There are two occasions when a sales manager should take a ride. One is when you have a new salesperson who's never seen the company's products presented. The other is when you have a salesperson who's not performing, and hasn't been for a while. The important difference is that in the first case, you're doing the selling while your new hire watches; in the second case, you're doing the watching while your salesperson presents.

SHOW ME Say you have a new sales rep. Assuming he's been hired properly and has the right personality for the job, don't just order him into the car. Explain to him that he's going to observe how you present the company's products in the home. Let him know what you want the ride-along to do and why.

Make it clear that during the presentation, his job is to focus strictly on what you're doing. He should be completely quiet. You don't want two people talking. He shouldn't even be making small talk or issuing compliments to the homeowner. He's there to learn.

If the prospect wants to know why the company sent two salespeople, explain that one of them is a trainee who is there to become familiar with all aspects of the company's product and its service delivery. You may even tell the prospect that the new rep is a technician, along to measure, or a customer service rep. I'm not suggesting that you lie, but don't make it any harder than it needs to be. You might not want prospects to get the idea that the company is using them as guinea pigs in an experiment to see whether or not the rep will work out.

DEBRIEF IMMEDIATELY When the presentation's finished, thank the prospect and get back in your car with the new rep. It doesn't really matter whether or not you sold the job. Windshield time is educational. You want the rep to learn how you sell.

Before you begin talking, make sure the customer is out of earshot. Debrief immediately, when the experience is fresh. You want the new guy to ask about the presentation book, the sequence, and the company story. If he's never before sold in the home, the ride-along will familiarize him with what goes on there: kids screaming, people leaving mid-presentation, etc. The most important thing he must learn — and that you need to teach him — is how to create the incentive to purchase.

I usually take a new salesperson out for a ride-along three or four times before handing him his first lead. If he doesn't sell anything for a week, I find out the reason. If he doesn't sell anything halfway through the second week, I'll ride with him again. How can I not? These days, 10 leads is a $3,000 investment.

TURNING A SLUMP AROUND If you're riding with a seasoned pro who's in a slump, first make him aware that you will be riding with him for awhile. Don't just show up and bust the guy. Also, communicate that this isn't a punishment. You don't want him to view it as the woodshed. Let him know that riding along is part of the company's commitment to his ongoing success. It's important that he view this as a positive experience. You have to let him know that you care that he's successful.

We all like to win. In discussing his presentation, never accuse. Don't say: “How come you didn't use the heat lamp?” You might ask: “What was it about the customer's response that made you decide not to do that?” Also, compliment him on what he did right. Everyone fouls up and makes mistakes. It's not the end of the world, if you learn from it. —Tommy Steele has been selling home improvement products for 20 years and in business for 29 years. Visit him at