You don’t see player-managers in professional sports anymore, but you certainly see sales managers at top companies out in the field working alongside their sales reps in supportive, coaching roles.
Providing regular field support is a welcomed responsibility for those sales managers and CEOs who want to be proactive in managing their sales teams toward higher achievement levels. Plus, if it isn’t fun, it will be interesting and eye-opening to say the least.
There’s really no way to know how each salesperson behaves and performs while representing your company unless you observe them in real selling situations. Accompanying your reps in the field for “ride-alongs” lets you work one-on-one with them as you travel to and from each sales call. You can set goals along with a plan before the appointment, observe actual selling behavior and professionally discuss how the meetings went afterward.
Sales managers with lots of sales experience may be tempted to jump in and try to rescue their sales reps if they feel the dialogue is going astray during a meeting. Unless the stakes are very high, you need to resist this temptation and let the conversation play out, giving your input only if it’s asked for.
You don’t want to force a learning error by interrupting a teaching moment. If you simply bail people out and take control of their situations, you rob them of the opportunity to learn and grow from experience, be it negative or positive.
In your selling critiques, try to be objective, and by all means, keep it constructive. What you say to your reps is crucial, but how you say it is just as important if you want to have a positive impact on performance.
Asking relevant and probing questions instead of pointing out shortcomings is often the best approach because it’s better to let people think their own way to the right conclusion.
Going out on sales calls with less experienced reps can bring short-term challenges but offer long-term rewards. It may feel a little awkward and you’ll need to apply coaching and mentoring as well as management skills.
Let’s take a hypothetical, yet common, selling situation. The prospect expresses genuine interest and starts to give buying signals, such as asking about price ranges for a highly used service. Then your sales rep immediately offers to work up a customized proposal and budget for consideration. Your experience tells you full well that you could step in and close this deal much sooner by moving the conversation toward the client’s need fulfillment instead of prematurely offering price quotes for them to compare with other suppliers.
Here you would need to hold your tongue and let your rep’s proposal offer play out. You would lose the closing opportunity for that day but you could open your sales rep’s eyes by asking him or her questions such as, “Did you happen to notice how fully engaged Sally was at the moment she asked about our pricing? What do you think will happen when she compares our prices with others? What if we instead asked Sally for a shop tour at that moment and clearly pointed out how much better our solution would be?”
There is extremely valuable teaching time right after a ride-along sales call. When you let your rep handle the call start to finish you are in a better position to see and hear everything going on. Remember to allow room for mistakes and avoid “showing up” the sales rep. Egos must be left out of this.
Build in time for a review immediately following every sales call. Do not schedule this for later because the freshness of the moment can never be recaptured. Usually, a curbside chat in the car is the best time and place for this. Ask professional questions and avoid judgmental tones. In this situation, you are two colleagues working toward the same goal. Having the senior position as sales manager, you can set a tone of mentorship. Your sales reps will better appreciate your efforts to help them through observation and analysis, which at times will lead to correction.
Everyone in sales, including managers, need to be accountable to company profitability. Getting out in the field and “working the trenches” with your salespeople earns you their respect and keeps them focused on the areas where they can hone their professional skills, increase their earnings and help you build your business.
This article appears in the Feb. 15, 2019, issue of New Hampshire Business Review