Of the numerous strategies for sales staff development, coaching can be one of the most fruitful. To get the best read on the challenges field reps face and offer constructive criticism, many managers “ride along” with their reps during a typical day in the field.
To help ensure your ride alongs are successful, here is some valuable advice from sales veterans on how to make the most of these coaching events.
1) Plan Ahead
Matt Sunshine points out that managers often have the wrong intent with ride alongs. Managers will sometimes surprise a rep with a ride along so the rep will not have a chance to fabricate the day in advance by only visiting the best clients.
Yet, if the end goal is advancing the skills of the rep, this is the wrong approach. It is important to have pre-determined goals established by both rep and manager. Clear expectations allow the rep to demonstrate their strengths and challenges. Additionally, carefully planned ride along days show your reps that you trust them and your goal is to help them, not criticize them.
2) Stick to Your Role
A second piece of advice on how to do the best ride alongs comes from Doug McLeod, author of The Zero Turnover Sales Force. According to McLeod, “your role is to stay in the background, observe, and contribute only when it's appropriate.”
This emphasizes the importance not only of developing clear goals for a ride along, but clear roles during the day. While some organizations make the manager the silent observer, other organizations reverse those roles. The reverse ride along provides reps the opportunity to observe what the manager does, whether that’s closing a big deal or saving a teetering client.
With both types of ride alongs -- manager- and rep-driven -- it is important that the roles of each person are clearly defined and that there is an assurance that neither party will step out of those roles during the day.
3) Let the Clients Know
Ken Eiken of EcSell Institute advises managers to let the clients involved in the ride along know the situation. There are a few benefits of the client knowing about the training experience. First, you can avoid any confusion with the client. Second, if the client knows ahead of time, they may be able to contribute to the learning experience. After all, these clients have most likely had a long history of meetings with sales reps. They can offer supplemental comments for the rep to take in, which may be specific to their industry or company size. That way, the rep gets constructive criticism, and they are better equipped the next time they see that particular client.
4) Take Some Time for Broad Issues
Even though individual growth is the primary focus of ride alongs, Everett Hill of Catalytic Advisors recommends setting aside some time to discuss broader topics during the exercise. While the first part of the day might be focused solely on the rep’s performance, it can be helpful to step back and discuss the overall picture towards the end of the day. Reps should always be aware of larger goals of the organization and know how to contribute to them. Additionally, taking the time to talk about the future and the team as a whole gives the rep a break from individual criticism, which can be trying for certain personalities.
5) Set Future Goals
Sales veteran and writer Wendy Connick suggests that managers should “decide on a measurable goal for [the rep] to achieve by the next ride” once a ride along is over. She stresses the importance of setting a goal specific to the rep’s personal weakness, as opposed to overall organizational weakness. For example, the rep might be great at signing on new clients but weak with a specific task like merchandising, so setting a higher acquisition rate for that rep probably doesn't make sense. By addressing each rep’s individual setbacks, the overall organization will eventually reflect that change.
6) Automate the Process
In an ideal world, managers would be able to ride along with their reps once a week or more. But as managers only have a finite amount of time and resources, a field activity management software tool can help them glean insight into the daily tasks of their reps.
The visibility these tools offer makes it possible for managers to feel like they are in the car every day. These solutions give managers the ability to track their reps’ work time and mileage, as well as analyze field data such as product orders, audits, and visit schedules to develop actionable strategies for the future.
Conducting ride alongs is a valuable exercise when training field reps. When executed well, ride alongs can provide a robust framework for reps to continuously improve upon. However, when conducted incorrectly, they can come across as intrusive to both employees and clients. To avoid wasting everyone’s time and effort, follow these tips to construct a transparent and well-organized system.