The salesman told me we would begin at 9 a.m. The opening event turned out to be the first of two cold calls that morning. I then discovered the salesman had no appointments scheduled for the entire day. After the two planned cold calls, we stopped for an 11 a.m. lunch.

After lunch, not during, the salesman sat in his car, looking at a list of potential builders. He was seeking some prospects to visit in the area and was frustrated because he left his sorted ZIP code list at home. I asked if he had the list on a spreadsheet, perhaps on his laptop. He did, except the laptop also was at home!

Needless to say, this is not the type of performance you would expect from a salesperson who knew he was traveling with a consultant who had been paid by his boss to inspect sales performance. But it demonstrates what this salesperson (and many more like him) probably does on a typical day.

But here is the key question: Who is really at fault? This salesman reported to a manager who had allowed this type of performance to occur for nearly two years without taking corrective action.

Bad salesmanship doesn't happen to managers, it happens because of them. If the outside rep is failing, sales managers must stop complaining and exercise one of three choices when dealing with bad performance: ignore it, get rid of it, or fix it. There is no room for whining.

If you're the sales manager:

1. Verify whether your salespeople have skills. The first step in the leadership process must be evaluation. Never assume an outside salesperson has the right skills until you verify. A manager should plan joint days of sales travel where the salesperson is instructed to craft the "perfect day of sales." The goal should be to produce a series of solid days of activity in the field. If a salesperson can't produce a single high-quality day, he probably can't produce a series of them.

2. Don't do the job of your salespeople. A sales manager who consistently takes over meetings is not helping his salespeople grow. Even when things go wrong, sometimes the manager must be willing to watch in order to properly evaluate performance. Be a coach as well as a manager.

3. Focus on behaviors, not results. The biggest mistake managers make is to focus on short-term sales results. You know that a prospect who is too eager to give you business raises a red flag. A proper sales relationship takes time to build, and the real test of sales leadership is to know what behaviors produce results and then to teach those behaviors.

4. Make training a priority in your organization. If you have a performance problem, fix it. Field coaching can provide opportunities for performance feedback, and training provides the skills, expectations, and confidence to succeed.

If you want to beat the competition, improve your people and the way they perform. Your clients and prospects can get materials and deliveries from lots of suppliers. But the thing they can get only from you is your people.

Rick Davis is president of Building Leaders Inc., an LBM advisory firm specializing in sales management training. He is an international speaker and author of Strategic Sales in the Building Industry, a BuilderBook publication. 773.769.4409. E-mail: