Through the one-on-one connection of a ride-along, you can learn firsthand about your reps' strengths and weaknesses, what excites them, what makes them uncomfortable, and their goals and aspirations. That kind of knowledge is essential to good management.
Doug McLeod, a sales industry veteran and author of The Zero Turnover Sales Force
, says ride-alongs won't happen unless you make them happen. Here are five tips for keeping your ride-along commitment:
- Mark the date on your calendar. Just as you set sales goals for your team, set a ride-along quota for yourself each month. Schedule the ride-alongs in advance and approach them as you would an important customer meeting; be on time, be prepared, and don't cancel. It's also a good idea to announce your new ride-along strategy to your team. By announcing your intentions, you're more likely to stick to them.
- Carve the date in stone. On a regular basis, sit down with your reps and pick a day when you're available and when they will be seeing a good mix of prospects and current clients. Once the ride-along is scheduled, your rep is responsible for confirming the appointments, alerting customers that you will be joining them, and notifying you of any changes. You are responsible for carving the appointments in stone and showing up on time.
- Be prepared. How many ride-alongs have you prepared for by jumping in the car with your rep and saying, "So, tell me about this prospect/client"? Instead, start the day by having a sit-down breakfast with your rep and asking him or her to lay out the day or half-day for you - where you're going, who you're seeing, what goals are being pursued, where the rep is in the sales process with each client, and so on. If the rep is vague or unsure about any of these things, that's a red flag.
- Be restrained. On the way to the first call, you check email or call into the office and find that there are six fires that need dousing, 35 new emails awaiting your response, the boss is going nuts about something, and who knows what else. Resist the urge to start handling these things. Whatever it is, it will wait. What you're doing is far more important, and your reps - and their clients - deserve your full and undivided attention. Exercise that same restraint in client meetings. Your salespeople are the sellers, not you, so let them do their jobs and do not allow yourself to take over the meeting.
- "A major complaint from salespeople is that ride-alongs turn into watch-how-I-deal-with-this sessions," says McLeod. "Your role is to stay in the background, observe, and contribute only when it's appropriate."
- Debrief meaningfully. At the end of every ride-along and before you return to the office, spend some time debriefing in a way that will be helpful to the salesperson. After asking the obvious questions (How do you think that went? What would you do differently? Where do you think this account is headed?), dig into a deeper layer of understanding: "What's your read on the person we just saw? Is that really the person we should be talking to, or do we need to see someone else higher up? What have you heard about that company's position in the market?"
"The more questions like these you can ask, the more prepared you and your salesperson will be to respond profitably to opportunities or issues that arise," says McLeod.