One of the most important parts of successful sales management lies in the annual performance review, which, at times, can prove to be a challenging task for even the best managers. Above all else, effective reviews need to center around positive feedback and constructive criticism. This allows managers to work with sellers to develop their skills in a healthy, positive work environment.
To help, here are some constructive feedback examples, but first let's dive into what positive feedback truly is.
What is Positive Feedback?
According to The Balance Careers, positive and effective feedback is meant to "reinforce positive behaviors that contribute to performance or eliminate negative behaviors that can detract from performance."
Sound familiar? Positive feedback functions the same way your incentive compensation plans do. They reinforce behaviors that positively impact both sellers and the company.
Ultimately, the purpose of feedback is to ensure sales reps know how they're doing, including what they're excelling at and areas they can improve. It also provides sales leadership with important information, such as where there is a lapse in coaching across the entire organization.
How to Deliver Positive & Constructive Feedback Effectively
Giving positive feedback might seem simple on the surface, but you'll often find it's not always about praising a sales rep’s behavior. Sometimes there are necessary yet challenging conversations with sellers about poor performance.
When giving constructive feedback, managers should remember that communication should be open and offer opportunities for all parties involved to speak. To be effective, positive feedback should be:
- Timely: Time is of the essence when it comes to correcting negative behaviors. When managers notice problems, they should take timely action to address and remedy the issue quickly.
- Specific: Any feedback conversations should address only the issue at hand—the employee's performance—regardless of if the topic is good or bad. It shouldn't bring in related or similar incidents, projects, or topics.
- Objective: Part of a sales manager's responsibilities is conflict resolution. Regardless of personality or personal feelings, any feedback conversations should be objective and free from individual opinions or other outside influences.
- Constructive: Feedback should be presented in a positive, constructive way. You should always offer a solution or plan to change or improve negative behaviors, and ways to continue reinforcing positive ones.
At the end of the day, it's important to remember that the goal is to reinforce strong sales behaviors and eliminate negative ones through positive reinforcement.
Positive Feedback Tips and Examples
1. Use Facts, Not Hearsay
Base your positive feedback on factual events by sticking to what you have observed and know, not on rumors or information that you've received secondhand. This helps set the foundation for an honest conversation and will eliminate any outside opinions or influence.
Poor Feedback: “I’ve heard that you’re making fewer calls during the day and slacking on the job. What’s going on?”
Positive Feedback: “I took a look at your call logs and noticed there’s been a drop in the number of calls you’re making each day. Is there something going on that is keeping you from making calls?”
It’s important to always have your performance reviews backed by the individual seller’s data. That way you can directly point out any issues and be specific about any behaviors that need to change. The positive feedback example above also starts the conversation with a less accusatory approach, which reduces the chance of reps becoming defensive and eliminating the chance for positive conversation.
2. Be as Direct as Possible
Focus your feedback on the specific details (the big ones that matter), rather than all the other noise. When you’re vague, it’s unclear exactly what the seller needs to improve or continue doing.
For example, if there is an issue with a salesperson’s ability to take charge and guide the conversation in prospect meetings, be specific about why meetings aren’t going well.
Poor Feedback: “Your prospect meetings aren’t running very smoothly. You need to improve them.”
Positive Feedback: “When objections arise in prospect meetings, you tend to back off, and the meeting can head in the wrong direction. Let’s talk about how you can address the objections more effectively and keep the meetings on track.”
In the poor feedback example, it’s unclear exactly what the rep needs to improve about running their prospect meetings. When you're straightforward during performance reviews—like in the positive feedback example—it's easier for the seller to understand the specific behavior they should continue to exhibit or improve.
3. Show Authenticity and Personal Engagement
The best positive feedback is personalized for the individual. Focus on specific examples of behavior that demonstrate the behaviors you want the sales rep to continue.
Poor Feedback: “You’re doing a good job.”
Positive Feedback: “You have really improved your meeting hosting. In the call with ‘X’ prospect the other day, you did a great job navigating their concerns and keeping the call on track. Great job!”
This example of positive feedback shows you are invested in the seller’s performance and are recognizing the specific impact they have on the larger organization. This can help keep morale higher and reps engaged when they feel that their performance is being noticed.
4. Tie Everything to the Bigger Picture
You want each of your sellers’ performance and behavior to contribute to your overarching company goals. It’s important to make the relationship between individual actions and overall business performance clear.
For example, how does employee behavior affect individual or group goals? When you illuminate the ways that their tasks link up with the company's larger goals, it's easier for them to understand just how powerful their actions were (and can be).
Poor Feedback: “Your performance this quarter has dropped. It needs to improve.”
