Managers In The Field, What Are You Doing Out There?

By Michael Rega

Publication: American Salesman
Date: December 1, 1999

Many managers ask themselves this question every time they venture out into the selling field. Some say they are out there to close a deal or two for a struggling representative. Some claim they are mandated to travel a minimum number of times with representatives. Most managers do not have any idea what to do or why they are out there. To make your field calling time productive (instead of just building up your frequent flyer accounts), the following tools will assist you in becoming a resource for your selling team.

There are only two reasons managers should be with sales representatives in the territory.

Period!

  1. A Team call – Uses your strength and authority as a manager.
  2. A Training call – Specifically targets long-term development of your people.

In a Team call, the manager/representative combination may be to pacify an important customer, to close a national account or simply to give the client a feeling of special attention. These are important managerial skills that need to be exercised appropriately. This is one of the key manners in which managers become selling resources instead of sales anchors.

In the second type of managerial ride along, you become the instructor following the time proven approach of tell/show/do. Since there are always areas of selling skills needing to be mastered or improved upon within your force, this training process never ceases. Use the field calling time as a live role-play training site, ever enhancing the skills of your unique set of salespeople.

These two very distinct reasons for taking up space in the company car are the only reasons that are justifiable by management. Your job as manager is to develop your people and be an influential resource to them in their pursuit to manage and increase their business. I cannot think of worse company policy than mandating a managerial “ride along” as criteria for managerial performance.

Is The Person I Worked With Today At Least A 1 Percent Better Salesperson Because I Worked With Them? Many years ago while working for a large laboratory products company, I had one of these mandated-to-travel sales managers. I will call him Bob, because that was his name. Bob was a determined company man and to his benefit, I believe he was trying to do what he thought was a good job. The company mandated a policy requiring sales managers to ride along with each sales representative once a month (whether they needed it or not). The travel dates were tied to the manager’s end of the quarter bonus. Poor Bob was required, by the company he loved, to trek across the Midwest for weeks at a time trying to devise new stories about the old days. Of course, as representatives, we dreaded the visit and prepared our clients far in advance that our “boss” would be with us on a certain day.

On the big day, Bob would stay at a local motel to show he was responsible with company expense accounts. We all knew that when left alone he slumbered at the most expensive resorts. Bob’s travel motel breakfast was always the same. He asked me to meet him at the motel for the free continental spread. We ate stale mini-muffins and cold cereal pumped out of some kind of contraption similar to what is used to feed house cats that are left alone for weeks at a time. I was trying to figure out why my motel orange juice was fizzing with carbonation when Bob pulled out his managerial theme book and said, “OK, today we ride. Where are we going?”

My response was always the same; “We’ll go see Sue and then see if we can catch Wendy in Rockville.” Sue was by far my biggest and most dedicated customer. She knew Bob when he was just beginning in the business, she understood the corporate game and was discreet about the tradeoff. “I’ll let you bring that buffoon in here for a few minutes and you can buy a round of golf for us next week.” Deal! Sue the Savior.

The second sales call to Wendy was under control. Wendy would be out this day and we would see another tech that despised our competition. After an hour with her, Bob could put another victory story under his expanding managerial buckle.

A few years of carting Bob around for corporate political reasons accomplished a couple of things. First, it made me a damn good, low handicap golfer. Second, it put many reimbursable miles on my car. Neither of these made me a better salesperson, nor made the company any more money. Bob, however, received his corporate quarterly bonus and even moved up through the company before cuts in management ended his career. Bob, if you are reading this, I am sorry I retold this example. You are a buffoon, and Sue says hello.

There is only one criterion for measuring your success at the end of a field calling session. “Is the person I worked with a 1% better salesperson?” There is no other measurement. Bob had little effect on my success and many would say he hurt us because each of the calling days became black holes of wasted time.

Did you open two new accounts for the person? Who will open a new account for that person tomorrow? You say you repeatedly showed them how to do it? If the person is any good, you say, he should learn by observing you work? Maybe. How many people do you know can learn to hit a golf ball by watching Tiger Woods swing?

You, the manager are the coach. To teach is to tell, show and do! You tell the person how to hold the club, how to take a stance, etc. Show the person how to do it and then THEY must do it! He/she must develop their own swing and learn by doing and sometimes failing!

Salespeople, however, cannot develop alone. They need a coach and the only way you can help them is by observing them in action. This should be done in live practice. That is easy enough for a baseball coach but how can a manager/coach afford to give salespeople batting practice? There are two ways.

The first is in a role-playing session, either individually or in-group meetings. The second is in field calling. Field calling is an excellent coaching opportunity where managers can watch the person sell.

In field call coaching you must accept the premise the development of the person is more important than the closing of the sale. How can you believe this when you must also be responsible for a sales quota?

The answer is “C” and “D” accounts. In an average territory, 70 percent of the volume comes from about 30 percent of the accounts. This means 70 percent of the accounts are available for practice. In other words accounts that if they close, great. If they don’t close and the representative stumbles, the quotas are not in danger – pre-season games if you will. You want to be sure to include ample “C” and “D” account calls in the day’s field calling itinerary.

Your objective in field calling is to help the person become a better professional salesperson. It eliminates shooting in the dark in your attempts to help them. It provides a chance for you to observe the person in action and then share ideas and skills.

The following is a Training Call Outline recommended for the field manager.

I. Pre-Call Plan

  1. Review the person’s pre-call plan.
  2. Crystallize the plan and mutually agree what the person’s goals are before the call begins.
  3. Ask questions.

II. During the Call

  1. If possible, be invisible.
  2. Concentrate on the action. You will act as instant replay after the call.
  3. Don’t get sucked into taking over the call, no matter what happens.

III. Post-Call Review

  1. Compare what actually happened to the pre-call plan.
  2. Evaluate the person’s call and make constructive suggestions.

Use this guide as a tool the next time you’re out with your representative. Discuss this concept with each representative, decide which accounts they need you to use your managerial influence and which ones will be training calls.