Don't Confuse Feedback with Coaching

After 24 years of working side-by-side with some of the world’s leading sales organizations, I’ve never had a situation where a sales leader didn’t go out of their way to recognize team members for a job well done. Whether it was a well-timed “attaboy” in front of the entire department or saying, “great job on closing that deal” privately near the office water cooler, they’ve all been willing to give feedback and offer encouragement.

The problem arises when these same sales managers confuse feedback with coaching. They think that by offering encouragement, they are also coaching – as if they’re the same thing. But they’re not.

Now don’t get me wrong; your friends at Axiom encourage you to show gratitude. Feedback like that is not only important for team morale but also acts as a shot in the arm for young sales professionals everywhere. All I’m saying is that if you’re trying to grow salespeople for the long haul, telling them “great job” is nice, but don’t expect it to be anything more than fast food for professional development.

The feedback we give is long lasting when it’s specific about a behavior or an application of their skill or knowledge to a situation. In other words, what was the positive effect of that? What did you contribute to making that happen?

 In my mind, the difference between feedback and coaching boils down to three things:

  • Citing the specific behavior that drove the result – It’s OK to say, “Way to go!” Where those words become more powerful is when you add, “I thought you differentiated us from our competition well and it was so clear to the customer they were safe in this decision.”
  • Citing the positive effect of that behavior – Not only can you cite a specific behavior, but you can describe the positive effect. For example, “You were able to do that because you put in the time to understand what our unique value proposition would mean to the customer and because of the questions you asked.”
  • If it’s appropriate, describe how to correct their actions if they were wrong or how to build on what they did right.

The bottom line is this: while feedback like “Hey, great job!” is important, it’s not going to help a salesperson grow. True sales coaching always ends in a specific action and will ultimately help your sales force increase their effectiveness, execution, skill development, and so much more.

Download our Guide to Sales Coaching here:

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Andy Smith, SVP Sales & Marketing

For 24 years, Andy Smith has been helping some of the world’s leading sales organizations, including Honeywell, MasterCard, ExxonMobil, Microsoft, and others increase their effectiveness through improved sales process execution, better sales coaching, consultative sales skill development, and higher CRM adoption. Andy holds a degree from Baylor University and prior to joining AXIOM he served in senior sales leadership roles for Sales Performance International, AchieveGlobal, and Acclivus Corporation. He started his career in sales with Xerox before joining ExxonMobil where he discovered his passion for the sales performance improvement profession. Andy lives in Denton, Texas. Ask Andy about his very average golf game, radio broadcasting of high school sports, or his three adorable grand babies.

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Topics: Better Coaching

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