Praise in Public, Criticize in Private by Ron Marks

Ron Marks

As modern day sales leaders, we should always praise our sales teams in public and give them critical feedback in private. I recently experienced one of the worst cases of a leader abusing the position of manager by calling out one of his sales people in front of the entire team. Yet he did not do this in the way that most people think of when they think of “public criticism.”

A member of the sales team was being asked to account for their activity in their sales territory. Almost to the point of “double secret probation” (Animal House fans will recognize the term) the leader was constantly asking for detail on sales calls, appointments and this person’s general whereabouts. By the end of the week this particular sales person was fed up with the big brother approach and finally decided enough was enough and threw up the white flag and resigned. The leaders’ response was a simple “Good Riddance” as if that was the objective all along.

While this example in and of itself is not necessarily uncommon, perhaps you have even seen this approach used before. The thing that really got me thinking is that I observed this entire sequence of events as it unfolded through the convenience of my laptop computer. Yes, you read correctly, the leader had copied the entire team on every email communication (both sides) including the final bitter message. We all had a front row seat to this intense “critique” of sales performance.

This got me thinking. I understand that we must be careful what we say to people in person or over the phone, however do most managers consider electronic communications, either voicemail, email or even social media to be public or private communications? Through this string of events I quickly realized that while email was originally designed to be a private medium, due to the ease of copying or forwarding a message, it has most certainly evolved into more of a public medium.

The main lesson of this little example is that as managers and sales leaders we need to understand that whatever we write in an email should be written in the context that it will be forwarded and read by others, whether that is our intention or not. As I reflect further, it is clear that the leader in the example intended EVERYONE to read this string of communications. Perhaps he was focusing on one individual; perhaps he was firing a “shot over the bow” for the rest of the team to see his commitment to increasing sales activity. In either case his methods go against everything I have learned or taught about motivating and leading sales people.

If you have something good to say about someone you should cram as many people into the conference room as will fit. If it is critical or controversial, then it should be one on one. The same goes for email, social media and voicemail. If it is positive, then copy the entire world. If it is critical or controversial in any way, it really needs to be done the old fashioned way; face to face and one on one.

Ron Marks is the author of “Managing for Sales Results” published by John Wiley and Sons. He is a Certified Speaking Professional and member of the National Speakers Association. He resides in Scottsdale Arizona and can be found at



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  1. I worked at a car dealership for 4 years and at least every six months thhe owner would come intobour sales meetings and cuss each salesman and the managers in front of everyone. He would literally talk about our mothers and how we would never amount to anything. Needless to say most of us quit. I now work for myself in sales but many guys gave up sales altogether because of that guy’s temper. This article made me think of him.

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