Saturday Morning Sales

Kevin Latchford

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Careful With Criticism - September 17, 2016

Just because you place the word “constructive” in front of criticism, it’s still criticism. Since well before I began my career, maybe even back in my high school days, I learned that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. This is so true, especially when providing feedback to a salesperson.

 

I was having lunch with a client recently. In attendance was the owner, the vp of sales, and two of their sales team members. The conversation went along quite well until we were done eating. That is when I inquired as to how the sales folks were doing. Before they could answer, the vp of sales chimed in, and in a rather unflattering way began to critique her sales team member’s performance. She did not come across professional, polite, or even anything close to it. Instead, her so called constructive criticism was just criticism.

 

Demeaning a team member serves no purpose. Criticism may be earned, and when handled correctly, can serve a valuable opportunity for the person to learn from others more experienced. But, true constructive criticism should never be considered a loss, rather an opportunity to learn.

 

The woman I sat across from at lunch went on and on about how her team screwed up, missed big opportunities with new customers, and berated those team members for not learning from her teachings. Quite frankly she was rude and ignorant. I was utterly shocked that she was spewing her thoughts so candidly in front of the company owner – her boss.

 

The owner asked me if I had or could offer any insight. Seeing as though I was in good with the owner, and really did not need to win over the vp of sales, I offered by own constructive criticism. I did so only after I asked questions about each sales situation with follow-up questions on the how’s and why’s of each individual sale. I gave some feedback, but in my tone was empathy for the sales person, and through the conversation I was able to showcase possible reasons for losing those deals. I continued, even when giving my own thoughts on the sales processes gone wrong, to ask poignant questions for each person. All the while, I could see the vp of sales growing angry in my apparent intrusion into her world.

 

At one point, near the end of the lunch meeting, she demanded I mind my own business. My client, the owner of the company, very politely asked her to apologize to me and move on. Later that evening I received a call from my client’s phone number. To my surprise, it was not the owner, but the vp of sales. She called to apologize and not because she was told to do so. She came to realize that she was not being a good manager. She was struggling to communicate effectively with her own team members. She blamed some of her own losses in sales for skewing her judgment and she asked for help.

 

We’ll see how this plays out as I begin to counsel her. One thing to take away though, your sales team needs your help. They need to feel appreciated, even when they lose a deal. What you say and how you say it can make your sales person a better sales person…and you a better manager.

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