Salespeople hate getting performance appraisals. You can ask anybody.

One researcher did ask. Not anybody, but actual salespeople. And the answer he got was surprising.

The salespeople in the study were more than okay with appraisals. In fact, the research concluded that “appraisals can have a positive impact on job satisfaction” for reps. A 1981 study found similar effects: salespeople who receive performance feedback report higher levels of job satisfaction.

Other investigators have suggested a reason why: Performance appraisals can reduce “role ambiguity.” In other words, effective appraisals provide clarity about the job. Salespeople don’t have to put their energy into figuring out the rules of the game: They know what’s expected of them and can focus on meeting those expectations.

At this point I can hear sales managers across America collapsing on the floor in peals of laughter. They know that their salespeople would rather sit for a root canal than a performance review.

Well, the study addressed that point, too. Salespeople were opposed to being evaluated — when they believed that they were being evaluated on the wrong criteria. In the words of the researchers: “For example, a salesperson may realize that his/her appraisal is based on sales volume, but feel that completion of a course dealing with product knowledge would be a better evaluation topic, because completion of the course is subject to his/her control and affects his/her ability to work effectively.”

The solution? Get reps involved in setting the criteria by which they will be judged. I quote again from the study: “Employee input into the process has been described as having an impact on the perceived fairness of the evaluation…. [T]he opinions of the employees, as they pertain to the appraisal system, may be a greater determinant of the system’s effectiveness than the validity or reliability of the system itself.”

Or, in plain language: Salespeople will feel better about being evaluated if they have a hand in deciding what they should be evaluated on. And if you approach performance appraisals in that spirit of collaboration, you’ll have happier reps.

Source: Pettijohn et al. (2000). An exploratory analysis of salesperson perceptions of the criteria used in performance appraisals, job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Journal of Personal Selling, spring 2000, p. 77.

1 Comment

  • Cy Khormaee says:

    That makes a ton of sense to me – as long as the reviews are educational rather than evaluative. I got in to sales so I could be judged primarily by my results (quota!). However, my managers were great and my performance reviews were an opportunity for them to teach. So, I always saw reviews as an opportunity for me to learn a few more things to keep me growing into bigger and better accounts. -Cy (

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