Developing World Class Sales Teams
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By Richard White

Feedback is an important tool in the Sales Manager’s coaching toolkit. You want your sales people to increase their sales results and feedback is an excellent way to help them identify how to make improvements. So often, however, offering feedback is like asking someone if they want to be criticised!  How does one deliver feedback in a positive way that is not only embraced but actively sought?

What is your Intension?
The first step on our improving the quality of our feedback is to examine our intension in giving feedback.

  • Do we want to show how much better we are at selling than the sales person?
  • Do we want to make them feel guilty at the mistakes they have made?
  • Or do we want them to improve their sales performance?

Hopefully you chose the last answer!

Your intension will greatly influence how the person perceives the feedback. If your intension is to criticise then they are very likely to feel criticised. Worse, they will probably feel manipulated too!

The sandwich method
The traditional approach to giving feedback is commonly known as ‘The Sandwich Method’. When done properly it can be very effective. Basically it has three stages:

  • Commend – Point out all the things you thought were good about their performance
  • Recommend – give one or two things that you feel they can improve upon and give examples of how they could do it
  • Commend – Summarise the performance in and encouraging and positive terms

The sandwich method is often wrongly seen as the way to soften the blow of criticism by sandwiching it between two positives. The recommend stage should not be used to criticise. Instead you should be recommending what they should try next time.

An enlightened approach to feedback
The best way to give feedback turns out to be asking your sales person to give themselves their own feedback! After using this approach for a while sales people  will begin to give themselves their own feedback when you are not there. They are also more likely to implement their own feedback.

Such feedback is conducted by the following three questions:

  • How do you think that went?
  • What did you do really well?
  • What would you do differently next time?

Offering input

If the sales person has correctly assessed the situation then all you need to do is agree and perhaps give some encouragement. Sometimes they may say that they would not change anything and you might agree with them.

If the sales person is being particularly self critical then I suggest you emphasise some of the things they did well to help put it all into perspective and balance things. Some people are self critical enough and they would welcome you pointing out some of the positives.

The problem comes when they have given themselves glowing feedback and have not noticed errors, perhaps because they do not understand what they did wrong. Rather than just leaving it or launching into old style criticism, give them a way forward by offering some suggestions:

Ask them ‘Are you ok with me sharing some observations?’ (you can do a Macabe nod if you think they need encouragement to say yes!)

Then follow a simple pattern:

  • What did you think they did really well?
  • What did you notice?
  • Ask if there was a particular reason
  • What could they do differently next time?

By sharing that you or others used to make similar mistakes you take the heat out of the feedback and it shows that it is possible to change. You are then able to provide suggestions that provide a positive way forward.


Sales manager: ‘I agree that the meeting went very well and you asked some great questions. Do you mind if I make an observation?’

Sales person: ‘Sure’

Sales manager: ‘ I thought you looked very confident and there seemed to be a great rapport between you and the prospect.  I did notice that you were doing a most of the talking and that the prospect mentioned a problem they were having on several occasions and you let it pass. Was there any particular reason?’

Sales person: ‘No I did not spot that’

Sales manager: ‘ That’s not a problem. I used to miss opportunities because I was talking too much. What I found was that when I limited my talking to asking questions and follow-on questions I began to pick up so many more opportunities that previously had passed me by. What could you do differently next time to pick up on the cues your prospect is offering you?

Sales person: ‘I know I should improve my listening but when I get nervous I end up talking too much! Perhaps I can work on my confidence levels before the meeting’

Sales manager: ‘Sounds like a good plan. Let’s see how it goes at our next meeting’

Be open to feedback
One thing I found was that when I became more open to feedback and actively sought feedback I started to appreciate positive feedback and dramatically improving the quality of my own feedback to others. When you see how badly people are at giving you feedback then you will appreciate how much more effective positive feedback is in generating improvements!

Posted by: In: Communication 05 Sep 2010 0 comments

By Richard White.

Case studies produced by IT companies are normally dry enough to send a prospect to sleep! Sales presentations are little better. How is it that two key tools in the sales process lack the sparkle and charisma normally associated with sales people?. How do we make them more engaging and entertaining? The answer is actually child’s play! By taking lessons from story telling and using metaphor we can bring our case studies and presentations to life.

Good stories and metaphors engage our imaginations. They create pictures in our minds and also enable us to visualise complex concepts. We relate to the characters in a story and follow with interest how they overcome their struggles. Stories and metaphors can therefore be a very powerful way of helping our prospects to appreciate the value of our products and services, understand what we are like as a company and imagine what the future will be like when they are a customer.

