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Sales meetings are a natural part of all distribution organizations. It is what our charter states — we sell stuff to others. At some point, as sales organizations, we need to talk about how all this selling is going.
In a recent group discussion with some sales managers, we had a healthy discussion about engagement and how to make these gatherings more productive. Salespeople, by their very nature, tend to be independent free spirits. Forcing them to stay seated for an hour or more while the management drones on about company performance and what they should focus on will never gel with their personalities.
This is the rub. Management wants to corral them and the team would rather be doing anything else with the time allotted. So, how do we get salespeople to see value in a sales meeting? How do both sides, management and sales professionals, walk away feeling that the gathering was not a colossal waste of time? Here are some ideas to start bringing both sides together.
When associates are disgruntled with management, the most common cause is confusion about purpose. Why are we doing something? Are the goals clear? Probably not. If your meetings are stale and lack engagement, it might be a good idea to go back and revisit why you have them. What is the focus of the meeting? Are we there for training? Is the meeting going to focus on a particular segment of the business? Are we going to focus on financial performance?
Often, salespeople are pulled into these gatherings with very little information on what the goal of the meeting will be. This needs to change. How can we expect people to engage when we don’t give them an opportunity to prepare?
Make sure to create an agenda and distribute it well ahead of the meeting. If you are going to talk about prospecting or upcoming projects, allow the participants time to gather information. People don’t engage when they are uncomfortable sharing on a topic. The sales ego is a fragile thing. No one likes to look stupid in front of their peers.
Some of you might be wondering, why do I need an agenda if we discuss the same things each meeting? This leads me to the next suggestion — diversity.
Where is it written that all sales meetings must follow the same format? Many of us have fallen into this trap and justified it with the word “consistency.” There is nothing wrong with consistency as long as it doesn’t lead us to professional laziness. One of the best suggestions from my gathering of sales managers was to diversify the focus of the meeting each week.
For example, the first week of the month could focus on the financials and company performance. The second week could focus on individual wins or challenges. This is where we want the team to really engage. The third week could be a training session with a supplier rep. The fourth week could be a discussion stemming from an article or piece of media assigned by the manager.
I found this suggestion intriguing. One of the group members suggested that he would look for an interesting article or abstract (a short version of a business book) and distribute it to the meeting participants. During the meeting, they would discuss the piece and look for any opportunity to incorporate some new technique.
A friend of mine, Paul Reilly, hosts a podcast called “The Q&A Sales Podcast,” where he discusses questions sent in by his listeners. I could envision the team sitting down, listening to one of his short-form episodes and discussing the technique presented.
Obviously, the four different formats model is a suggestion, but what else could you try? Some companies are separated into different divisions or customer segments. Would it be beneficial to focus on one of these segments for a week?
Sales managers struggle to get their people to sell the whole basket of goods available. Most salespeople become comfortable with a particular product group or customer segment and they rarely step outside their lane. By mixing up the focus of the meeting each time, salespeople will be exposed to areas where they might not be as comfortable.
Roles and Attendees
During our group discussion, one of the members suggested that he was having trouble with team members holding back because the company president attended all sales meetings. I get it. The leader of this sales organization wants to know what the sales team is doing to drive revenue. Unfortunately, it has led to very reserved conversations and a reluctance to discuss real challenges.
So how do you tell the boss that his presence is having a negative effect on the meetings? Not an easy one. In this example, the president preferred to talk about the numbers — revenue, margin, pricing, etc. This is how his mind functioned.
Taking notes from an earlier paragraph, one group member suggested that the president attend the month’s first meeting. In this meeting, they would focus on financials and sales performance. The president’s involvement would not be necessary for the other three meetings that month.
Obviously, the sales manager would need to do a little soft selling of the idea to the president. However, most company presidents I have worked with recognize the issue and see where their presence might become a barrier.
Another great way to get team members involved is to assign leadership roles in the meeting. In other words, let others do the leading for a while. A good manager is willing to let others have the spotlight. This can be particularly effective in those meetings where you are trying to highlight a product group or customer segment. Let someone share their experience and expertise. If someone wants to take the lead on new prospects or projects, let them.
The less the manager talks, the more the team engages.
These are only a few suggestions to break up the monotony of the sales meeting. Gatherings are supposed to be productive and, dare I say, fun. This is a time to swap wins and losses. It can be a time to vent about customers who annoy us to no end. It is a galvanizing time, but don’t let the banter get you too far off track. Sales meetings should take no longer than 55 minutes.
I will leave you with a quip from one of my former mentors, Dr. Rick Johnson: “If you really want to keep meetings short, take away the chairs.” Good luck, and know that I am always here to help.