5 Tips for Effective Sales Meetings
"Sales meeting.” No two words in the English language cause a reps’ eyes to roll more than these. They will feign sickness or claim an emergency client meeting in order to avoid what they are sure will be a horrible experience. Then, when the meeting starts, these malcontents will demonstrate their malcontent-ness by acting out, commanding the floor, complaining and blaming everyone else for their lack of sales.
Sales meetings are important, though. They can keep a team a team. They can be informative and informational. Since all sales challenges are shared, there’s a good chance someone in the room has an idea or a solution that is exactly on point, thus saving sales angst, frustration and teeth-gnashing of biblical proportion. While sales meetings are necessary, boring sales meetings are not.
Managers talk. Information is shared in various ways. Some prepare an agenda and think about what they want to say ahead of time. Others choose to formulate their thoughts while they’re speaking. Those monologues tend to wander like a shopaholic at a mall, eventually arriving at the intended destination, but having made many stops along the way.
Meanwhile, reps sit staring, fighting the impulsive and rebellious thoughts in their heads. If they had thought bubbles appearing over their heads, you could read things like, “I can’t believe a meeting was called for this nonsense.” “What a waste of time.” “And they wonder why we aren’t selling more.”
OK, so then what should happen instead? Sure, there is information that needs to be shared, such as equipment updates and known scheduling issues. But the really good sales meetings also follow five rules. Why five? Because this is a column, not a book. Deal.
1. Start on time.
Do not tolerate late. If you “just give it a couple of minutes for everyone to arrive,” you not only disrespect the people in the room, you enable the laggards. Make it known ahead of time that the 9 o’clock sales meeting will start at 9 o’clock and if all are in attendance by then, it will end exactly on time as well.
This first point is more important than you think. Regardless of how well salespeople are treated, it is common for them to feel unappreciated. Don’t give them any fuel for that fire. A meeting that starts on time says, “We understand that your time is valuable.”
2. Have reps prepare something so they are involved.
Perhaps have everyone bring one researched lead or one vertical market news item they’ve found. Doing so sends the message, “Be sales curious. Opportunities are everywhere.” Or maybe each rep brings one sales challenge to the meeting for group discussion. These can be everything from “Has anyone found a good source for leads?” to, “I’m having a problem with a particular client and could use some input.”
Note: This should not give reps the green light to complain. If the conversation starts to turn in that direction, suggest that the issue be taken off-line, lest everyone will chase that rep down the rabbit hole where the Mad Hatter and an angry Queen await.
3. Engage in conversation.
Make it a discussion more than a lecture. Good managers know where they want each item on the agenda to end. That is, they know what point they’re trying to get across. By including the salespeople and asking questions to which they know the answer, it will take only gentle nudging and course-correction.
There is a vast difference between being told something and arriving at a conclusion independently. One can result in defensive rebellion and the other with a self-satisfying sense of inclusion.
Did someone make a big sale or perhaps their first? Give a shout out. It might even be possible to find one positive thing to say about every attendee at the meeting.
The reason for this is not so that everyone gets a trophy, but rather salespeople get the message, “Management is paying attention.” Learned helplessness happens when one gets a sense no one cares and no one is noticing. Praise is free. A little scratch behind the ear can result in someone standing a little taller, not to mention a rapid foot thumping.
There are many ways to make a point. Even if the equipment is sitting idle and you, management, are panicked and angry, choose your words carefully. The client will hear every emotion your sales reps are having. Scare the reps and they’ll sell from a point of fear. Be encouraging, even if you’d like to kill them. In every problem, there is opportunity.
Salespeople should leave a meeting engaged, informed and motivated. Management should feel satisfied that everyone is on the same page. Good meetings can accomplish this if everyone does their job. That starts with an agenda that is crafted and not just thrown together.
Of all these five rules, it’s No. 1 that is likely the most important. Salespeople have notoriously short attention spans. While they, themselves, waste a spectacular amount of time, they hate their time being wasted. Meetings that start late and run long become the breeding grounds for discontent.
It is critical to set attendees’ expectations properly. If you tell people it will be short, keep it that way. Imagine rounding up a group of toddlers and then reading the instruction manual for operating a flux capacitor. You are not dealing with people who are paid by the hour. Move it along.
Alexander Stewart, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, had instructions for those giving a sermon that applies here: Keep the introduction short and the summary brief, and keep the two as close together as possible. On behalf of salespeople everywhere, Amen to that.
One last point. The best companies constantly solicit feedback. Apple, for example, sends out an email that asks, “How did your call go?” They are not only checking on the employees but also seeking to improve. Given that we all live in a world where there are few unspoken thoughts, especially when it comes to ratings, it is entirely appropriate to ask for the input of the meeting’s attendees after it is over.
Make it anonymous if you wish, but be certain to follow up and seek out the opinions and ideas for making sales meetings the best they can be. After all, the answer to the question, “Why aren’t you selling more?” shouldn’t be, “Because there are too many sales meetings asking why we aren’t selling more.”