Mastering Feedback to Drive Development and Sales

Mastering feedback to drive development and skills

94% of sales representatives believe feedback has a meaningful impact on their sales performance. Research has validated their belief across multiple settings; for example, the Gallup organization examined 469 business units and identified greater profitability of 8.9% in those that had received feedback. Yet, despite the continued impact shown in research and real world settings, most sales representatives are not soliciting feedback regularly. And even if they are, they often are not doing it an effective manner, reducing the potential power of feedback.

Root causes of ineffective feedback

First and foremost, the inability to seek feedback starts with a “growth” mindset versus “fixed” mindset, where growth mindset individuals welcome feedback, view it as constructive, and an opportunity to develop and achieve their goals. Fixed mindset individuals, on the other hand, fear feedback and do not acknowledge its benefit, believing there is little they don’t already know or could benefit from. The latter mindset has manifested itself in some company cultures, sometimes evidenced in their rate of adoption (or lack thereof) of innovative technologies. These companies are often late to adopt new ways of working and become stuck in their ways, until they are disrupted and forced to change.

Secondly, many professionals find it difficult to give or receive feedback. Here, significant technological advances have been made in ensuring that giving and/or receiving feedback is easier and faster. It no longer needs a separate meeting, half an hour of preparation, or sorting through old paper files to find out who said what and when. Digital technologies have significantly lowered the barrier to interact with others and access this information.

Finally, feedback has often not been made a priority, but the root cause behind this reason is intertwined with the two earlier points, and the fact that effective feedback has not been experienced first-hand and therefore failing to convince individuals of its potential use. These individuals will often say, “Oh, we have other things to do.”Feedback can be an easy and fast way to develop your team or drive sales, indicating these managers do not understand the complete value behind feedback when applied correctly. Otherwise, they would be quick to act.

Xtatio feedback study results

Jaguar Land Rover is a company that embraces innovation and performance. In a project with the South Africa organization, 5 dealerships participated in a project where 20 sales representatives opted to use the Xtatio Sales Feedback App, with the remaining 20+ retaining their current ways of working. In the month before the pilot, both groups sold about the same cars per individual, with the individuals who would receive the feedback tool just outselling the control group by 5%. Then they were provided with the Xtatio Sales Feedback App, which would allow them to send instant feedback requests to customers and reflect on their performance. They received sales specific feedback that was actionable, allowing them to adapt their approach, and undertake relevant coaching and training sessions.

The results were dramatic – just one month after using the Xtatio Sales Feedback App during the sales process, it led to a significant performance differential. The Xtatio pilot group, which the month before outsold the group by 5%, was now outselling them by 89%–almost double the number of cars.

5 components of effective feedback

So why are not more sales representatives taking advantage of it? Feedback has been under fire over the last few years, as people are questioning feedback beyond the internal working environment (here, 360 reviews have existed for a much longer time period). Unfortunately, feedback has become commoditized when it should not be, and due to its easy-to-understand nature, carried out incorrectly.

Delivering or receiving effective feedback is not as easy as the name would indicate. Authors like Cynthia Phoel in “Feedback that Works” in Harvard Business Review addressed this as far back as in 2009, making clear that feedback is highly effective only if done in a specific manner.

Xtatio identified five areas that make feedback effective, confirm its claim of being useful, and can enable such dramatic increases as an 89% increase in sales and happy new car owners.

A) Avoid the term feedback. Few people like the term “feedback”as much as they dislike terms such as “sales” or “survey”. What sales representatives are asking for, in fact, are the customers’ opinions, perspectives, thoughts, and even help. If feedback  is positioned in such a manner, and it should, customers are not only willing to respond, but also will do so in a more candid fashion.

B) Make it personal. Customers have become overwhelmed by the ubiquity of feedback, and in particular, the impersonal touch (related to the product and company-wide feedback requests received). Take for example, the Net Promoter Score question, which one receives all too often, “How likely are you to recommend this product on a scale of 1 to 10?”. These types of feedback often see a response rate of 10-15%. No surprise as there is limited interaction with the individual–they are about an arbitrary organization. If a personable appeal is made, on the other hand, research has shown customers will respond 70% of the time. The reason is the sales representatives in this case, is asking the customer to help him or her deliver a better experience.

C) Act in real-time. Timing is critical and often everything; a window of opportunity especially for feedback is much more limited than people may think. Feedback that is not asked for during a conversation and sent then, bears two issues. Customers often do not fill out feedback a day later, and if they do, their feedback would be different versus in the moment. As sales professional Paul van Otterdijk at Cogoport said,”90% of the feedback I receive, I have within the hour of the meeting ending.”

D) Tailor it towards the role. In our work, we have a hard time finding a company that isn’t doing some type of feedback, which is impressive. However, we have an equally hard time finding any company that is doing individualized customer feedback. It almost doesn’t exist. Strikingly, in the book The Challenger Sale, CEB made the point that >50% of the customer experience comes through the interaction with the sales representative. And yet this very individual is usually not receiving any feedback, beyond their KPIs and sales goals anyway.

In the case of Xtatio, its structure is based on sales competencies and sales stages. And this mirrors how sales professionals at Jaguar Land Rover, for example, think about it. They think along a sales funnel and sales stages through which they advance a conversation – identifying a lead, qualifying them, demonstrating the product, and negotiating and closing. And along these stages are a set of competencies (talents, knowledge, and skills). Xtatio allowed them to truly understand what they needed to address to improve their approach, as opposed to being told their communication may be poor or they could be selling more–two examples of feedback that is directive and not actionable.

E) Do it continuously: Every single feedback is useful. Sales representatives who repeat what they do, however, require more than one feedback. They need to understand patterns and trends, and see the bigger picture beyond the single customer. Here, individual feedback mirrors engineering or product feedback, that will often undergo thousands of simulations. Continuous feedback has the ability to paint this bigger picture, while naturally also instill a growth mindset in the individual.

Feedback can be simple, but difficult to get right

These five elements are all critical. Feedback can be simple, but difficult to get right. In generating a meaningful change – such as the case of Jaguar Land Rover – these five guiding principles need to be followed, otherwise the feedback will not be received nor will it produce the desired changes. And all should remember, feedback is not a commodity, but a gift. Customers and people take precious time to help their counterpart develop, and so those asking should take it upon themselves to do it in the most optimal fashion.

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