Sales management has many proven methods, but in organizations where sales personnel meet with clients and prospects beyond company walls, sales management is usually done in absentia. While the Sales Manager may occasionally coach to enhance sales performance, that coaching is normally based on sales data and the salesperson’s rather biased sales activity reports. It is difficult, then, for the Sales Manager to accurately gauge the performance of the salesperson, including challenges faced and how the salesperson rises to overcome those challenges. There is, however, a sales management tool in the Manager’s arsenal that can be highly effective even though it is underutilized: the ride-along.
Here are some ways the ride-along can enhance salesperson performance and improve the company’s bottom line:
Dispelling the Dread
Most salespeople dread the prospect of a Sales Manager ride-along. They suspect it to be a thinly veiled ploy for the Sales Manager to catch them doing things wrong. They see only retribution on the horizon, with little chance of praise and constructive coaching. Indeed, this fear is often legitimate – many Sales Managers invoke the ride-along only as a technique of last resort, to determine why the salesperson is underperforming compared to others in the sales organization.
But done right, with positive motivations, open communication, and helpful feedback, the Sales Manager can dispel the dread and position the ride-along as an experience to embrace for all concerned.
Key Objectives of the Ride-Along
Performed with positive intentions, the ride-along can help the Sales Manager accomplish some key objectives:
- Gain true perspective from the live environment rather than relying on data and second-hand reports
- Highlight market and customer challenges, as well as opportunities for improved sales techniques
- Improve the professional relationship and accuracy of communication between Sales Manager and salesperson
- Create a continuing coaching opportunity
- Enhance salesperson performance to benefit both the company and the individual customer
What to Do Before the Ride-Along
As a Sales Manager, first, announce your new ride-along strategy to your team. By announcing your intentions, you are more likely to stick to your original plan and have your sales team appreciate your intent.
Never surprise a salesperson with a ride-along. Let them know well in advance so they can schedule a representative experience. Ask the salesperson to schedule customer visits as they normally would even if you weren’t traveling with them. (Make sure they aren’t merely introducing you to their best customers.) Explain that you want to see both existing customers and prospects. When scheduling time with current customers, ask to meet with both highly satisfied customers, and with those who need more nurturing to reach that point. And when scheduling time with prospects, plan to visit those in early stages of the sales cycle as well as those nearing a completed sale.
Discuss with the salesperson beforehand your expectations of the experience. Develop a list of items you want to observe. Be sure to state that the ride-along is intended to create opportunities for better understanding of the salesperson’s strengths and challenges, and to create opportunities for improved performance. Emphasize that your goal is to help, not criticize.
When the day of the ride-along comes, be prepared. Have a sit-down breakfast with your salesperson and ask him or her to lay out the day for you – where you will be going, whom you’ll be meeting, what goals are being pursued, where the Sales Rep is in the sales process with each client, and so on. If the salesperson is vague or unsure about any of these things, that’s a red flag right from the beginning.
What to Do During the Ride-Along
When meeting with each customer or prospect, stick to your role. If needed, explain to the customer that you are there to meet face-to-face and bring their feedback to your company’s ownership or leadership. This legitimate reason may also help establish rapport with the client or prospect.
After that, stay in the background, observe, and contribute only when appropriate. This day isn’t a stage to showcase your skills; it is an opportunity to see how your salesperson performs. Even if the prospect or customer asks you a direct question the salesperson should address, direct attention back to the salesperson for the answer. This reinforces that the salesperson is the lead, not you. After all, it is about how the salesperson performs, not how you perform.
What to Do After Each Sales Call
After each visit, debrief with the salesperson. Before sharing your insights, however, ask the salesperson how they thought the meeting went. Lead the process of self-discovery in a way that is conversational and low key, not an interrogation or lecture. This way, you can learn if the salesperson’s perceptions about the call match yours. This will give the salesperson an opportunity to admit a meeting didn’t go well before you bring it up.
When debriefing, ask two levels of questions:
- 1st level (general perceptions). Ask questions like, “How do you think that went?” or “What would you do differently?” or “Where do you think this account is headed?”
- 2nd level (dig into a deeper layer of understanding). Ask questions like, “What’s your read on the person we just saw?” or “Is that the appropriate person we should be talking to, or do we need to see someone else higher up?” or “What have you heard about that company’s position in the market?”
By consistently debriefing the same way after each meeting, you will find the salesperson self-assessing after each call before you ask them any questions, perhaps even when you are not present.
Only after hearing the salesperson’s assessment should you offer your own insights. Remember that coaching is not criticizing; it is helping someone master a new skill that may be a bit challenging.
What to Do After the Ride-Along is Complete
After the ride-along experience, provide additional feedback within 24 hours if possible. Review your notes and record your impressions so the salesperson has a document of what worked and what did not work. It helps to use a form, so each member of your sales team gets a consistent style of feedback.
Provide action items so the salesperson has appropriate next steps for improving his or her game plan. Gain agreement from the salesperson on measurable goals to achieve by the next ride-along. It is equally important to provide the Sales Rep an opportunity to offer you feedback as well. This can be done in person or in writing; either way, open communication makes it easier to work together.
News that a Sales Manager wants to do a ride-along may fill the salesperson with dread initially, due to fear it will be punitive in nature. But if the Sales Manager approaches the ride-along as an opportunity to coach the salesperson and offer constructive insights to improve performance, that initial perception should change. And if ride-alongs help the salesperson close more sales, the practice will be embraced. For the Sales Manager, time spent in ride-alongs can create a bond with the salesperson, and open communication channels. It’s even possible that a higher level of decision maker can be reached if the Sales Manager is part of the mix occasionally.
At Sales Xceleration, our licensed Advisors have years of experience planning and conducting ride-alongs that improve sales management and sales processes for maximized conversions and profits. If you aren’t sure how to properly plan and conduct ride-alongs, connect with an Advisor in your area, or contact us today at 1.844.874.7253.