Traveling with your salespeople is a must. An absolute must. It is a learning experience. If you spend a day visiting prospects or customers with one of your representatives you will learn more about selling your product or service than in a month of phone calls and meetings. There is no better way to obtain first hand information about your market than by being there. If you are having successes, you can find out why. If you are having problems, here is a way to discover what they are, before they put you out of business.
If you are thinking, "I do not have time to travel, I have to much to do, and it is impossible for me to get out of the office," change your way of thinking. Isolation from the market place is suicidal. There is no substitute for accurate first-hand market information.
Start by traveling with your most successful sales person. It will be an opportunity for you to see first hand how your product is sold and merchandised. Your trips to the field are a learning experiences – do not do any selling – you are not there to display your selling skills. It may be tough for you too listen – but you must. As you spend the day or days calling on customers, refrain from interrupting, listen to your sales representative and the customer's comments. Try to observe the details of each sales call. Notice how your representative is treated. Pay attention to the relationships between your sales person and your customers.
Study the sales presentations. Note the reactions. Focus on what advantages and benefits are stressed. How are your products and company presented? What sales techniques are used to promote the product? How is resistance overcome? Is there anything in particular that accounts for the success of your representative? Are there any special selling styles that could benefit your other salespeople?
Observe your salesperson's behavior, is it professional? Question the representative's degree of motivation and commitment. Is the salesperson enthusiastic about selling your product? Does he or she believe in it? What kind of attitude does the person have? Does the person have any long-term goals? Is representing your business a job or career position? Is he or she ambitious or content to coast?
If you find the individual has a lack of motivation, poor attitude, or a whimsical approach to life, advertise for a replacement. If not, and you look the other way, hoping for the best, the situation may undermine the morale and attitude of your other salespeople. Successful and well-established firms may be able to tolerate non-productive employees, but a lazy person to a new business is a parasite.
Next, is the salesperson well informed? Does he or she have sufficient product knowledge? Is your employee up to date on company sales, credit, and warranty polices? Do you have a general sense that your representative has sufficient knowledge to perform adequately in the field?
As you spend time with your representative, study the person's work habits. Look for clues that may explain the poor performance. Is the person organized? How well does he or she know the assigned sales territory? If your employee must get directions to a customer – become suspicious. Does your employee have your most recent sales and merchandising aids? Is the material organized and used properly? How well does the person manage selling time? What condition are the employee's sales records – are they up to date? If you find the person is not organized and demonstrates poor work habits – unless you believe in miracles – write your want ad.
Finally, if you have a problem sales employee – pay a surprise visit. It worked for me. Tom M.'s sales performance was always erratic. If we had words, he would shape up and do well for a few weeks, then slip back to his old habits. I was perplexed, I liked Tom and did not want to let him go, but knew his on-again-off-again performance could not be tolerated. Frustrated, and determined to solve the problem, I flew to St. Louis on a Sunday, called Tom that evening, and told him to pick me up at my hotel in the morning. As he did not know I was coming, I suggested he not change his plans for Monday. When he arrived at my hotel, he asked which customers I would like to see. "Tom," I said, "lets just go to your first scheduled sales call." When he indicated that he needed to find a phone, I had my answer. Tom did not have a sales plan. We spent a part of the day together and it was obvious to me that he was disorganized and could perform only under pressure. I collected his credit cards. I have been criticized for my surprise visit approach as deceptive, even unfair. It may be, but as I said, it works.