TL;DR: Your sales team holds a lot of power over your company’s success. But what happens when the sales team isn’t functioning at peak performance? Even when you identify the reason why your team isn’t reaching its goals, it will take more than a few encouraging words to turn things around. What your team needs are actionable insights that empower them to commit to making changes and following through. Here’s what you need to know about giving actionable feedback.
Think back to when you landed your first sales job and had your first performance review. Think about what it would have meant to you if, instead of well-thought-out insight and guidance, all you got was a quick response of “good job,” or “keep up the good work.” On the outside, there’s nothing wrong with simple feedback because it reinforces positive behaviors. However, what is missing is clear, actionable direction that will help you become a stronger team member. Fast forward to today, and you’re leading your own sales team. To help them develop, especially during their early days on the team, they need more than just superficial comments that only scratch the surface of their abilities. What your team needs are deeper insights that give them actionable targets. This is where you can provide comprehensive feedback that team members can use to build plans that align with your company’s goals and catalyze your company’s success. Whether you’re onboarding new team members or coaching seasoned ones, action plans work in two phases:
Phase #1: Set up a positive feedback mechanism.
This ensures that there’s a constant flow of information coming into the team. This flow means team members never settle for the status quo. Instead, they actively look for ways to improve and adjust their performance to make themselves more successful. Use monthly feedback sessions, weekly on-the-go sessions, or another approach to allow for feedback to be delivered, tracked, and revisited regularly.
Phase #2: Analyze the overall benefits to the team.
It’s a good idea to set aside time to regularly check in to see how the changes have affected the team. Are adjustments helping team members close more sales? Are team members doing a better job of following up with leads? Check indicators like these to see if the changes you’ve made strengthen the team and make team members more productive.
You can also add in a third piece where you make adjustments based on feedback and analysis and rerun the feedback mechanism.
Peter Kazanjy, co-founder of the recruiting software firm TalentBin, makes a good point. He says, “Remember, the biggest cost for a young sales team at a scaling startup is the opportunity cost of missed or delayed sales. Rigorous, thoughtful onboarding will minimize these costs and engender a positive feedback loop, faster time to revenue for new reps, and higher retention.” Here, the feedback mechanism is a positive feedback loop and the benefits to the team are higher revenue and team member retention. Without a strategic approach to delivering and analyzing feedback, your team can’t learn and grow. Keep in mind that giving actionable feedback isn’t about ignoring negative feedback, just balancing it. Studies show that team members are 30x more likely to be actively engaged when their managers focus on their strengths. So instead of focusing on the negatives, find ways to turn them into positive opportunities to keep your team motivated and on task. For example, let’s say a team member is struggling to follow up with leads in a timely manner. Start by reinforcing their positive attributes, like their strong organization skills. Highlight this, and use it by helping them plan their day better.
Set up a feedback mechanism that offers actionable insights
Your feedback mechanism is important because it determines if your comments will be received verbally or in writing, whether feedback will come from other team members, team leads, or somewhere else, and how often feedback will be given. The feedback mechanism lays the foundation for how your team expects to get better at what they do. The feedback mechanism you design will help you:
Track the individual milestones of team members. Are team members on track with predetermined milestones? Or are they falling behind? Use this time to check in with team members to see if they’re following through on feedback.
Plot out strategies to help teams stay on track to meet these milestones.
Setting up this kind of framework for following up with feedback gives you tools to help team members develop and do a better job. Here’s an example. Let’s say your feedback mechanism is a monthly 30-minute check-in with each team member. Take a look at sales numbers for the previous month, customer feedback, and any comments from other teams your sales team works with — for example, the marketing and product teams. Use this information to get a better sense of each team member’s skills. Some might be great communicators, but their execution needs work, like following up with customers on time. You might find that other team members keep missing out on sales because they keep making the same mistakes when they’re faced with a particular customer objection. Once you’ve ranked each team member, come up with solutions to the issues you’ve identified. For team members who need to develop their objection-handling skills, offer them coaching or pair them with a team member who’s strong in this area.
Remember to focus on how team members can turn these critiques into actionable feedback so everyone can see rapid improvement. Start with some positive reinforcement, and then suggest clear, incremental improvements. The next time you meet with each team member, talk about the positive changes you’ve seen and continue to offer encouragement and feedback. Remember that you can “help your salespeople become great by consistently giving them detailed, constructive feedback and access to high-quality coaching.” Your goal should be to help them grow and develop their skills so that they make the team better as a whole. As you set up your feedback mechanism, a few questions to keep in mind are:
How many people should be included in each meeting?
How often would the team like to meet?
How should we prepare for each meeting?
How will we set SMART goals based on the feedback?
What will follow-up meetings look like?
Based on your answers to these questions, set up a feedback mechanism that is unique to you and makes the most sense for your team. For example, TalentBin, a software firm, sets up time once a week to give team members feedback. Managers meet with different team members and review previous feedback plus the current status of the improvements in progress. Focusing on the work that’s currently flowing through the pipeline allows managers to make adjustments to avoid bottlenecks or missed deadlines. Finally, regardless of the mechanism you choose to use, the most important part is documentation. This isn’t just documenting the process so that everyone’s on the same page, it’s also about tracking feedback and following up on the milestones you’ve discussed. For example, if you’re trying to help a team member improve their planning and organizing skills by setting them a goal to sign up 10% more people a month, then your documentation should lay out exactly how they can meet this goal. Reviewing and charting progress will help everyone achieve goals faster.
What regular feedback does for your team
Use feedback as a way to get your team to work together more smoothly. Each team member should have their own development goals to work towards and receive regular support, like check-ins and access to you for questions. By partnering in their growth and development, you’ll notice a drop in turnover rates. Studies show that teams that get regular feedback experience 14.9% lower turnover rates and have more engaged team members. The key to experiencing these benefits is to set a standard early on — for example, during onboarding — so that team members know what’s expected of them and have goals to work towards. As an example of how this would work, you can pair a new sales team member with a seasoned team member — a buddy. This buddy is meant to be the day-to-day go-to for new hires during onboarding. This approach provides hands-on guidance to new team members as they learn about the product, processes, and customers.
During the first few weeks of training, their buddy — along with the sales team lead — should give new hires weekly feedback about their progress to help them develop. Document this feedback so that new hires have something to revisit, so they’re clear on what they need to work on and what they’re doing well. Team leads can set up regular meetings with new hires to discuss the feedback and put together an action plan to make sure new team members are successful. For example, if a new hire needs to improve how long it takes them to respond to leads who request a product demo, then the action plan for them would include setting response guidelines and monitoring progress to make sure the new hire is improving. As a whole, your entire team wins because there is consistent, open communication and an easy way to track progress. Plus, seasoned team members have a say in new hire development, which is important because of their familiarity with the role and its requirements make them a valuable resource for developing team members.
Get started with positive feedback
Feedback is more than just a few words of encouragement. It’s about giving your team members regular, tailored insights to help them reach their full potential as part of the team. When team members can take feedback, turn it into an action plan, and work on it until they see results, your whole team benefits. They become more naturally invested in the kind of performance that drives success in your entire company.