Go for the Gold with Ride Alongs
Guest Faculty Post by Doug Vause
Like the rest of the world, watching the Olympic games in RIO captivated me. You can’t help but be amazed by the effort, determination, and lifelong pursuit of the athletes who have worked so hard to perfect their talents, craft, and sport. I especially enjoy watching the segments that highlight an athlete and give you a glimpse into their lives and the stories behind “The Athlete.” It always amazes me that the majority of athletes come from the simplest and humblest of circumstances, and how much work and dedication have gone into their life quest to be the best at their sport.
For most, that quest began at a very young age, from then through to the present, they have had one focus, one purpose, to be the best.
Another aspect of the Olympics that stands out for me and touches a very special place in my heart are the coaches, the men and women you always see standing in the background. These individuals represent, in most cases, a lifelong partnership in the athlete’s pursuit to compete in the Olympics. They are not the ones you will see standing on the podium when a medal is won, nor the ones who receive the accolades and recognition, and they are not the ones who receive the endorsements or acknowledgment from the world for what has been accomplished.
Yet none of the athletes would have made it without the coaches who have been by their side throughout their journey.
Olympics aside, when you take a deeper look into the individuals or team within any sport, or for that matter any career, those who are at the top of their game are most likely there because of the efforts of amazing coaches and mentors they have had along the way. In the world of sales, as a career, this also holds true. While sales can sometimes be categorized as more of an “individual’s game” the reality is even the best have been, at some time in their career, coached and mentored by someone willing to pass on the skills and lessons of the craft. If any of us are to achieve our maximum potential, we will all need to seek out great mentors and coaches. Great mentors and coaches can benefit all aspects of our lives, whether it is a sport, career or even personal endeavors. It’s what can push us further beyond what we ourselves think possible!
“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” ~Vince Lombardi
The Value of the Ride Along
Over the years I have seen one of the most valued opportunities for providing mentoring and coaching slowly slipping away from common practice at a lot of companies. Admit it – as sales professionals, when was the last time you had your sales manager take the time to actually go with you on ride alongs? And if they did, was it just to fulfill the obligation or did they really leverage the opportunity to be a great mentor or coach… at the Olympic level or any level for that matter? When was the last time you actually pursued this opportunity to reach out to them and asked them to spend the time with you? Think back to my example of the Olympics, do great coaches search out the athletes or do the athlete’s search out great coaches who can take them to the next level? Regardless of where you are in your sales career, you can always benefit from great coaches and mentors. In most professional sports, it is often when the athlete is at the top of their game that they are receiving the most coaching and mentoring. Why should it be any different for us? Isn’t income reflected in direct proportion to success? Far too often in a sales career, those at the top feel they don’t need any coaching, or someone telling them anything new. Why is that?
The Mechanics of a successful Ride Along
The Ride Along creates the perfect opportunity for observation and learning, coaching and mentoring. The mechanics or steps to a successful Ride Along are simple, yet often left more to chance than followed with a level of discipline or precision. Again, think about practicing for an Olympic event, is anything left to chance? Of course not, it is all practiced with purposeful intent. Here are a few suggestions for getting the most out of your next Ride Along. This list below will benefit both the Sales Manager and Sales Rep. The first two steps are preparatory for the actual Ride Along.
• Due Diligence and Pre-Meeting Prep – Make sure that both you and your manager are prepped and ready for the meeting. Take time to review the client, past history (if applicable), current situation, changes within the business environment that are motivating the visit, problem(s) you are wanting to help solve, the stated purpose of the meeting, individuals you are meeting with (titles, motives, emotional attachment to the problem, risk to them if your solution succeeds or fails), probing questions unique to each meeting participant and their role in the problem(s) you are discussing, who’s going to ask what questions of whom, specific outcomes and takeaways for the meeting both for you and the customer, material and collateral that will be used during the meeting, logical follow up and next steps.
• Role-play and Practice Session – How many athletes just show up without first practicing the routine? Why should it be any different for us? Take the time to role-play and practice through the meeting, asking each other questions and discussing the potential customer’s answers and objections. Doing this will allow both of you to think through how best to “frame” both the question and your answers. If this is going to be a larger meeting attended by others within your team make sure you include them in the role-play so you can help them know the part they are intended to play, and what questions they are intended to answer, and how you will help to direct or orchestrate the meeting. With each additional individual, you add to the meeting, the importance of role-playing exponentially increases. The role-play and practice session creates the perfect coaching and mentoring platform.
• Day of Meeting, Actual Ride Along – Assuming that all of the prep above has been done, the actual Ride Along provides a perfect opportunity to observe the “Live Performance” first hand. If you do not already have one I suggest creating (and carrying with you) a Ride Along observation sheet consisting of all the areas that you would like to see demonstrated during the actual meeting. Prep, as noted above, would most certainly be included as the first steps on the Ride Along Feedback Sheet. I have seen these forms be extremely basic or very detailed. Greater detail affords the ability to provide more specific feedback and sometimes initiates a deeper discussion, leading to a coaching and mentoring opportunity within a specific area. As tenure and skill set to increase, so does the depth of specificity in demonstrated skill level. Again, think back to how an Olympic athlete would break down each individual step in their routine and work to perfect that specific step. Refinement of the key steps in a meeting allows the meeting to flow more efficiently/effectively driving toward the desired outcomes.
• The After Meeting Review, “The time for Feedback and Learning” – The after meeting review provides the perfect opportunity for learning and improvement. It’s when both the coach (mentor) and sale rep (student) can spend some valued time reviewing the Ride Along form and breakdown/evaluate each progressive step of the meeting. It’s a great opportunity to evaluate the prep work and role-play. Did we effectively do our due diligence? How did the meeting flow in relation to our role-play? Did we have the right information, assumptions, questions, answers, materials, players identified (ours and theirs)? Was the alignment of SME’s to their technical experts properly aligned – our proper team members to theirs? Did we effectively cover the proposed agenda, the purpose of the meeting, discussion topics, takeaways, and outcomes? How did we perform? How did our team players perform? What did we do right? What could we improve upon?
Sale managers, just think how quickly skill sets would improve if you followed this type of process. Sales reps just think how much you could learn and improve if your sales manager spent this type of quality time helping you perfect your craft! How would it benefit you financially?
Sale Managers, if you want to improve your team and their performance, get out and establish a routine with quality Ride Alongs. Sales Reps, if you want to continue improving and perfecting your craft, get your sale managers to come Ride Along with you. How can you be an effective coach if you don’t spend your time with the athlete in the gym? Ride Alongs are the single most effective way to transfer knowledge and improve performance.