How not to manage a sales team: two rules about feedback

I was a half hour from starting my training program with a California-based bank, when one of the senior managers informed me that I wouldn’t be starting at 8 a.m., but at 9 instead. “Today is the District Manager’s sales meeting and everyone must dial in. We have a phone here in the room so we’re going to do that first. Once she’s done, you can start.”

This was fine by me as I wanted to hear how the sales meeting would go.  It was the most interesting, although possibly the worst meeting I ever heard. In fact it wasn’t a meeting at all, as none of the attendees got to participate. Instead, the meeting consisted of sixty minutes of an unrelenting rant by the District Manager.  Sure put a damper on my program I can tell you that.

The theme of the meeting if I can call it that, seemed to be that 1) the sales team weren’t hitting their goals and not bringing in enough new business, and 2) the business that they were bringing in was not of good quality.  Not once did the manager offer examples of the new business that was bad, or a prototype of the kind of good business that the bank was seeking.  I learned later that this monthly meeting had the same tone every time, and always left people feeling discouraged.  Not a surprise.

I mention this story because on today’s Fable Friday I want to return to Ferdinand Fournies’ “Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed to Do” and his chapter 8, “They think they are doing it.”

Imagine if you are doing a job and all seems to be going well. You get little or no feedback about it, so you rightly assume you must be doing it right.  But if you are not, your manager should be giving you feedback about it and that feedback has to have two criteria.  First, it has to be timely.  You should get feedback about your performance immediately after you do something well, or if you do something poorly.

Second, the feedback should be highly specific, using descriptive behavioral language. If you are a sales manager, do you ever find yourself using vague metaphors like “heads are going to roll, people need to step up to the plate, we’re not cutting the mustard?”

If one of your people makes a poor business call, it does no good to say, “You have to do a better job of picking up on the prospect’s signals.”  Instead, you should offer, “When the prospect shakes his head while you explain how the service works, that’s the time to stop and ask about his concerns. He was giving you a signal that something was wrong. Tell me if you noticed this.”

If your team is not meeting its goals, it does you no good to remind them of their non-performance and periodically berate them. They think they’re doing the best they can.  So you need to change your managerial approach.  Speak to them individually about what they’re doing well and not so well, and make sure you have these conversations immediately after performance in very specific language.  Then they’ll listen to you.

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

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