How To Deliver Bad News To The Sales Team

Written by Sean McPheat | Linkedin thumb

Due to circumstances well beyond your control, the new software version upgrade will not ship as promised. The sales team has anxious clients waiting for the upgrade, in addition to many prospects who are interested in seeing the new version. Moreover, the delay means that regular monthly maintenance fees are suspended and the sales team will not receive their monthly residual commissions!

Delivering Bad NewsNow it is your job to deliver this uplifting news to the sales team. Arrrgh!

In business, things do not always go as planned and there are times when your firm may have to endure negative, costly and painful information. How you deliver such information to your sales team is critical.

The Positive Sandwich
You may have heard of the concept of the positive sandwich, in when delivering disconcerting information, you simply position the bad material in between two positive discussions. Lead off with something good, quickly disseminate the bad, and then close with something good. While there is nothing wrong with this concept as it makes sense and works quite well in many situations such as public speaking; today’s modern sales people may need a bit more.

Start at the Bottom and Go Up
Eliminate the emotional rollercoaster. Begin with the worse news possible, and then deliver good news. Follow that by even better news and then the best news. Finally, show some example of this good news in action.

As an example, using our hypothetical software upgrade above, you would deliver the bad news that the upgrade is late as are residual commissions. Then, share the good news that the upgrade has additional features and benefits. Better news; that clients who upgrade will get a reduction in their monthly service fees. Follow that by best news that sales people will get a raise in their residual percentage. Finally, share an example of the good news with the fact that the new features will open up new markets and more sales opportunities for the sales team.

Expectations Shape Perception
The most powerful way to deliver bad news to your sales team is to shape their expectations of that news.

Have you ever felt a movie would be the best movie of its genre you have ever seen, only to find that the movie was not as good as you thought? Alternatively, the movie you thought would be a flop, was not as bad as you thought it would be.

A company earns $200 million in profits. However, the company failed to meet the Wall Street expectations of $206 million, and therefore did not perform very well. Expectations greatly influence perception.

When you need to deliver bad news to the sales teams, start by shaping their expectations of the upcoming news. Let the team know that in the next meeting, you have some very bad news to share. You do not want to exaggerate or lie, and you don’t have to. Individual human imagination will run rampant as sales people envision their own worst possible nightmarish fears.

Now, by the time you deliver the actual news, you can rest assured that it will be nowhere near half as horrible as they thought. Now use a nonchalant, light-hearted tone of voice when delivering the news and the sales team’s perception will be that the news was really not that bad at all!

Happy Selling!


Sean McPheat

Sean McPheat
Managing Director

MTD Sales Training | Image courtesy of

450 sales questions free report

Originally published: 20 January, 2012

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