June 13, 2011

Sales Team Meetings – Productive or Painful?

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another…” Hebrews 10:25

I’ve been working with several mid-size sales teams that brought the above verse to mind (albeit out of context). For a variety of reasons, none of these companies were holding any type of regularly scheduled sales meeting. It sounds odd, doesn’t it? No weekly meeting or conference call. No monthly meeting. No big annual meeting. Nada. Nothing.

We’ve all had positive and negative experiences with sales meetings. I’ve personally been part of some I’d rather forget. But a few painful experiences don’t negate the fact that team meetings are an important part of a sales leader’s arsenal. Sure, sales meetings take work, energy and time to plan. And I’ve heard some interesting reasons why these clients got away from gathering their salespeople together. But I was not to be dissuaded. If the mission is to turn-around a sales team, and one of the goals is to create a “sales culture,” then team meetings are a critical component of making that happen.

Recently I’ve had the chance to prepare and lead, or co-lead, sales meetings with a few clients. It’s been fun and rewarding, although not without challenges (the negative veteran, the over-enthusiastic big-talking rookie, the insecure under-performer, inadequate climate control, poor food service, the unhelpful anti-sales executive who excels at taking the air out of the team’s sails). Overall, I was really pleased with what we were able to accomplish and could sense the beginnings of a culture shift in two companies.

I’m often asked by sales managers for ideas or agenda topics for team meetings. Here’s a list that covers a variety of possible agenda items. It’s not comprehensive, but should serve as a good primer if you’re crafting an agenda for a future meeting:

  1. Personal Updates – have everyone share an update on the big things going on both at home and in their territory. Pick a specific question you’d like answered – for example: which 3 current opportunities are you most excited about?
  2. State of the Company/Vision for the Future – brief talk from the CEO or a senior executive about the big picture; always helpful if the talk includes a challenge to the sales team and affirmation about the importance of the sales role.
  3. Results Review – post results and rankings for the recent period. Praise top-performers and allow those on the bottom to feel the heat for not delivering.
  4. Product Training – provide some in-depth training to educate the rookies and refresh the veterans. Tour the facility. Introduce other key players in the company. Don’t assume everyone knows what they should or remembers what they were taught years ago.
  5. Success Stories – ask each member of the team to come prepared to share a success story of a recent sales victory — the acquisition of a new dream client or a major cross-sell or penetration win at a current account.
  6. Deal Strategy Roundtable – have reps share about an opportunity where they’re stuck or would like some help. I’ve been amazed how this exercise engages everyone and often produces incredible value and ideas for the rep seeking advice.
  7. Sales Training/Coaching – tackle an important aspect of the sales process.  The manager or outside resource leads a session that provides training and practical help on a topic like using the phone, crafting the sales story, structuring a winning sales call, asking great probing questions, responding to RFPs, writing proposals, etc.
  8. Business Plan Presentations – assign individuals to prepare and present business/sales/territory plans to the team and management. Ensure the plans cover specific goals, strategies, actions and obstacles to success. The entire process is valuable to the team and management. Allow the reps to ask tough questions of their peers and challenge poorly thought-out assumptions presented in the plans.
  9. Celebrate – celebrate what’s been accomplished and pre-celebrate future success. My old manager, friend and former partner was a master at this. He wanted everyone to taste success and was a big believer in the pygmalion effect. He was right. Try it. It works.
  10. Sales Wish List – provide an opportunity for the team to make a “wish list.” Start a running list of things your people say they’d love to have that would make their lives easier or help improve performance. The challenge is finding a way to get their best ideas without letting it devolve into a bitch session about all that’s wrong with the company. Good luck with that 🙂
  11. Marching Orders/Focus/Contest – send the team off with a clear focus. Provide marching orders for the next month or quarter. Ensure there is great clarity of mission and that there is no question about priorities. If you’re into sales contests, this is the place to kick it off and stoke the competitive nature of your winners.
  12. Check-out/Takeaways – I like to wrap it up by going around the table and getting honest feedback about the meeting from each person. It’s also productive to ask each attendee to share their main take-aways and what they can implement immediately when back in the field or on the phone.

Are your sales team meetings productive or painful? Are you in a rut, having fallen into a dull routine? Or have you given up meeting altogether because it wasn’t convenient, it wasn’t working or you’re simply too busy to plan it?

Sales leaders must engage the heads and hearts of their teams. Meetings, done properly, are a great opportunity to do both.

 

*Gotta give credit where credit is due: Much of what’s in this post I learned from Donnie Williams. He’s a friend, was my sales manager way back in 90’s and was CEO of Sales Force One – the sales consultancy he and I co-founded during my first go-round in coaching/consulting. Thanks for teaching me well Donnie!