Positive Feedback: “Your number of meetings has dropped this quarter and is bringing the team performance average down. Let’s dive into where you’re struggling, so you can feel confident in your prospect conversations and how you can feel more motivated and empowered in your role.”
Explaining how an individual’s actions impact the larger team can help show each rep’s value and contribution. It can open the door to a more in-depth conversation about engagement and career goals, which will help you better serve sellers and retain top performers.
5. Spread the Love Equally
There are always salespeople who over-perform consistently, but that shouldn’t be the standard of acceptable performance. It’s important to remember that your average sellers who meet their targets but don’t overachieve still deserve credit for their contributions.
Poor Feedback: “You hit your quotas, but you don’t ever exceed them. Why not?”
Positive Feedback: “You are always a consistent performer. You reach your goals, deliver solid deals, and are a valuable asset to the team and company. Are you getting everything you need to do your job effectively?”
You want to recognize your top performers, but you should also make sure you’re spreading the love around equally where it’s deserved. Acknowledging where average performers succeed and asking if they have everything they need will allow you to address the topic of overperformance more effectively because it recognizes their achievements upfront.
6. Address Performance Issues Quickly
When it comes to positive and constructive feedback, it’s important to initiate conversations quickly with the seller. Give feedback immediately after the event prompting the feedback, or as soon as time allows. Being immediate ensures your employee precisely remembers the action being referenced, and of course, decreases the chances that you forget to give the feedback.
Poor Feedback: “Oh I forgot to tell you a couple of weeks ago. The meeting you held with ‘X’ prospect could have been better if you had done X, Y, Z. Did you remember to do that in the next call?”
Positive Feedback: “Let’s have a quick chat about the meeting you just held. I want to know how you think it went and what you’re planning for the next call. I have a couple of suggestions that might make future conversations smoother.”
Especially when it comes to correcting sales behaviors, try to approach the conversation as a coaching opportunity. You should offer your help in a way that benefits and makes the rep stronger now. Waiting to give feedback when events and conversations are no longer fresh in the mind won’t help the seller or your pipeline improve.
7. Always Provide a Solution or Plan of Action
Sales performance reviews should focus on the seller’s responsibilities in their role and their effectiveness. The result should be a list of achievements and a plan of action to address any areas where reps need to improve.
Poor Feedback: “Your deals take a long time to move from one stage to the next. Focus on speeding that up.”
Positive Feedback: “Your deals are moving slower than average for the team. What parts in the sales cycle do you find most challenging? Let’s have you retake the training session on each stage and I’ll walk through your normal selling process with you to see where we can improve.”
Constructive criticism is essential when providing positive feedback. It shows you’re invested in the reps’ training and want to equip them with the tools they need to succeed.
8. Ask Sellers What They Need to Succeed
Providing positive feedback is only part of the review process. Reviews are also a time for checking in to see if reps have the resources they need to do their job well. Even for top performers, you should provide space for sellers to request additional resources or find opportunities to continuously improve their performance.
Poor Feedback: “You’re doing great in these areas. Keep up the good work.”
Positive Feedback: “You’re excelling in these areas. Can we better equip or train you to continue to perform at a high level? Is there anything you need to do your job more effectively?”
9. Make Performance Reviews a Two-way Conversation
While sales performance reviews are often manager-led to cover a rep’s performance, they shouldn’t be a one-way conversation. Structure reviews in a way that allows reps to share their thoughts around their performance, their strengths, and their weaknesses.
Poor Feedback: “I’m just going to go through the review doc I shared with you that lists out your strengths and weaknesses.”
Positive Feedback: “Before we dive into the official review, I want to know how you’re doing, where you are succeeding, and areas you want to improve or learn more about.”
Making performance reviews an open conversation will allow you to create solutions together to address any issues. They also can give you insight into a rep’s mindset, how they view their performance, and areas they want to learn more about for future career development.
10. Continue to Check in Regularly
You should conduct official performance reviews regularly, or at the very least annually. But outside of your normal reviews, it’s important to check in with reps to make sure they are engaged, motivated, and maintaining a good work-life balance.
Poor Feedback: “Alright, we’ll check back in next quarter or at our next review time. Otherwise, let me know if you have anything you want to talk about.”
Positive Feedback: “Let’s set up a regular weekly or monthly check-in so that we can make sure you are consistently on track and nip any problems in the bud as early as possible.”
Although the poor feedback example leaves the door open for future conversations, it doesn’t make the same level of commitment. With regular check-ins, you stay up-to-date on rep performance and well-being.
Making Positive Feedback the Norm
Positive feedback is a culture-driven management style. Implementing effective positive feedback techniques must start with training top-level management and continue down through to lower levels. It must be a mindset adopted and practiced by leaders and employees alike.
To learn more ways to increase employee morale in our blog with 23 Ways to Improve Employee Morale.