Research shows that in the two years to 2020, there was a 170% rise in the number of business leaders and human resources (HR) professionals expecting managers to give team members regular feedback.
There was also an 89% increase in employees who want formal performance conversations at least monthly.
360 feedback satisfies both desires while helping sales leaders support their reps to improve skills and ultimately sell more.
In this article, we’ll explore this appraisal method’s key benefits and challenges and show you how to use it to boost productivity. We’ll also provide 360 feedback examples for peers and managers to help you confidently navigate the review-writing process.
What is 360-degree feedback and how is it useful?
360-degree feedback (also known as 360 feedback or multi-rater feedback) is a performance appraisal system in which team members share anonymous feedback with their peers, managers and direct reports.
This process involves a selection of team members (also known as raters) completing confidential surveys that contain questions or statements about a specific colleague or manager.
The subject of the review also completes a self-assessment questionnaire so they can compare how they perceive themselves with how others perceive them.
The questions in these surveys cover a range of workplace competencies and can be broad and open-ended, like:
“What would you say are [subject]’s strengths?”
“In which areas could [subject] improve?”
“How well does [subject] manage their time?”
“How approachable is [subject] in the workplace?”
Or they can be closed-ended questions or statements to which the rater responds with “yes” or “no”, or scores their subject on a rating scale (usually 1–10). For example:
“Does [subject] adapt and align with changing business priorities?”
“[Subject] motivates others to achieve their goals.”
“[Subject] is timely and efficient when giving feedback.”
“[Subject] embodies the organization’s values.”
There are benefits to both approaches. Open-ended questions allow respondents to give more detailed answers; close-ended statements and questions generate quantifiable data that managers can use to measure employee development and identify improvement opportunities.
For example, you could collect 12 scores given to one subject on a specific statement and calculate an average. Using this average, you can accurately assess the subject’s competency, compare it with other team members’ scores and track changes over time.
How 360 feedback improves sales team performance
The collaborative nature of 360-degree feedback makes it a great supplement to individual targets and quotas.
In a recent report, Rachel Ernst, chief HR officer at Reflektive, spoke on the value of collecting employees’ views:
Employee survey comments can help HR and leadership teams better understand what they can do to boost morale and productivity. It also speaks to how each employee experiences events differently and highlights the importance of ongoing high-quality conversations with managers and employees.
Here are four ways 360 feedback can improve a sales team’s effectiveness.
1. It increases reps’ self-awareness and aids development
With feedback from a variety of people rather than a single sales leader (as would be the case in a one-to-one appraisal), reps gain balanced views of their strengths and weaknesses.
Positive feedback instills confidence, and in sales, confidence aids performance. According to Sales Insights Lab, 51% of top-performing sales reps consider themselves experts in their fields, compared with 37% of average and low-performing reps.
Meanwhile, negative feedback shows reps which skills they should improve for the team’s benefit and which behaviors other reps expect from them.
For example, suppose a rep receives average scores of 9/10 for approachability and 5/10 for contributing ideas to team discussions. In that case, they know their peers are comfortable communicating with them but expect more collaborative effort in meetings.
Reps can use the feedback as a development tool. They can then create an individual target to improve their collaboration skills or work with their manager to set teamwork-focused objectives and key results (OKRs).
2. It makes behaviors and attributes more measurable
Sales managers can use 360-degree feedback alongside other review methods, like sales OKR metrics and quotas, to build a clear picture of a salesperson’s effectiveness.
For example, while a salesperson who consistently meets their quota looks great on paper, a 360 feedback review might reveal that their behavior in the workplace negatively affects other reps and hinders overall team performance.
Equally, the same survey might show that a salesperson who often misses their quota regularly motivates their colleagues or improves processes. With this information, you can determine that this rep is a valuable team member.
3. It uses first-hand experiences to uncover less obvious strengths and weaknesses
Whether traveling to meetings together, discussing deals or just sharing a desk, most sales reps spend more time with other salespeople than with managers.
As a result, reps see first-hand how their colleagues perform and behave in all situations, from cold calling to collaborating with other departments. They also work on many of the same day-to-day goals and activities, putting them in a great position to assess their peers’ competency.
