Generally, it’s fair to suggest that all business feedback is beneficial, in that it lets one party know what the other party is thinking— whether those thoughts are positive or negative. Clearly, one of the biggest threats the consultative salesperson could face in his/her client relationships is ignorance— our ignorance of the client’s needs, and his/her ignorance of what we can do to help. Let’s examine some elements of exchanging client/salesperson feedback that improve mutual understanding.
First, feedback’s cardinal rule: Solicited feedback trumps unsolicited feedback every time. When we invite our client’s feedback, she/he feels encouraged to be forthright and complete. When the client asks us for feedback, we have an opportunity to be forthright, too (in a respectful, professional and decorous manner, of course). Solicited feedback is usually superior in quality and is almost always heard more receptively.
Five feedback rules-of-the-road:
- Always ask for feedback with a neutral question— avoiding the implication that we’re expecting a negative response. Examples: “How does that sound?” “How are we doing?” rather than, “Do you see any problems?” “Are we missing the boat here?” etc. Note that positive implications should be avoided, too— “Sounds right, doesn’t it?” is a transparently leading statement, not a question that seeks information.
- Typically, we should respond to client feedback with at least one question. First, our question(s) signal our genuine interest in understanding what he/she means and feels. Second, it’s very unlikely that we’ll fully understand the initial feedback without some elaboration or clarification. Third, immediately responding with our point of view risks it sounding like a rebuttal, or implies that our opinion is more important than the client’s. Value feedback, and draw it out!
- In presentation situations where premature, unsolicited client feedback greatly interferes with our proposal, it’s fair to ask permission to defer elaboration until a more appropriate time. Make a (conspicuous) written note of the feedback remark, promise to get back to it later— and always deliver on that promise. (Also see our March 5 blog, “Giving Instructions Upward.”)
- Again, beware of “offering” unsolicited feedback, which is often interpreted as an unwelcome, unexpected criticism or complaint, even if intended as a helpful suggestion. A tip: if we ask the client for feedback on our performance, it may trigger his/her request for reciprocal feedback from us. Grasp that golden opportunity ever so gently and constructively.
- When business necessities dictate that we absolutely, positively must offer the client unsolicited feedback: always stress the benefit to the client resulting from accepting our feedback and behaving accordingly. Focusing on the client-benefit directs our perspective, too, as our personal needs rightly take a backseat to meeting the client’s needs.
Bi-directional feedback is the bedrock of good relationships and successful business communications. We should invite feedback often and accept it readily; offer it sensitively and selflessly; and nurture it as the foundation of our counsel and performance.
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