At a recent round-table with inside sales leaders, our topic was about effectively leading Gen Y / Millennials. We all agreed that generally speaking this group of employees match up to the tasks of what solid, successful inside sales professionals do - with one caveat. There is a larger need for feedback.
The feedback requests are not just "how am I doing" but also in wanting a lot of guidance and in career planning at the company. Some leaders tell me it is constant.
It's not unusual for a 22 or 23 year old to tell their sales leader, "OK, I did this job for a year. I want to understand where this position will take me - right away."
The Bridge Group, Inc, and Vorsight did a survey of almost 1000 sales people and created an e-book called Mythbusting Millennials - Separating Fact from Fiction for Managing Gen Y Sales Reps. You can see a taste of it - about the Millennial generation craving feedback myth confirmed via slideshare here.
It is apparent that learning how to give feedback is critical as a sales leader. Unfortunately we live in a world where something as important as this is not taught in school. Many times it is not taught at work – but clearly a leader needs to learn somehow.
Three things to know about giving feedback:
1.It is important to give regular feedback, not just when it is about a negative situation. This way, having a conversation with a sales leader does not put a sick feeling in any of your team members’ stomachs. Catch your team doing good things. Use your metrics to mention successes. Give this feedback sooner rather than later.
My son played Division I college hockey and his coach rarely talked to the players during games. I always thought it was odd, although he often under-communicated, and years later heard from the players who shared how frustrating it was not to get more feedback when it mattered.
2. Give feedback about negative behaviors via the “sandwich” model of feedback. You start with a positive, offer feedback on the negative behavior, and close with something positive. Even though most of us will focus on the middle, it helps in so many ways to cushion feedback with positives.
Some of you may not agree, and opt to be “brutally honest” with a focus on negative behaviors. In working for 22 sales leaders in my tenure as a technology sales rep, I’d say that the very best of my managers or leaders gave me constructive and supportive feedback. They did not embarrass me, and they were (mostly) respectful. That is what I recommend, and I understand that not all sales leaders do that.
3. That brings us to the last point, which is to give feedback about negative behaviors in private, not in front of the team. Focus on the behavior, not the person. Again, I can reflect on many times when one of my co-workers was yelled at in front of the team – we all laughed, but the rep was humiliated. It did not help his production level or do anything other than give some laughs on his behalf. Take a rep to your office and share what you saw or heard and how it affects the team or the numbers or the company in the big picture.
Have you heard of the Losada Ratio? Happier Human has good insight on how to balance positive with negative for the best results.
One thing is for sure, sales leaders need to be on their toes and ready to offer feedback about someone's career path - if you don't know what that is, perhaps you need more input from company leadership. It is a reasonable request to know how my hard work might pay off down the road - whether I want to be a manager or CEO.
Advice to younger sales reps - focus on what is most important for you to get feedback on. Don't overwhelm your sales leader.
What are your experiences with giving or receiving feedback in sales?
Where did you learn to give good, constructive feedback that helps others?
Do you think people need to be shouted at in front of others to “get” that they goofed up?
Your thoughts and ideas are wanted on this topic. Share what you’ve seen in the corporate workplace – especially in sales teams of yours, past and present.
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.
Lori Richardson is recognized as one of the "Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2012" and one of "20 Women to Watch in Sales Lead Management". Lori speaks, writes, trains, and consults with inside and outbound sellers in technology and services companies. Subscribe to the award-winning blog and the “Sales Ideas In A Minute” newsletter for sales strategies, tactics, and tips.