Stories do not have to be brilliant works of fiction and we certainly do not need to kiss the Blarney stone!. Indeed, some of the best stories are based on real life. The beauty of real life stories is that they make it easy for the listener to relate to you and will often spark off memories from their own experience.

Adding spice to your case studies

Case studies are typically written in a very logical way, specifying the problem and the solution with a lot of techno-speak thrown in for good measure! They do little to help the prospect to create pictures in their mind of what actually happened. Instead of case studies, why not write customer stories instead? Tell the reader what actually happened like you would a true-life story. When describing the customer’s situation and the problems they were facing, make it personal. Include and refer to real characters from the client company and your company. Help the reader to imagine the situation the main characters were facing and how your company came to the rescue.

XYZ Systems are good medicine for ADVA

John ran the busy accounts department within the rapidly growing pharmaceutical company ADVA. The accounting system they used once worked well but after a string of mergers and acquisitions the system was now creaking at the seams. Every night after everyone else had gone home, John and his team was still there until dark, battling against the odds to get all their work done. The morale in the accounts department was at rock bottom. They were overloaded by the constant stream of requests for information from other parts of the business. John's previous boss had already been fired and John was worried that he was next. Luckily, the new finance director, James, had previously worked for several large pharmaceutical companies and was familiar with the types of systems needed. He had used the market leading system by XYZ Systems in his previous company and the first thing he did when he joined ADVA was to call in Sandra Keys from XYZ Systems for a meeting. John and his team breathed a huge sigh of relief when………

In this first paragraph the scene is being set and two characters from the client are established – John and James and Sandra Keys from XYZ Systems. The finance system is the ‘monster’ and Sandra Keys and her colleagues will develop into the heroes that slay the monster and save John and his team from a grisly fate. Notice the use of descriptive language like 'battling against the odds' and 'string of mergers'.

Making presentations memorable for the right reasons

Sales presentations are often referred to as ‘death by PowerPoint’: emotionless monologues about the company, the products and potential solutions. Such presentations do little to engage the prospects’ imagination and help them to ‘see’ what you mean and ‘see’ how working with your company will solve their problems. Great communicators weave stories and metaphors into their presentations. Add some relevant customer stories to your presentation. Add your company’s own story such as how it got where it is today.

Joe Cummings founded XYZ Systems ten years ago on three key values:

  1. To strive for the success of their clients;
  2. To deliver renowned products and services to their clients; and
  3. To maximise the potential of staff

Even during the bleakest times of the earlier years, when money was scarce, Joe held true to the values even when it seemed like financial suicide. “We’re not like other companies” Joe would say “We are going to stand for something”.

It is an approach that clients of XYZ found refreshingly different and has meant that XYZ retained a very loyal customer base. Some of the earliest clients like Sally Biggs from ABC corporation are still singing their praises. "They may not be the cheapest option on the market" Sally loves to tell prospective clients "but I know where I stand with them. If they say they will do something then it's as good as done! That counts for a lot in today's world. Quality is cheaper in the long run!"

Joe has taken care over the years to ensure that as the company has grown to its current size, the values have not been diluted. Every product and every service has the core values at it's heart like a stick of rock from Brighton…………

This short example includes two elements of human interest, Joe and Sally. It has some dialogue from Sally and Joe and they are both communicating important messages on behalf of the presenter. Stories with dialogue can be used as a powerful way to influence your prospects with selling messages indirectly.

Use Metaphor to simplify complex concepts

Where there is something complex or difficult to understand, such as abstract concepts, metaphors can help the listener to ‘see’ what you mean. It is almost impossible for the listener to make mental pictures of abstract concepts. Metaphors, however, will enable the listener to visualise the metaphor instead. For example, it may be difficult for a prospect to picture a multi-dimensional database but they could imagine a Rubix cube – you know, the toy puzzle with the coloured sides. You could liken a multi-dimensional database to a Rubix cube of data that you can rotate, allowing you to view the data from many different perspectives. Just like a Rubix cube, you can slice the data in different ways.

In the previous example, Brighton Rock is used as a metaphor to help create a mental image for the core values.

Stories and metaphor are great way to bring your case studies and presentations to life. You do not need to be a Steven Spielberg or JK Rowling to come up with simple, meaningful stories and metaphor that help your prospects and customers to ‘see’ what you mean and relate to you and your company more easily. By adding real human interest and drama to your presentations and case studies, you will differentiate yourselves from your competitors and ensure that the audience is deeply influenced by your delivery.

