The Nitty Gritty of Sales Management: The Ride Along Again!

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That great American sales management tradition—the ever popular ride along—occurs when the sales manager spends some good old windshield time with one of his salespeople. Whether you have direct salespeople or independent sales reps, the ride along is one of the most important tactics of sales management.

Done right, the ride along provides the manager with a great opportunity to do some hands on, face-to-face coaching. This is the time to review how a salesperson is doing and to discuss any issues or challenges she might be facing. The following are a few benefits of a sales ride along and a few tips on what and how to evaluate.

  1. It’s a great time to get to know your salesperson on a both professional basis and a more business-personal level as well. It is a great time to find out what makes her tick, what her goals are, what she is doing to improve her sales, what she thinks about the company, and where she sees herself in the company in five years.
  2. Take this time to observe and evaluate how a salesperson does with customers in face-to-face meetings, and conversely, observe the customers to see how they relate to your salesperson. Do they seem to genuinely like him? Is the salesperson dealing professionally with customers and is he prepared? Does he know everything about the customers that he should and does he add value to your customers? Is the salesperson correctly conveying the company’s message and representing it accurately?
  3. How organized is your salesperson? Are her calls lined up and well organized or is she scrambling to make enough appointments to fill your time with them? Do the customers actually make the meetings that have been set up, or are they no shows? No shows are a true indicator of how much respect your salesperson commands from his customer.
  4. Check the condition of the car: Is it customer ready or is it a dump site?
  5. Do they know where they’re going? I once rode along with a sales guy who got lost on his way to his largest customer…not a good indicator of how often he visited that customer. Along those lines, I knew a sales manager who would secretly note the mileage on his salesperson’s car each time he visited to see how many miles had put on since the last visit. One salesperson had put a grand total of thirty eight miles on his car since this sales manager’s visit the month before, all the time reporting in his weekly report that he was visiting all of his customers each week.
  6. Find out how much your salesperson knows about your company, how to sell for your company and how your company can help her customers.
  7. Check out your salesperson’s listening skills. Does he listen when the customer talks? Does he know how to be quiet when you are asking the customer a question that you need, especially ones that have to do with getting a commitment in place? For example, “How much more will you be ordering this year than last year?” or “When do you think you are going to place that big order for this year?” In other words, tactical questions that you want the customer to answer.
  8. When your salesperson opens his trunk to put your briefcase in, is it filled with golf clubs, skis, or other sports equipment? That is not a good sign.
  9. The ride along is a great time to check out your salesperson’s work ethic. Does he keep you going from morning until night until you are ready to call it a day? Or does he pick you up at ten, letting you know that he let you sleep in? You are not there to sleep in, you are there to work.
  10. Remember that all the time you are with the salesperson you have to be a shining example of professionalism, not just in what you say, but what you do. This means no company bashing, or bad mouthing the customers. It also means no heavy drinking and no knocking off early to play golf or go to the track. No extra-long lunches, even with a customer. In other words, keep it professional. Anything you do that is not professional is giving your salesperson tacit permission to do the same.

I am sure there are many more things you can do to have an effective ride along with your salespeople, but for the sake of time I am limiting the list to just these ten…and one more: Be sure that you schedule your visit to the salesperson’s territory far enough in advance to give her time to set up some productive and important appointments. One week is not enough. Give her at least a month to set up some quality meetings for you. In fact, if you have a number of salespeople, I would urge you to lay out an entire year in advance, making sure that you spend the proper amount of time with each of them and that they all have time to provide you with a great slate of sales calls when you arrive for your ride along. After all, it’s only common sense.


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