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Sales Coaching Versus Criticizing
Blog / Sales Management / Mar 5, 2018 / Posted by Jessica Barrett Halcom / 6033

Sales Coaching Versus Criticizing


A great sales leader inspires greater engagement and higher productivity from their team. It can be tempting to make the results your own personal goal, but the reality is, results should be the collective of each seller’s individual goals. Your job is to see to it that they achieve those goals in a way that is beneficial to both them and to the organization.

Any sales leader can get caught in the trap of allowing their own emotions or assumptions to interfere with reason during those times when a seller’s performance is less than what it could be. But here’s the rub – what you think and feel about what’s going on may not be accurate. It’s important to approach your team members with genuine care for them and how they’re doing.

Too often, sales leaders will feel that they’re coaching a seller when in reality, they’re criticizing them. How can you tell the difference?

Coaching is a two-way conversation intended to improve the performance of an employee. It’s meant to encourage them to continue good performance, make positive changes, and achieve higher levels.

Criticism is negative feedback and often a one-way conversation that does little more than unload anger or frustration.

Here are five tips to help sales leaders dial up their coaching skills and let go of criticism.

1. Be Intentional, Be Prepared

Before entering into a performance discussion, assess your intention. It’s too easy to be critical of someone’s character or habits or whatever you suppose is really going on. Remember that your intention for this discussion is to help your seller improve going forward, and that you might benefit from listening to their side of the story.

Additionally, be prepared. It’s always important to go into the conversation already knowing how this person prefers to receive feedback. Have data ready to go, so you don’t rely solely on your emotions and best guesses. Be clear about what you want to cover in the meeting, and go in assuming that they want to improve.

2. Discussion vs. Lecture

No one appreciates being talked at. A performance meeting should always be a discussion rather than a lecture. This is the time to see things from their perspective. Explain why you’re concerned about their performance, and how it’s impacting the team or the company. Then, ask for their feedback and employ active listening. Be supportive – ask them for their reasons or concerns regarding what’s going on, don’t try to guess at their reasons. Assumptions divide, and you’re looking to find common ground.

3. Define the Goal

A performance discussion will only ever be effective when the common goal is already clearly defined. Goals should always be mutual for both the seller and the business. If a goal doesn’t resonate with an employee on a personal level, they won’t be as motivated to achieve it.

Once you have clear goals, you can approach discussions about performance by beginning with the end in mind. With a clear objective, you can help sellers see how they’re not on track to achieve the goals that are important to them.

4. Provide Regular Feedback

Yes, there are plenty of great sales tools that show sellers their results data as often as they want to see it. However, that doesn’t take the place of receiving feedback from their leader. How often you provide feedback will depend on a few factors. For some, it may depend on their generation, for others, it may depend on their personality type.

Regardless of how often and in what manner you provide feedback, it’s important that you’re clear about how often your sellers can expect to hear from you regarding performance. Make the schedule known and then make sure to keep the schedule. Waiting until a formal review conducted once or twice a year is a big mistake. It’s not fair to spring feedback on someone, and more importantly, people need to be encouraged as often as possible.

5. Stay Positive

Remember that the point of these discussions is to encourage continued positive performance, or to motivate someone into making changes and achieve new levels. As a sales leader, this requires you to stay positive. Your sellers will be reluctant to make any changes if your approach is harsh, critical, or personally attacks their character. Be sure that your feedback focuses on what’s going well, and what positive changes can be made to improve performance. Make sure that your employees know you believe in them and their ability to achieve their goals.

If you consistently have trouble keeping the conversation positive with certain individuals, you may want to bring in the big guns as mediation: the HR department. Use the resources available in your human resources department and have HR sit in on conversations to keep them upbeat. And during the whole process, log concerns in your HR software, where your team can keep track of issues and stakeholders can gain transparency into any problems.

Know the Difference

It’s important to know the difference between coaching and criticism, and to recognize when your approach is potentially harmful. Being critical can distract your sellers from their work, and in the long run doesn’t make them better sellers. If it goes on for too long, you can risk losing your sellers all together.

Coaching is constructive and creates higher engagement and improves performance. Be sure that your approach to feedback is one that encourages your sellers to achieve their goals and continue to contribute to the growth of the organization.

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About Author

Jessica Barrett Halcom is a writer for, with specializations in human resources, healthcare, sales, and marketing. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and currently lives in Nashville, TN.


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