Delivering Tough Feedback as a Sales Leader

Delivering Tough Feedback as a Sales Leader

When working with a team, the only person who can see the full picture is the manager. As people working in different areas have to be aligned, it is hard for each team member to know for sure if they’re doing the right thing. Whether positive or negative, giving feedback is the best way to guide an employee toward the right path and keep the team aligned.  

The purpose of giving constructive feedback should be to eliminate behaviors causing uneven performance. By being specific, sales leaders can execute on delivering critical feedback to team members while maintaining a positive and productive atmosphere. 

However, giving tough feedback can be tricky. Not only is it unpleasant, but also depending on how it’s done, it may not be productive. It’s imperative always to remain calm and have conversations with cool heads and in a timely fashion. Delivering feedback as close to the incident as possible, without obstructive emotions playing a role, is how you can ensure the best results.

There are a few ways to make sure your feedback won’t fall on deaf ears and that it won’t be taken the wrong way. Here are some of the ways you can approach these tough, but valuable, conversations: 

1. Do it in person

As you would with any important meeting, ideally, give feedback in person, especially when it is not positive. In written form, it is easy to misunderstand the message, or the tone being used. On the phone, although you can try to set the tone, it is hard to make sure you are being heard, or to gauge their reaction. By talking to them in person, you can avoid any confusion while also making yourself available and showing how much you respect them by taking the time to discuss it one on one. 

2. Give feedback regularly

Not having regular meetings with your team for feedback can have a negative impact. First of all, feedback is a way to keep yourself updated on individual and team performances, and to make sure things are running smoothly. Doing it every few weeks can also give you a chance to catch any issues before they escalate. But most importantly, since feedback can make some people nervous, when done routinely it can make employees more acclimated to being reviewed. Giving feedback when there are problems or concerns can give it a negative connotation and make the process harder. 

3. Add in some compliments along the way (but no sugarcoating)

As mentioned, feedback should not be associated with negativity. Accordingly, do not just point out the negative aspects when talking to your co-worker. While the main subject might be the tough topics, adding in compliments and pointing out things they’ve done right is essential. Not only is it going to help smooth the conversation, but it should also be mentioned as part of the feedback. Remember to always review their performance as a whole. However, it is important that your compliments are honest and supported by examples, not just random and generic positive comments. 

4. Make it a conversation, not a monologue

When your employees hear about their performance, their reaction can vary depending on what you are saying and on their personality. It is important to let them speak their minds so they can feel like they are being heard. Doing that will allow you to “check” if they understood you correctly and make clarifications. Eventually, you will avoid making the conversation seem like a scolding, and make it a conversation on how to improve.

5. Explain it in an SBI framework

Among many of the techniques that can be used to give feedback, one of them is the SBI framework. It can help you organize how to approach such a delicate subject. SBI stands for “Situation, Behavior, and Impact”. In other words, you first need to mention the situation you are discussing (a previous meeting, monthly numbers, performance at an event, etc.). Once that’s done, you need to describe the behavior you are addressing (not paying attention during the meeting, registering lower numbers than usual, disorganization, etc.). Finally, you must explain the impact that this behavior had, both on them, on the company and on the team.  

6. Understand their process

Actively listening to what they have to say is another pro of giving feedback. Consider this an opportunity to get to know them better, understand how they think, and how they view their role in the company. Above all, you will have some insight into what could be affecting their performance, and get to the root of the problem. Your employee can help you filter out the factors causing the issues. This is a great way to build a relationship and to improve communication between you and your co-worker.

7. Have suggestions

One of the reasons why you’re giving feedback is to solve a problem that is affecting workflow. So if you’re pointing out the problems, as the manager, it is also your responsibility to find a way to fix things. Since you are the only one who knows what’s happening with the entire team, you are the best person to figure out solutions for their issues. Giving feedback without getting to a solution turns the meeting into a problem-focused conversation, when in fact, it should be focused on solutions. 

8. Be goal-oriented 

This brings us to an important point: in order to fix something, there has to be a clear set of goals. This will help tackle any areas that need to be improved, organize the process, and guide their direction. Once again, a conversation on feedback is not about the worker’s performance flaws alone; it is about how to fix them. Setting goals with your co-workers is the best way to orient them and drive the positive changes that will help everyone.


Feedback only works when it is delivered constructively and effectively. There is a difference between helpful criticism and downright complaining, and the category your feedback will fall under depends on the way your message is being delivered.