Story Telling Tips

  • Use real life stories
  • Include specific characters in the story
  • Include dialogue where possible, especially where you want to make a point
  • Be able to picture the story in your mind before you tell it
  • Describe as many senses as possible. Include colours, appearance, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings
Posted by: In: Communication 26 Aug 2010 0 comments

By Richard White.

Communication and influencing skills are the tools of the trade for sales and continually honing your skills and your mentality in this area is vital. The reality is that selling products and services to customers is not much different than selling ideas to staff and suppliers. People do business with people they like and trust. Using the principles outlined above like seeking win-win solutions, putting yourself in the customers shoes, seeking first to understand and effective listening will all help you to develop strong business relationships.

We communicate with one another all the time and yet improving our communication skills can help us in so many ways. A key part of business is about developing relationships and good communication is vital part of developing strong relationships. Business areas that will be enhanced with honed communication skills include the ability to find and keep more customers, negotiating better deals with suppliers and finding and recruiting better staff.

Here are 7 communication areas that all people in sales need to work on to greatly increase their effectiveness:

Mentally prepare for meetings and important communications

If the outcome of the meeting is important, such as winning a sale or negotiating a better deal, then it should be worth spending a few moments to plan and mentally prepare for your meeting. Consider what your ideal outcome for the meeting would be. Consider the other person’s point of view and ask yourself, ‘if I was that person, what would I be expecting from this meeting?’ As well as being clear how you will benefit, also consider how the other party will benefit too. Business works better when both parties get what they want.

Master the art of small talk

Networking is a key skill in sales lead generation and yet many people find it difficult to know what to say and get small talk going. The important thing to remember is to take an active interest in the other person. If you want to appear interesting then you need to be interested. If you want to talk about your business then ask about the other person’s business first. To initiate a conversation, the favourites people use are still the same, a comment about the weather, asking a question like ‘do you come to these events often?’ or just saying ‘hello’.

Put yourself in the other person’s shoes

Empathy is a key skill in communication and, in my view, the most important selling skill. This is the ability to see things from the other person’s point of view. To imagine what it is like for the other person, what their motivations might be and what their fears are. Considering the other person’s point of view before you communicate with them will help you to tailor your approach and think ahead as to how you may be able to come up with a win-win solution.

Let the other person speak first

Listening is a very important skill in business and essential in sales. Communication in business is normally a two way process and the golden rule is to seek first to understand the other person or audience before being understood. This is important because we are not mind readers and hearing the other persons point of view or requirements first allows us to tailor our message to meet what the other person wants as well as what we want. In selling situations a common mistake, even for experienced sales people, is to do all the talking and try and persuade your prospect that your product of service is what they need. It is much better to ask them some questions first to find out more specifically what they need. They will give you the information you need on how to influence them. If you are making a presentation to a number of people then it is useful to do some research about them before the presentation to find out their expectations.

Work on your questioning skills

One of the things that will help you most in communication and especially sales is to really understand what the other person is thinking. You also need to able to take charge of any conversation, There is so much one can learn about questioning techniques but at the most simplistic level it all boils down to open and closed questions. So many people in sales are aware of the difference between these types of questions but get confused as to when to use them.

If you want to get someone talking then be sure to use open questions rather than closed questions.

Open questions start with words like What, Why, How, When. For example, ‘What is most important to you about……?’ Use open questions when you want to get the conversation going and to find out detail, such as at the beginning of a sales meeting or when interviewing for staff.

Closed questions are ideal for closing a conversation or sale as they normally just require a one word answer. For example, ‘Would you like to pay by cash or cheque?’ If you want to get the other person to stop talking then use closed questions rather than open ones.

Listen Carefully

We have a natural ability to listen and yet most people are too busy thinking what to say or waiting to say what they want that they do not really hear the other person. Careful listening will show the other person that you are interested in them and respect them as a human being. It is also good business sense as you will be in a better position to influence the other person. Good listening involves paying attention to the body language as well as the words used and the tone. Ask yourself ‘What is this person really saying?’

Go for Win-Win Solutions

Whatever situation you are in, adopt an attitude of Win-Win. That means that as well as you getting what you want, you want the other party to benefit too. For example, if you are negotiating with a supplier and you want to develop a longer term relationship then it is important that they are able to benefit from dealing with you. Even though you may be able to negotiate the price down so that they are not making a profit from dealing with you, it is unlikely that you get the sort of service and commitment from the supplier, especially on the occasions when you need the supplier to meet a tight deadline.