Sales Calls and Coaching: How to Give Actionable, Consistent Feedback

By now, we all know that consistent coaching produces higher rep productivity. When coaching an inside sales team, call recordings are especially important for providing feedback during 1-on-1 coaching sessions and building a library of sharable best practice examples. Since coaching is essentially an ongoing conversation between coach and rep, how you communicate is key to gaining results. Especially when providing feedback, and eliciting dialogue around improvement-related topics, your approach is critical. Done incorrectly, feedback may not be received as intended, the recipient may stop listening or even become defensive. This is counterproductive. The right approach will result in a worthwhile conversation. So, how should you go about conducting these discussions for the desired continuous performance improvement?

Coaching Communication Considerations

It’s important to know the characteristics of excellent feedback before considering which framework you want to use. Great feedback is:

  • Specific – be sure to provide enough details so feedback isn’t ambiguous.
  • Timely – offered as close as possible to the action in question.
  • Meaningful/Actionable – provides suggestions for improvement, adjustment, or correction
  • Candid – don’t avoid tough topics, be honest.
  • Goal-oriented – based on the goals of the person receiving the feedback.
  • Future-focused – actions that have already transpired cannot be undone. Feedback must focus on future behavior and performance
  • User friendly – don’t focus on the person, simply their actions, and be sure that feedback may be easily understood by the recipient.

Effective Feedback Frameworks

Feedback frameworks set the direction and tone for evaluations within an organization. They create expectations for all parties involved to prevent any surprises or confusion. Feedback provided within a shared framework can help the receiver take in the information, accept it, and act on it instead of becoming defensive. In fact, research shows that the provision of effective feedback is critical to learning and performance improvement. Here are a few of the most commonly used frameworks you might consider.

Radical Candor model:

This is matrix-based on a balance of being kind in your delivery and offering specific, useful information. There are four quadrants in the matrix. The goal is to stay in the Radical Candor quadrant. When you aren’t staying in the “Radical Candor” quadrant, your feedback falls in one of the other three:

1. Obnoxious Aggression (challenging without care)

Example:  “Your presentation was terrible today. Fix it or else.” (This might be done in public, instead of private, and with a harsh tone)

2. Ruinous Empathy (care but don’t challenge)

Example: “Nice job” (said by a colleague who didn’t want to hurt his coworker’s feelings by telling them what they need to improve)

3. Manipulative Insincerity (neither care of challenge)

Example: “I really liked your presentation today” (said to a superior, when you don’t really mean it but want to score brownie points).

Sales Feedback

How do you provide feedback to your sales team?

McKinsey’s model

This framework consists of 3 parts:

  1.    Specific action, event, or behavior you’d like changed
  2.    Impact of the behavior
  3.    Suggestion of what to do differently next time.

For example, “When you did X, the customer did Y. Next time you may want to do Z.”

Stanford method

This framework is even simpler and includes 3 parts as well:

  1.    I like
  2.    I wish
  3.    What if…?

For example:

  1. “I like the passion you showed during your demo this morning.”
  2. “I wish you would spend less time explaining the features so your prospect would have more time for their questions.”
  3. “What if you allow more time for questions during your next presentation?”

SKS method 

This method is action-focused. The SKS stands for Stop, Keep, and Start doing. Feedback in this framework is provided by answering the following questions:

  1. What should the person stop doing?
  2. What should the person keep doing?
  3. What should the person start doing?

How to Implement and Use

Start by communicating the framework to your entire team and teach them how to use it. This will allow all team members to be on the same page when providing feedback. Use your chosen method in all coaching interactions where feedback is involved such as:

One-On-One’s

Use the framework when providing feedback in 1-on-1’s. Play a portion of the rep’s call recording. Pause it after the prospect asks a question and have the rep tell you what the response to the question should be. Restart the recording to hear what the rep actually responded in the original call. If the response is different, you should both provide feedback concerning both responses. Finish by determining the best future response. This process also helps reps learn how to review calls on their own and for each other without the assistance of management, promoting further growth.

Group Call Reviews

Use your chosen framework when doing group call reviews. You can treat it like a pro athlete “game film review.” Play a call for the group and, focusing on one aspect of the call, have each rep provide feedback. Of course, be sure that all reps take a turn being in the hot seat. The proper style and framework will increase the quality of input shared. This may be seen as a less traditional approach to coaching. In fact, Steve Kerr (Head Coach of the Golden State Warriors) recently experimented with this method where he allows players to discuss team strategy during timeouts. He received intense criticism for not assuming the “coach” role, but his response?

“I haven’t been able to reach them the last month. They are tired of my voice and I’m tired of my voice. … I wasn’t reaching them and we just figured it was probably a good night to pull a trick out of the hat and do something different.”

Sometimes you need to take a non-traditional approach to coaching when typical coaching strategies aren’t quite working.

Written Call Reviews

As a manager, it’s impossible to review a volume of calls in person with each rep or even with the group. Setting aside time to review calls and provide written feedback for reps to receive as their schedule allows is a great way to promote continuous growth and performance improvements. Utilizing your selected feedback framework will help ensure clarity while avoiding confusion about your message and maximize results.

The way that you provide feedback, and the framework that you use to deliver it, are critically important when coaching in general and specifically with call recordings. It can make or break the success and outcomes of your program.

About the Author

Melissa Halim

Melissa Halim oversees Marketing at RingDNA. "Full-stack marketer" is a trendy term, but she feels it describes most marketers today that have to know and do it all. Having dabbled in product management, Melissa's a huge customer advocate and sees it as the most rewarding (and conversion-driving, revenue-generating) "strategy" for all things related to Marketing. Oh, and she asks a lot of questions (journalism major), but if you answer with "puppies" or "dogs," you'll be good.

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