With leadership skills, experience and a clear understanding of their organization’s performance objectives, the manager’s view is still vital. However, they may not see how well reps handle more routine sales tasks or perform in the field. The peer-to-peer aspect of 360-degree feedback fills this gap.
4. It’s a valuable feedback channel for leaders, too
While most appraisal and performance tracking systems are one-way, with managers reviewing teams and individual reps, the 360-degree feedback process allows salespeople to highlight their managers’ strengths and weaknesses.
Manager feedback is built into the 360 review process, and anonymous surveys allow reps to raise concerns without compromising working relationships.
Sales leaders learn from 360-degree feedback surveys which aspects of their management help reps to perform and which parts are counterproductive. They can then adjust their approach or upskill to give reps the support they need to perform well.
If you’re wondering how to give 360 feedback to your boss, the examples and tips later on should provide inspiration (or you can find a few in the linked article below).
5. It can motivate team members to stay and work hard
The recognition that comes with positive 360-degree feedback can improve staff morale and retention.
Almost half of the respondents in a recent Bonusly survey said they’ve left a job due to feeling underappreciated. In contrast, 65% said that recognition from a manager would motivate them to work harder.
Positive peer-to-peer feedback – something the 360 feedback process enables that other appraisal methods don’t – is just as powerful. Two-thirds of Bonusly’s respondents said they’d likely stay at a job with an under-appreciative manager as long as their coworkers still recognized their work.
Our State of Sales and Marketing report revealed how much impact poor management can have to company success. Over 40% of respondents who didn’t reach their sales target last year (and never or rarely hit their regular sales quota) believe that leadership and management in their company require improvement.
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The challenges of 360 feedback for sales teams
Despite its many benefits, 360 feedback is a delicate process that can be counterproductive if it’s rushed or poorly organized.
Sticking with the theme of providing clear, balanced reviews, here are some challenges you’ll need to overcome when implementing or taking part in a 360 feedback review.
1. It’s not a catch-all solution to performance measurement
For the 360 feedback process to contribute to reps’ long-term professional development, you must pair its results with the findings of other initiatives, such as OKRs and performance objectives.
Use what you learn about individuals’ strengths and weaknesses in 360 feedback sessions to inspire objectives that help the team.
For example, if 90% of raters say a team member is an enthusiastic and effective cold caller, set them an OKR to lead a cold calling training session so they can pass on what they know.
2. It’s easy for negative feedback to become poor feedback (and that helps no one)
Everyone involved in your 360 feedback survey must know the difference between negative feedback and poor feedback.
When it’s constructive, objective and considered, negative feedback helps people identify weaknesses to improve.
For example, this is helpful:
“I feel [subject] could involve herself more in team meetings and help us solve problems in different ways by speaking up when they have ideas.”
In a study of academic peer reviews (which, like 360 reviews, should be fair and unbiased), BMC researchers found that 12% of assessments included at least one unprofessional comment towards the author of their work. Just over 40% contained incomplete, inaccurate or unsubstantiated critiques.
When feedback is unnecessarily critical, too personal or irrelevant, it’s unlikely to be helpful and can damage the recipient’s morale.
[Subject] is a useless part of the team because they’re always so quiet in meetings.
Make it clear that all feedback should be as objective as possible, relevant to the subject’s role and constructive. Otherwise, you risk wasting resources on an unproductive process.
3. It’s prone to employee bias
In any working environment, it’s normal for two sales reps not to see eye to eye. On a normal day, that’s no big issue as a variety of views, traits and selling styles can make a sales team more effective.
However, biases can cause problems when team members are asked to assess their colleagues. If one rep has a poor opinion of another, they may give poor or inaccurate (and ultimately unhelpful) feedback.
Negate this issue by clearly explaining the purpose of 360 feedback. Tell reps how honest, constructive reviews lead to valuable data that helps the whole team to perform better. If biased or unhelpful comments still make it through, discount them from your findings to keep the review fair.
4. Team members may be hesitant to give their views
On the other hand, some reps might be concerned that their review subjects will find out what they write and either hold back in their comments or refuse to participate.
