Expense reports are vital

  • 2001-03-29
  • Paul E. Adams
"Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly." - Julie Andrews.

It is time to discuss managing your sales force. If you employ outside salespeople, you understand the problem of controlling a group of "prima donnas." It is not easy.

However, sales and expense reports can help you manage your sales organization. If you are not using such reports as management tools, I suggest doing so. The results may surprise you.

As you will discover, reports can be a means of control. Not only do they keep you informed, they function to discipline your sales organization. But to be effective, the reports must be informative and timely. As you may expect, many sales people dislike them!

The most popular sales report is the daily call report. The format is a listing of the sales representative's daily activities, including customers seen or called, products sold, reasons for not selling and a general commentary on the market.

These reports are important to you. If you see interesting comments on the reports, respond. If a sales representative takes the time to write informative and constructive reports, he or she will expect you to read and acknowledge them. If you don't, they will assume you are not interested and not very motivating.

Your salespeople must appreciate the importance of the reports. It is not enough to demand the reports. Tell them why the information is vital to their success.

Your sales force is on the "firing line." They know your customer's reaction to your product and service, good and bad. If you are to stay ahead of your competition, you must know the market's perception of your strengths and weaknesses. The more detail the better.

Think of the reports as being as important as your Wall Street Journal. Study them and compare them. You will gain a realistic insight into your place in the market.

If you reimburse your salespeople their travel and customer entertainment expenses, require expense reports. If you employ your sales representatives on salary, or a combination of salary and commission, it is customary to reimburse them for mileage, tolls, customer entertainment and hotels. However you do so, you must maintain records and receipts of such expenditures.

Follow these suggested polices when it comes to travel and entertainment expenses and you will save yourself money and grief:

1. No salesperson must absorb legitimate expenses, and no salesperson should profit from his or her expense account.

2. No sales manger should use expense allowances as a way of supplementing any salesperson's income. The reimbursement of expenses is for legitimate travel and entertainment expenses - nothing else. Whatever your policy is toward expenses, it should apply equally to all your sales employees. Avoid misunderstandings; make sure your policy is clear. Discourage any outlandish claims or luxury living at your expense - an expense account is not a bonus for anyone.

3. Insist on timely reports, accurate reports and honest reports. Let everyone know that a falsified report will get him or her fired.

However, be prepared for the unusual. I will never forget my departed friend Joe M., known as "Broadway Joe" at Capitol Records, who during the late 1960's demonstrated a bit of creativity with a problem with his expense report.

Joe was a colorful, warm and vibrant individual who created a razzle-dazzle "Broadway" image. He loved plaid jackets and stylish hats. He was Mr. Dapper, with gold cufflinks, wing-tipped shoes, colored shirts with white collars and cuffs, and a stylish handlebar mustache.

Joe called on the large record stores and distributors in Times Square and mid-town Manhattan. He was the only sales rep in a 250-member sales force that covered his territory by taxi or on foot. One rainy, windy day, as Joe hailed a cab in front of his office on West 44th Street, a gust of wind blew his hat off and down the street and under the wheels of a taxi.

On Friday, when he submitted his weekly expense report to Benny, his sales manager, you could hear shouting throughout the offices. Benny told Joe, in no way would he OK Joe's hat. The home office in Hollywood would never approve it.

The following Friday the hat appeared on the list again, and so did the shouting match. This went on for two more Fridays. Every employee in the New York offices followed the battle between Joe and Ben with keen interest.

Finally, on the fifth Friday, Joe submitted his report and all was quiet. At first, everyone assumed Ben won. But not one to give up, Joe attached a note to the front of his report stating: "Dear Ben, my hat is in this report, you find it."