Published June 11, 2001

Salesperson Performance Review: Travel with Your Salespeople

"If you don't expect the unexpected, you will never find it." Jurgen Moltmann

You must travel with your salespeople. It's an absolute must, 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 you can in a month of phone calls and meetings. There is no better way to obtain firsthand 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 too much to do, and it is impossible for me to get out of the office," change your way of thinking. Isolation from the marketplace is suicidal. There is no substitute for accurate firsthand market information.

Start by traveling with your most successful salesperson. It will be an opportunity for you to see firsthand how your product is sold and merchandised. As your trips to the field are learning experiences, do not do any selling. You are not there to display your selling skills. It may be tough for you to listen, but you must. As you spend the day or days calling on customers, refrain from interrupting: listen to your sales representative and to your 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 salesperson 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 any thing in particular that accounts for the success of your representative? Are there any special selling styles that could benefit your other sales people?

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 a career? Is he or she ambitious or content to coast?

If you find any individual lacks motivation, has a poor attitude, or a whimsical approach to life, advertise for a replacement. If you don't, but instead 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 in 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 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, be 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? Consider the employee's sales records - are they up to date? If you find the person is not organized and demonstrates poor work habits, write your want ad - unless you believe in miracles.

Finally, if you have a problem sales employee, pay a surprise visit. It worked for me. Tom M.'s sales performance was 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, "let's 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. 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.

(C) Copyright 2001 Dr. Paul E. Adams. Syndicated by Paradigm News, Inc.