Sales Feedback: Gratitude vs. Praise

Sanj Sanampudi


November 24, 2020

As we approach Thanksgiving, it’s good to take some time off with family and friends, take stock, and take a moment to feel thankful for what we have.  It turns out, those warm Thanksgiving feelings are really important for our individual well-being, but also gives us an important sentiment that we should add to our sales feedback conversations.

The science of gratitude is surprisingly new.  Over the last decade, gratitude has been shown to increase, productivity, creativity, collaboration, and personal satisfaction, while reducing stress.  You might think to yourself, I’m already doing this!  I do shout outs on quota attainment!  I celebrate our wins with a thoughtful GIF!

This brings us to an important distinction: gratitude and praise are different.

Praise is usually about the outcome.  It’s typically conditional on the good outcomes that have already happened.  Gratitude is about the person and their value as a coworker and a human.  But, gratitude is often forgotten.  As TEDx presenter, Mike Robbins, explains, “If you focus solely on praising positive outcomes, on recognition, you miss out on lots of opportunities to connect with and support your team members — to appreciate them.”

Praise Can Backfire

You most likely have good intentions when it comes to praising your team, but research shows that about 38% of feedback conversations fail, in part, because our default is to praise.

Praise generally needs two things to be successful:

  1. Praise must be specific.  Most praise and sales feedback (including commissions!) is focused on the outcome, not on the behaviors that lead to the outcome.  Praise doesn’t signal to the rep or to the team what about that specific deal was done right.  Or how they could apply those same lessons moving forward.
  2. Praise must be scarce.  Telling everyone that they are doing great or giving out over-effusive praise removes the emotional meaning behind the praise.  Reps will either write-off the praise because they assume you have a positive-affirmations daily calendar on your desk, or worse, they’ll start to think they don’t have any areas for improvement.

Praise, if done wrong, can give your team a misguided view of what it takes to succeed.

Gratitude and Productivity

Incorporating gratitude into your sales feedback brings both short-term and long-term productivity changes to your team.

First, performance will increase.  This happens because gratitude stimulates more neural connections, which increases activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which then helps us with functions like paying attention, decision making, and learning.  Even more interestingly, unlike praise, the effects of gratitude can stretch on for months or years.

Organizational psychologist, Adam Grant, found that grateful leaders motivate their employees to be more productive.  His study randomly divided two groups of employees tasked with making fundraising calls- a notoriously thankless job (kind of like SDR and BDR roles?!)  The employees who were thanked for their efforts by their director made 50% more fundraising calls than those who didn’t receive the same appreciation.

Second, gratitude focuses on the person and their qualities, which increases pro-social behavior (a pay-it-forward mentality) which improves retention and engagement.  And, companies with more intentional employee engagement see a 26% increase in year-over-year revenue in addition to tripling the success of their sales team.

Incorporating Gratitude in Your Sales Feedback

The good news is that gratitude is much easier to get right than praise.  Gratitude doesn’t need to be scarce or as specific because it’s about how great the other person is.  And people can’t really hear that enough!

So, let’s breakdown a few examples:

Instead of: “Thursdays are for winning! Great work!”

Say: “Thanks for being so persistent with that customer!  It’s great to see that it paid off!”

Instead of: “Rosie crushed quota again!”

Say: “Thanks for sharing your prospecting strategy.  Hopefully, we can use it to get everyone to your level!”

Instead of: “Shoot.” (to a sales loss)

Say: “Thanks for preparing so well for that demo.  We’re never going to win every deal and I think we can use that script for other prospects.”

Or, if you can’t quite think of any specifics, “Thank you.”  works too!

In Conclusion

This holiday season, as your changing into your Thanksgiving pants, think about bringing an attitude of gratitude to your next feedback conversations and, at the same time, make your praise more meaningful and more intentional.

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Book a demo with us to learn how our platform helps you use incentive comp as praise to drive increased productivity, performance, and happiness on your team!

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