Coaching is an absolutely critical process for building and maintain a highly effective sales team. Ride-alongs are literally and figuratively where the rubber meets the road when it comes to coaching sales reps. When we assess ride-alongs for our clients, we often encounter these issues:
1. The manager takes over the sales call, leaving the rep embarrassed and demoralized.
2. The sales rep is judged rather than coached.
3. The sales rep isn't coached to a call process, since there often isn't one. They are told to do what the manager believes is the right approach for the situation based upon the manager's own experience.
4. There is no ride-along process, so each sales manager handles each call with each rep differently.
5. Sales managers don't have the time for ride-alongs, since they have significant personal (in addition to team) quota responsibility.
At SMT's conference in Orlando this past October, Laurie Weed, Western region sales development manager at Ricoh, presented her company's approach to ride-alongs with sales reps (at Ricoh they're called field rides). While we've seen different approaches to this critical reinforcement process at ESR, I really like Ricoh's for several reasons. The first is, they actually do it. Second, they have a process. Third, it's a good one.
Ricoh has very specific and measurable objectives for field rides:
1. Decrease days to first sale.
2. Reinforce skills learned in formal training.
3. Evaluate the degree to which skills are applied.
Eligible for field rides are new hires, those who are performance-challenged, those without a current manager, and even veteran sales people needing a tune-up.
Teresa Hiatt is the director of sales education at Ricoh. Teresa's staff includes Laurie and her sales development manager colleagues in other regions. The ride-alongs performed by this team are in addition to those (hopefully) done by sales management.
In order to have an effective ride-along program, knowledge of the sales cycle as well as training and development practices are critical. Laurie described other important competencies including listening (not leading), communication, and patience.
The sales development manager team members expect briefing information to be prepared in advance for each of the two to three sales calls for that ride-along day. There is also a checklist to increase the odds of the calls going as planned, including leave-behind collateral, business cards(!), pen/paper for notes, and a GPS or printed maps. (You'd think no salesperson would miss any of those, but that's certainly not the case.)
Steve Hackett from The Brooks Group, a leading sales training firm, suggests these rules for ride-alongs:
1. Tell the reps what you are going to observe in each phase of the sale.
2. Establish the roles. You, the manager, can be the leader while the salesperson observes. Or, both you and the rep jointly participate with specific, pre-determined roles. Or, you might just observe.
3. Notify the prospect of your roles. If you don't, attention is automatically drawn to the manager leaving the sales rep out of the interaction.
4. You, as the manager, need to decide in advance what you'll do if the call begins to deteriorate. In some situations it's best to just observe. In others, jumping in might be appropriate. Discuss this with your rep in advance.
5. Debrief and begin coaching immediately after the call.
6. Set improvement objectives for the next call. This gives you an opportunity to reinforce the correct habits.
Ride-alongs should be a positive experience for both you and the sales rep, because if planned and executed correctly, measurable progress will be made from one call to the next.
Dave Stein is the author of "How Winners Sell" and CEO and founder of ES Research Group in West Tisbury, MA. In addition, he delivers keynote speeches and workshops on sales performance.