Jim Hughes
Jim Hughes

Imagine a company struggling to be successful. Learning that the most successful companies have a strong sales culture, the owner of the struggling company decides to copy the other’s examples. The owner invests thousands of dollars to attend training, buy books and videos, and hire consultants so the company will have a great sales team. However, when sales do not improve the owner becomes convinced that their market is different and sales techniques do not work here.

Sound familiar? If it does, before you toss out those videos or start asking for refunds, you need to know what sales trainers have known for a long time. Sales techniques really do work in all markets and when they are not working, they are not being used correctly. Your people will swear they are using the techniques they were taught, but how can you be sure? Here are some strategies that will help you discover what’s happening after sales training and how to improve it.

Join the Crew

Taking the training with your people may seem like an unnecessary expense in both time and money, but there are good reasons to do it.

How can you make sure they do the right things if you don’t know what they were taught? It lets you know who actively participated in the class and who just sat there listening. We know that adults only retain about 10 percent of what they read and 20 percent of what they hear. We also know if adults participate in class — through scripts and role playing scenarios — retention goes up to around 90 percent. If you are there, you can encourage your people to participate more in class, increasing the probability that you are maximizing your return on investment. When the boss is attending the training, most people will make an extra effort to arrive on time. Just remember you should not keep them out late “networking” or “engaging in offsite teambuilding” the night before.

Companies where the owners or managers attend training will almost always experience increased sales.


Ride-alongs are one of the best ways to discover what’s happening after sales training. Unfortunately, it is one of the most difficult things to get owners and managers to do. Mostly because it takes them away from their already overloaded day, but there is also a feeling that the salesperson will do things differently because the boss is present. Ride-alongs should be done randomly once a month. Your people should not be able to predict when a ride-along will occur.

Things to keep in mind with ride-alongs:

• Expect employees to be nervous, but don’t expect them to omit key sales techniques. If they miss key parts of the presentation, there is a problem;

• Avoid the urge to take over for the employee, even if it looks like they will lose the sale. This is one of the most difficult things for owners and managers to do, but, remember, the object is to see how the salesperson performs; and

• After the call, do some coaching. Ask them how they think the call went. Mention the things you noticed and give them some guidance on what to do next time.

Who’s Behind Door No. 1?

You don’t hear much about mystery shoppers, but they have been used in the HVAC industry for a long time. The idea is to have someone schedule a sales call and provide you with a detailed report of how your company performed. Having your mystery shopper call other companies in addition to yours is a good way to see how you stack up to your competition. Some things to keep in mind when using mystery shoppers:

• Pick a friend or relative that wouldn’t be recognized by your people. Make sure the shopper is a complete stranger to your employees.

• Let them know what to expect and what to look for. This will help them know what they should report on.

• Pick people who can be themselves. Mystery shoppers shouldn’t try to act their way through a call. The main thing is to keep the salesperson from realizing this is a mystery call.

• It is very important that they don’t actually buy a system, a lesson I learned the hard way when I asked my brother-in-law to be a mystery shopper several years ago. Thankfully, he bought the new system from our company.

• Use mystery shoppers at the start and end of the busy season. Mystery calls at the start of the season help you fine tune your sales team while calls at the end let you know what gets skipped when things are busy. As soon as you get the results from a mystery shopper, share it with your sales team. Remember, this is meant to be a learning opportunity, not an excuse to beat them down.

Recording the Sales Call

Recording your sales person’s presentation in the home is a twist on the mystery shopper model, following the same guidelines, but with a couple of exceptions. It might seem a little controversial but there is no better way to find out what’s happening after sales training. The equipment needed has come a long way since the ‘80s and ‘90s, when camcorders were the size of a six-pack. Today, recording devices are small enough to fit in a ballpoint pen. Now you can be the proverbial fly on the wall to see and hear exactly what takes place on the sales call. It is very important that you know the laws for recording employees in your state. Every state is different. Also, make sure your salespeople know that they may be recorded on a sales call. They will not be aware that they are being recorded, and they should be aware that the recordings will be used for training purposes only.

If your mystery shopper is calling competitors, do not try to record their presentations. The goal is to help your people get better, not to spy on the competition, which could leave you in legal trouble.

Knowing what’s happening after sales training is the next step in building the successful company you’ve always wanted.

Publication date: 1/20/2014 

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