Overcome apprehension by clarifying how the process will work and explaining how you’ll maintain raters’ confidentiality and anonymity. For example, it might be that you’re using 360-degree feedback tools like Typeform to collect responses and ensure the process is impartial.
Go a step further by having someone from another department or outside the business oversee the scheme, so there’s no fear of bias.
5. It can be time-consuming
With more people involved, 360 feedback can use up more resources than its one-to-one equivalents.
Staff need time to complete surveys and process any feedback they receive, and the organizer must write questions before collecting and analyzing the responses.
The results are worth the effort, however, and technology can help you streamline the process by:
Providing easy-to-use feedback form templates
Automating feedback requests and follow-ups
Automatically generating insightful reports
Integrating data from other feedback sources
Using artificial intelligence (AI) to process large amounts of data and spot trends
How to conduct a 360 feedback appraisal (with tips and examples)
There are a lot of variables to consider when organizing or taking part in a 360-degree review program, and one misstep can lead to poor, unhelpful results.
Use the following tips as an action plan to ensure you get useful data that inspires better decisions and improves performance for your sales team.
Balance the good and bad
Positive feedback can be as powerful as negative feedback, so include both in your responses.
By praising a colleague, manager or direct report for something they do or have achieved, you’ll make them feel valued and could motivate them to work harder (think back to the Bonusly study we mentioned earlier).
By giving the following feedback to a team member, a manager might inspire them to set their sights on leadership training for career development:
This rep often uses their problem-solving skills and initiative for the whole team’s benefit and regularly shows signs of leadership potential.
Finishing with a positive comment can also soften the blow of criticism to keep staff motivated.
For example: “[subject] doesn’t do [x] enough to help the team, but they’re great at [y]” is much more engaging than “[subject] doesn’t do [x] enough to help the team.”
If you’re criticizing your subject’s behavior, offer a suggestion to help them improve.
In a recent WeWork article on employee-manager communication, business and tech journalist Steve Hogarty wrote:
Constructive feedback should be motivating and help to build toward, or construct, a positive outcome or change in behavior. That doesn’t mean you can’t give negative feedback, but all feedback is generally better received when you focus on solutions rather than complaints.
For example, instead of just writing this about your manager: “I think [subject] does [x] too often.”
Include a solution in a format like this: “I think [subject] does [x] too often. By doing [y] more instead, they’d help me to succeed.”
By providing clear advice with a benefit, you’ll make it more likely that the recipient will act on your comments.
Keep communication lines open
Anonymity doesn’t mean team members shouldn’t discuss the general process with management and their peers.
When you introduce the idea of 360 feedback, explain the best practice and benefits. Rather than springing surveys on them in a surprise email, give reps time to read about 360 feedback and ask any questions they have about the process.
This will ensure everyone understands the purpose and provides the same style and level of feedback. That, in turn, will help you generate consistent, comparable data.
Be as objective as possible
When completing a survey, try to discard any opinions of your subject that aren’t directly related to their professional behavior or performance.
If you let irrelevant opinions influence your performance review, you risk painting an inaccurate (and unfair) picture that can’t be used to help the team’s performance.
If you’re a manager choosing which reps will complete 360 feedback surveys, consider if there are any obvious divides in the team that could skew your data. Equally, avoid asking reps to review close friends as they may provide polished versions of the truth.
Misunderstandings can cause feedback recipients to change their behaviors in unhelpful ways, lose motivation or become less willing to participate in future reviews. They also happen more often with written comments as they don’t have the benefit of tone.
Ensure your comments and suggestions are clear by using simple language and being specific.
“I think this rep needs to interact more with other teams” is unclear as the rep doesn’t know who they should spend more time with or why.
Instead, give the recipient actionable advice and an incentive to follow it by saying:
I think this rep should spend more time with the customer service team to learn about our audience’s biggest pain points. They should then find it easier to engage buyers.
With the right tools and careful planning, 360-degree feedback programs can play a valuable part in any sales organization’s employee performance management strategy.
The data they create helps management spot opportunities for improvement, identify effective practices and get the most from team members based on their strengths and weaknesses.
Pair 360 feedback with other performance review techniques for the biggest long-term boost to sales team productivity
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