Sales teams can be opinionated.
Think about a company; any company. Imagine its different departments and teams. Now think about the sales team. What are some of the personalities and behaviors that come to mind? Sales teams are often perceived by other departments as having lots to say, and they often have something to gripe about; their new targets, lead quality, product shortcomings, pricing structures; the list goes on and on. That being said, these opinions can be a valuable asset to company strategy.
Sales feedback is business intelligence.
Sales reps are on the front lines talking to prospects, customers, and the market as a whole. They are an often untapped resource for market intelligence. The insights they gather in the field can serve as an early feedback mechanism for strategic changes or new tactics and approaches. Surfacing insights from sellers and disseminating them across the entire company can provide game-changing insights for product, marketing, operations, and other teams. Sales teams can serve as a mechanism to bring an entire company closer to their customers.
Lessons from psychological research.
Creating feedback loops between sales and other departments can backfire when people become defensive. Researchers at Harvard University explored how feedback can succeed or fail at improving communication and performance. One potential reason why it fails is that feedback, even positive feedback, can be perceived as judgemental and can highlight real or perceived power imbalances between different teams and individuals. The researchers then explored different methods of communicating to improve the effectiveness of feedback.
Improve feedback loops with high quality listening.
The Harvard researchers found that high quality listening can positively impact emotions and attitudes among all parties involved, leading to more productive feedback sessions. High quality listening was defined as being attentive, empathetic, and non-judgemental. For example, when the researchers randomly distracted some listeners with text messages, the people they were listening to felt more anxious and less likely to want to share their opinions and attitudes.
Another major benefit of high quality listening: the person sharing information develops attitudes that are more complex and less extreme. As those of us on the other side of salespersons can often attest, this is key in developing shared understanding between, for example, a salesperson who might be conveying a high conviction opinion from a prospect, and a product person with deep technical context on what may or may not work in the given situation.
These lab findings were then replicated by the researchers in real-life environments in the technology industry and in local government workplaces. The lessons from these studies seem clear; listen attentively, unlock more insights from your sales team, and make it easier for them to come to a shared understanding with other departments. However, the study identifies common issues which can complicate a seemingly simple set of actions. There is often a perceived sense of loss of power that comes with listening attentively, not to mention the time and effort it requires. It can be difficult to make time for this process in fast paced environments.
Lessons for communicating with your sales team.
High quality listening requires time, attention, and a distraction free environment, at a minimum. Keep in mind that this form of listening goes beyond appearances and surface level communications, to how the listener thinks as the other person speaks. It’s important to listen without judging, evaluating, or imposing solutions. This might be the hardest part; slowing down, being mindful, and focusing on the act of listening - putting aside analysis and rebuttals for later.