The Power of Specific, Behavioral Feedback

What we have concluded from working with thousands of coaches, managers and sales people is that coaching feedback needs to be specific, focused on behavior and provided in a timely fashion. When we ask people about the coaching feedback they receive, the reviews are mixed. The comments we hear sound something like this:

  • “She tells me when I am not doing a good job.” 
  • “I have been told that I take too much time with each customer.” 
  • “Coaching is for people that are not making their numbers. Right?”
  • “My manager wants me to close more, but I am not really sure what that means.”  
  • “I have regular one-on-one meetings but not a lot of feedback.” 
  • “I never get coached. I am a top performer”.
  • “We don’t have sales coaches, just managers.” 
  • “We get regular sales tips and trainings from our manager.” 
  • “My manager wasn’t as good a sales person as I am.” 

How do you ensure coaching feedback supports improved performance? 

  • Consistently reinforce positive behaviors as well as improvements. Managers tend to err on the side of corrective feedback. Provide a balance.
  • Make sure you provide specific observations of behaviors that affect performance. If you are giving opinions based on personal experience or style your feedback may not actually support results. If your feedback is too vague it is left to interpretation.
  • Be sure to keep advice focused on the future as they can do nothing about what just occurred. For example, “Next time you open a call, you could ask the customer if there is anything they would like to add to the agenda, that way you will ensure you are on the right track.”
  • Get validation. Ask your sales person if the feedback you are giving them is helpful. It doesn’t matter what you think if they don’t like or understand what you are saying. Make sure it is hitting the mark.
  • Positive reinforcement and advice for improvement does not always have to be given at the same time. If the expectation is that you will always give both positive and negative feedback then people tend to wait and listen for the criticism. The reinforcement can get lost.  Think of feedback as bank account. You will make deposits (positive feedback) and withdrawals. If you are overdrawn, performance can start to suffer.

How to Give Positive Feedback More Effectively

Many sales managers think they are providing positive feedback when they say, “Hey great job today!” It’s nice to hear, but it doesn’t tell your sales person what they are doing well. If you want to reinforce behaviors that contribute to higher performance – be specific. For example, “I observed three things you did in that meeting that drove a successful close. The first was the way you validated the customer’s acceptance throughout the call by getting feedback. By asking, “What do you think about that?”, you were able to uncover concerns and address them effectively. The second was the qualifying question you asked about decision making. By knowing how they were going to make this decision you were able to close for the next step to advance that process. And lastly, you summarized the key points agreed to in the meeting and suggested the next step confidently. The result was the customer was comfortable in committing to you.”

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