Ride along for better support

A sales manager’s guide to accompanying salespeople on calls


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Have you ever met with a salesperson who brought their manager or CEO along for an appointment or routine visit? I’ll bet the dynamics of the dialogue changed considerably from when the salesperson called on you alone, even if the manager or CEO didn’t say much.

People tend to behave differently when they are being observed by an authority figure. As a sales manager, you need to allow for this dynamic as you observe how your reps perform in the field. But how do you make accurate assessments and give instructive feedback when you know your presence in the meeting affected the rep’s behavior to some degree? 

Sales manager “ride-alongs” can be beneficial from a training and coaching perspective. There’s a lot to be gained by observing your sales reps perform in real selling situations, even if your presence can change the chemistry a bit. You’ll definitely get a good measure of your salesperson’s ability to apply product and company knowledge in a real selling situation as well as observe their social skills with customers in the context of your presence.

Of course, less experienced or poorly trained sales reps can stumble under what they feel is awkward pressure. In any event, your job as sales manager is to remain quiet, observe and really listen.

Naturally, when you see your salesperson making mistakes or straying off track, you’ll immediately want to jump in with your expertise and authority to correct the course. Here’s where you’ll need to summon all your willpower to simply let your sales rep maintain the dialogue.

Why? In short, because the rep won’t actually experience his or her mistake if you move in and correct it. They’ll be grateful, perhaps, or might even resent you for butting in, rather than focusing on never making the same mistake again. You be the judge of the situation. If the opportunity is vital for the company, you may have to save a flailing salesperson from blowing it big time.

Remember, there is extremely valuable teaching time immediately after a ride-along sales call when you let your sales rep handle the call start to finish. The point here is to give room for failure and avoid controlling the sales call or “showing up” the rep.

Always build in time for a call review immediately following the sales call. Do not wait to do this, as the freshness of the moment can’t be recaptured. Usually, a curbside chat in the car is the best place for this. Ask “adult” questions and avoid parental or judgmental tones.

There are five essential steps that you can use for planning and executing your coaching strategy when working together with your reps in the field:

1. Pre-call planning

• What is the reason for the meeting?

• Roles and responsibilities

• What questions should the rep ask the prospect?

• What are the logistics or technology needs in the meeting venue?

2. Observation checklist

• Does your rep have an agenda the prospect has agreed to?

• What are the issues (pain) your product and service can alleviate?

• Is there a budget? What is it?

• What is the decision process?

3. Evaluation

• Go into analytical mode and avoid being judgmental.

• State your observations clearly and express your concerns with sincerity.

• Ask questions to get the salesperson’s ideas and show that you value their input.

• Together identify areas for improvement.

4. Modification

• Identify new strategies and techniques based on what most needs improvement.

• Identify new behaviors for better call prep and more effective meetings.

• Are there completely different approaches your rep should be using?

5. Assimilation

• Practice future sales calls through role playing.

• Set appropriate improvement goals focusing on sales call behaviors.

• Keep good records of your ride-along meetings and track the changes you see in your reps’ behavior and performance over time.

By setting a tone of mentorship, your team will better appreciate your efforts to help them through observation and analysis, which at times leads to correction. Everyone in sales, including the manager, needs to be accountable for their contribution to the overall company profitability. 

“Working the trenches” with your salespeople earns you their respect and keeps them focused on the areas where they can hone their professional skills and grow their commissions. High commission earnings among the sales force is among the best indicators of a financially strong company. 

Kevin Hallenbeck, principal of Sandler Training-Manchester, can be reached at 603-232-1520 or at bestsalespeople.com.

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