Tools and techniques to keep the best salespeople working for you instead of for your competitors.
Without the skill of balanced feedback, owners and managers cannot hope to win the buy-in, the confidence and the continued respect of their salespeople. Nor can they hope to fulfill their role as leaders upon whose direction good salespeople depend. Also, owners and managers cannot hope to provide their salespeople with a practical and immediate way to gauge their own overall performance. In other words, owners and managers who lack the skill to provide balanced feedback soon leave their salespeople on a rudderless sailing ship with broken mast, as it were, whose direction is subject to capricious currents and whimsical winds. Without the direction of balanced feedback, all goal setting becomes an exercise doomed to go the futile way of half-hearted resolutions, a mere list of "I'm gonna's", the kind that paved the proverbial streets of hell.
To appreciate the benefits of balanced feedback, we need to understand just what it is and what it is not. It is not condescending, destructive and insincere; it is elevating, constructive, and sincere. Thus balanced feedback always promotes a spirit of teamwork based on the synergistic principal of win-win.
Balanced feedback is a natural outgrowth of the skills of clarifying and confirming, as is illustrated in the following imaginary scenario in which a manager offers a salesperson constructive criticism.
Manager: Larry, the reason I asked to see you is to go over your rate of special orders.
Salesperson: What do you mean, Nancy?
Manager: Larry, I'm concerned about the small number of special orders you write. I'm wondering why that's so, since your overall volume is quite good.
Salesperson: Look, Nancy, don't worry about it. Business is business. I get paid to sell, and as you say, my overall volume is quite good.
Manager: No question. Here is my concern. Thirty percent of our floor is geared to special order fabrics on our upholstery. In the last few months only 2 percent of your upholstery sales have been special orders. We must hit our quota and we can't do it without your help. What do you feel is getting in the way of your special orders.
Salesperson: Nancy, as I just said, I get paid on volume and my volume is great. You don't want my volume to go down, do you?
Manager: What do you mean?
Salesperson: You know, time is money. Special orders take too much time.
Manager: So you feel the reason you write so few special orders is you can't afford to lose the time it takes to write special orders because you don't want to lose overall volume. Is that it?
Salesperson: Right. If I tried to increase my special orders, you'd have me back the next month questioning me on why my overall sales had dipped.
Let's interrupt this scenario to comment on Nancy's use of the skills of clarifying and confirming. By using these skills, she learned (rather than assumed) Larry's reason for not writing many special orders. While she does not agree with Larry, she has allowed him to offer it before she dares give him some balanced feedback.
Let's proceed with the scenario.
Manager: Larry, I certainly don't want you to drop in your overall sales. I am concerned that you must increase your special orders. The productivity of our store depends on that. How can we get you to increase your special orders and still keep up your overall sales?
Salesperson: I'd like to help you with that question. I just don't know how.
Manager: Larry, a while ago you mentioned that you think that special orders take too much time and get in the way of your overall sales.
Salesperson: You got that right.
Manager: What if we could find a
way for you to keep up your overall sales and also increase your special orders?
Salesperson: I wish I had some suggestions, but I'm afraid I can't come up with any.
Manager: Larry, if this were your first week working with us...
Salesperson: But it isn't.
Manager: I know, but let's pretend. Would you change anything in the way we trained you to sell special orders?
Salesperson: Want an honest answer?
Manager: Of course.
Salesperson: I'd have you train me better in how to write special orders.
Manager: How's that?
Salesperson: You know, I'm just not comfortable with all those fabric selections the way Mary is.
Manager: And her overall sales aren't bad either. What if I asked Mary to spend time with you on fabrics?
Manager: What do you suggest?
Salesperson: We could ask Mary to join us now. She's in the store and isn't scheduled till three. That would give us 30 minutes or so to see how she feels about this.
Manager: That's a great idea. Let's call her in.
Note how Nancy continued to clarify and confirm. Note too how the balanced feedback formed the basis of setting the tone for inviting Larry's suggestions on how he might increase his special order business (Larry, I certainly don't want you to drop in your overall sales... How can we get you to increase your special orders and still keep up your overall sales?). Had Nancy disregarded Larry's concern in this matter, a justifiable one at that, Larry might have been left with the following thoughts: "She doesn't care about my concerns and she doesn't appreciate my overall sales." Both of those thoughts would have left Larry feeling manipulated by an insincere manager interested only in her own agenda.
Also important is the fact that Nancy showed no doubt as to her responsibility to get Larry to increase the number of his special orders. ("The productivity of our store depends on that.") That is the reason why we call it balanced feedback... balanced because it contains what each party said was important.
Balanced feedback works because it is fair, considerate, good-willed, responsible and at times creative. It goes a long way toward providing salespeople with the leadership they require to feel successful. Master the art of giving balanced feedback. Once you do, you'll wonder how you ever managed without it.
In Part Six in this series concerned with keeping good salespeople, we will discuss how owners and managers ought to use quotas to motivate their salespeople.
Corporate trainer, educator and speaker Dr. Peter A. Marino has written extensively on sales training techniques and their furniture retailing applications. Questions on any aspect of sales education can be sent to him care of FURNITURE WORLD Magazine at email@example.com.