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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Accentuate the Positives When Coaching Salespeople

positivityIt happened in sixth grade, and yet I remember it like it was yesterday. Another student said something mean to me about the way I looked, and it stuck. I will never forget it. I can remember times at work when I felt hurt by something someone said as well—such as the time when a manager at a previous job told me my idea was stupid, but didn’t explain why or suggest a different approach, so I had no idea which direction to go. But I have a hard time remembering as vividly the times when people have praised me. I think I’m pretty normal in this respect.

Have you ever received criticism you just couldn’t shake? It probably won’t take you long to remember a time when you got negative feedback that really hurt. That’s because we’re actually hardwired to remember the negatives.

The Negativity Bias

It is scientifically proven that bad news makes a much bigger impact on our brains than does good news. Scientists call it the brain’s “negativity bias.” It’s an important survival skill that helps us stay away from dangerous situations, but it also causes us to easily recall criticism and the unpleasant things people have said to us.

I often coach sales managers to provide salespeople with regular feedback on performance, and I encourage them to make it a top priority to give both positive feedback and constructive criticism. Both forms of feedback are extremely important because managers who give only negative feedback are likely to have more disengaged and demotivated salespeople.

The Happy Hour Rule Conquers Negativity When Coaching Salespeople

The fact that negative feedback is more memorable and makes more of a lasting impact is the reason we suggest that managers practice the happy hour rule, providing five to seven positives for every one corrective when giving feedback. The negatives sting, and we remember them! So, the number of times you give positive feedback needs to be far higher than the number of times you give negative feedback. Providing five positives to every one piece of constructive criticism is extremely difficult to do, but it has a huge impact on performance.

The first step is coming up with a plan and putting systems in place to achieve the ratio—or it will likely never happen. That plan should include time in the field with each seller, because it’s much easier to come up with five positives when you see them in action.

A critical element is that your feedback should always focus, not on the score, but on the skills needed to turn the score in the seller’s favor.

A Manager is a Coach

manager_is_a_coachRecently, I heard it described at our Talent Focused Management workshop this way: Think about the coach of your favorite football team. What if the coach never showed up to a single practice or game, and then met with the players only to give feedback on the score of the game. What if the coach said, “We’re not going to talk about the plays, we’re not going to review the video tape, we’re only going to focus on the fact that we need to score more points.” Do you think that would result in a winning season? Do you think the players would get better?

Some sales managers are guilty of giving feedback on the score. They focus on numbers only, telling salespeople who are not hitting their budget that they need to get out there and make it happen. (Well, duh.) Reacting to results will not lead to the kind of growth you want to see, but coaching specific behaviors will surely impact results.

The best managers focus on behaviors, and they give more positive than negative feedback. Let’s face it, constructive criticism needs to happen sometimes, and is an important step toward improvement and growth. Those conversations can be difficult, but they are much easier to digest, and are much more effective, when the positive feedback happens frequently.

The key to providing the right balance is to start with a good system and be observant. Create a feedback plan and observe each salesperson in action in the field. Write down a lot of information about what you see and hear. Then filter that information so the most helpful and significant feedback passes through. This process will help you focus your feedback on the natural talents that will make each person you manage more successful.

Here’s what you should filter out:

  1. Things they just don’t have the talent to do. Focusing on areas of weakness will never lead to significant growth.
  2. Things that don’t matter. Don’t waste time discussing things you think should be done differently if they are not getting in the way of their success.

Here’s what you should focus on:

  1. Things they did well! How can the salesperson do these things more often and do them even better?
  2. Things they have the talent to do—but missed the opportunity to do. Discuss strategies to use that talent next time.

Providing feedback is one of the most important things you can do as a manager. It’s an investment you make in each person you manage to help them grow, and show you care about their success, which leads to a more engaged team and increased performance. Just remember the 5-7 happy hour rule. Make your criticism helpful, not hurtful, because the negatives have a lasting effect on people, and they’re difficult to forget.

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