In the past, sales managers often saw sales coaching as a means of correcting negative behaviors by providing real-time performance feedback. This approach was characterized by comments like, “I think you’re doing a great job, but…”
Unfortunately, this feedback often doesn’t result in significant behavior change from the sales representative. Instead, it left them with the lingering thought that their manager perceived them as a poor performer.
The problem lies in treating feedback and coaching as interchangeable, because they certainly aren‘t. In this post, we’ll define what makes these two concepts so different, and outline how that can look on a day-to-day basis between managers and reps. And if you’re in a pinch, jump straight to the information you need.
What is feedback in the workplace?
Feedback in the workplace refers to the process of providing information, opinions, and evaluations to employees about their performance, behavior, or work-related outcomes.
Feedback serves as a tool for communication and development, and it comes with many benefits.
Sales Feedback Benefits
1. Performance Improvement: Providing constructive feedback to reps helps salespeople recognize their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to enhance their skills and improve their overall performance.
2. Goal Alignment: Feedback enables salespeople to align their goals with the organization’s objectives, ensuring everyone is working towards the same targets and increasing overall productivity.
3. Motivation and Engagement: Regular feedback fosters a culture of continuous improvement, motivating salespeople to increase their engagement, and have higher job satisfaction.
What is coaching in the workplace?
Coaching in the workplace refers to a supportive and developmental approach where managers provide encouragement and skills enhancement to employees to help them reach their full potential and grow.
Coaching centers around the individual sales representative and their goals, providing its own benefits.
Sales Coaching Benefits
1. Skill Development: Coaching helps salespeople develop and refine their selling skills, such as prospecting, objection handling, and negotiation, which leads to improved sales performance.
2. Accountability and Ownership: Through coaching, salespeople gain a sense of accountability for their results, promoting a culture of ownership and empowering them to take initiative in their sales efforts.
3. Personal Growth: Coaching offers salespeople opportunities for personal growth, allowing them to learn new strategies, gain confidence, and enhance their professional development, which ultimately translates to improved sales outcomes.
To further paint the picture on how these two differ, let’s explore how managers use them.
Differences Between Sales Feedback and Coaching
1. Feedback is about the manager, while coaching is about the rep.
Feedback may make managers feel good, but receiving feedback often leaves reps feeling disheartened. The purpose of feedback is for managers to share their evaluation of a rep’s performance, but it rarely leads to actual behavior change.
Coaching, however, is entirely focused on the rep and their personal growth. If a rep responds positively to coaching, it’s because they genuinely desire self-improvement and seek a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses.
2. Feedback highlights what‘s wrong, while coaching highlights what’s right.
When a manager begins a sentence with, “You’re doing a great job, but…” it’s clear to the rep that negative feedback is imminent. Feedback tends to focus on behaviors or activities that managers want reps to adjust or eliminate.
However, coaching aims to leverage and amplify the rep’s existing strengths for their benefit and the overall success of the organization. For example, a manager might suggest that a rep who excels at building rapport with procurement stakeholders should ask for referrals from those contacts at other companies. Coaching revolves around maximizing strengths, not fixing weaknesses.
3. Feedback can be spontaneous, while coaching is intentional.
Feedback can be given at any time, without prior planning or scheduling. It can be delivered on the spot, addressing any immediate concerns or observations.
Coaching, on the other hand, requires deliberate effort and collaboration from both the manager and the rep. It is a more thoughtful and prepared process that necessitates a willing participant.
Managers should approach coaching as a special event by formally asking reps if they would like to be coached. This ensures that coaching is valued and taken seriously. Additionally, managers should set aside dedicated time on their calendars specifically for coaching sessions.
4. Feedback is impersonal, while coaching is personal.
Feedback is often based on the manager‘s perception and is not a reflection of the rep’s worth as a salesperson. It’s crucial for managers to use “I” statements when giving feedback to emphasize their perspective instead of making it personal.
For instance, saying, “I prefer khakis and do not like jeans,” rather than making a judgment like, “You shouldn’t wear jeans to a customer’s office.” This approach helps maintain a professional tone and minimizes the chances of feedback being taken personally.
In contrast, coaching is highly personal. It revolves around the individual rep’s strengths, goals, and aspirations. Using “you” statements and framing coaching activities to keep the focus on the rep helps build a strong and meaningful connection. Coaching and feedback should be treated as separate tasks, each with its own distinct purpose.
Understand the difference between coaching and feedback.
Mixing feedback and coaching can lead to confusion and ineffective development— but by delineating between the two, sales managers can ensure that reps derive maximum benefit from both. Embrace the power of coaching by empowering reps to leverage their strengths and achieve their goals.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in January 2015 and has since been updated for comprehensiveness.