in steps 1 and 2. Those who are very confident but lack skill need more time in steps 3 and 4 (but be careful that it comes after reinforcing confidence in steps 1 and 2).

Effective two-way feedback is common sense. The four steps are not a scientific breakthrough, but they are not common practice. Making them common practice will engage your team. Once this four-step process is in place and well embedded in your culture, you’ll find team members are so well versed in feedback that they can actually provide themselves with clear, actionable, realistic, and balanced feedback on a daily basis.

 How does this work in the real world? Fusion Learning’s average annual growth rate is 28 percent, and one of the most significant factors is feedback. When we hire new team members (all members, not just sales), we provide them with a two-page summary of what it will be like to work at Fusion Learning. Here is what we say about feedback: 

“Growth and development is key in our industry, not only for clients, but for employees as well – you will receive constant feedback here, some you will like and some that is harder to hear – either way there is an expectation that you take it and act on it. 

“We will be open and candid with you. If you are performing well you will know it and if you are not performing well you will receive feedback and coaching.”

 My belief is that our successful growth has a lot to do with feedback being frequent and helpful for our team. Everyone on the team knows that feedback is a four-step process, and they know that they will need to perform some self-discovery before they are given feedback by others.


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