Hi John,

I work for a small company that sells software and services in the telecommunications environment. Our company seems to thrive on negative feedback. My direct manager and most of the salespeople only give negative feedback and tell me and all of my peers about all the things we did wrong in front of the customer. What is the best way for a Sales Engineer to receive and act upon negative feedback (and still keep my job)?

Mohan – Bangalore, India


Hi Mohan,

Thanks for your question, and I’m sure many SE’s out there are interested in this particular topic!.

It is never a pleasant experience to be on the receiving end of constant negative feedback. You are actually dealing with two issues here – the first is the culture of negative feedback within the company, and the second is how to handle that feedback. I’ll deal with how to handle feedback first by giving you some general rules to live by. (Such as never ending a sentence with a preposition..)

Rule #1: Don’t immediately react to the feedback – just listen to it. Instead of getting defensive and justifying your apparent poor sales behavior, listen to what your manager or the salespeople have to say and write it down. Much as you would conduct a sales discovery call, get all the issues on the table before you start to deal with any of them.

Rule #2: Ask for specific and actionable examples of your behavior. Having your manager tell you “Mohan, you don’t engage enough with the customers” or “Mohan, you jump around too much in the demo”, you need to hear “Mohan – in that demo this morning you spend too much time going through each of the options with the customer on the initial screen. Next time you should only speak about the 2-3 options most important to the customer and explain why they are important to his business”. Note that you may not agree with the feedback, but now it is getting more specific.

Rule #3: Put a plan in place with your manager to address the feedback. Ask for his help to improve your skills. This is why you write the feedback down. Agree on a measurable course of action to resolve your behavior and a time frame to accomplish it. You should also prioritize the feedback to determine which is most important.

Rule #4: Now seek alternative points of view to determine if the feedback is realistic and credible. This is your boss so you still need to do something. Speak with your peers, even your customers to get their candid feedback on your performance. There are often half-truths buried in even the most vicious forms of negative feedback. You can also find some great technology out there to record demos and then let people comment on them.

Rule #5: Constantly review your progress with your manager until you can get him to admit that you have solved one of the issues he raised.

As far as changing the culture you will need the assistance of your peers. If they are being treated in the same manner you may be able to execute an effective change if you all ask for the same thing. The next time your manager gives you negative feedback, listen and accept it – then ask “so can you tell me three things I did well so that I can repeat them next time?” If your manager, or the salespeople, cannot come up with a single positive thing to say it is time to review your position within the company.

You should also look for third-party acceptance of your talents. For example, if a customer tells you that you did a great job explaining something, installing some software or fixing some hardware ask the customer to tell your boss. Give them your manager’s email. It is hard to argue with a customer attaboy.

I’ll leave you with a piece of philosophy I read a few months ago:
“The bottom line is that as long as we are striving to better our lives as well as those around us, we should never fear the negativity that will inevitably come our way. Some will be true and some, half-true, but none should make us feel any less capable than before. Learn to properly filter this feedback and you will always maintain your motivation and proper piece of mind.”


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