Involuntary terminations of service sales personnel are far too common and far too expensive. A failing salesperson usually (and unfortunately) hangs around for close to a year before the relationship is severed. The employer not only loses the salary paid, but also employment taxes, car allowances, administrative costs, training costs, and other incidentals. Up to $250,000 in lost business is gone forever. Many such terminations are justified, however, many of these men and women are salvageable. If a few directive sales management practices are implemented, many of these otherwise failures could be productive contributors to the selling team.

Training. No contractor would consider sending an apprentice technician to perform diagnostics on a centrifugal chiller. It's just as senseless to send a salesperson into battle without the proper training. There are two general categories of training that apply and they are of equal importance.

First is generic sales training, which can be attained through seminars, webinars, books, tapes, etc. This is the blocking and tackling required to face the many diverse situations that pop up on a daily basis.

Second is training specifically for the commercial service salesperson. Obviously, this will come from within our industry. There are several trainers who focus specifically on service selling and, even more specifically, on commercial service agreement sales. Make sure to check several references before investing in training that might not hit the target. Both areas of training should be viewed as a work in process. That means having an annual training budget.

Managing. This single most common mistake managers make is managing on the sales line only. I much prefer to manage at the active prospect level. By definition, this is a live prospect who has been called on at least once, hasn't signed, and hasn't completely shut the door. The manager should require an active prospect list to be turned in at the weekly sales review meeting.

I look for at least 10 active prospects at all times and a maximum of 15. This information enables the manager to see where a salesperson is placing his or her efforts. If all 10 prospects are very small agreements, encourage the salesperson to reach higher. Also look for prospects who remain on the list for weeks or months. Are they a viable prospect? What steps are being taken to move them through the selling cycle? The manager should challenge the salesperson regarding their action plan for each prospect. Too many times a sales trainee is ignored for several weeks only to discover that patterns are already set and the road to failure is a self fulfilling prophesy.

Selling Tools. Just as technicians need the proper tools and diagnostic instrumentation to do a good job, professional sales personnel also need to be properly equipped. Business cards and company brochures aren’t selling tools, even though most sales people carry nothing else into a first-call meeting. Most contractors whom I've trained or who use our remote package, would say I belabor this point. The reason — with professional selling tools your team has a fighting chance. Without, it's like jumping off of the roof at the count of three; the destination is that predictable.

Sales Coaching. Some, if not most, of those reading this article don’t employ enough salespeople to justify a fulltime sales manager. Regardless, the role must be filled — either by the general manager, service manager, or the owner. Nothing beats accompanying your salespeople on sales calls. This practice gives the manager an opportunity to see, first hand, how the salesperson is developing and what developmental needs and additional training is needed.

After making a call together, it should be critiqued, first by the salesperson, then by the manager. This practice will show whether the salesperson is truly using the selling tools properly (if at all).

Before leaving the car, ask the salesperson what their objective(s) are. The answers will determine if it was a successful call. If it happens to be a service agreement prospect, you want to accomplish three goals: gain permission to conduct a survey, gain access to data such as energy bills and maintenance records, and set a time/place for a final presentation to ALL decision makers. Good and consistent sales coaching eliminates surprises down the road.

There's one last mistake that can cause the ultimate failure of a sales trainee. When a new salesperson hits one out of the park, there's much rejoicing and celebration. This isn't the time to abandon the sales management process. Too many times I have witnessed a huge sale followed with months of complacency. The management attitude must remain, "great job….what are you doing for me today?"