Most building materials companies waste money on their sales meetings by not getting a more lasting benefit or return on their investment. Sales meetings are expensive, and they seem to be done more out of habit than with the goal of having them pay off.
From my years of attending and speaking at building materials sales meetings, I have studied the problem and turned it into this diagram as a way of visualizing the problem and the solution.
Sales meetings should be about imparting information to the sales team that makes them more effective. If you look at the lower left of the diagram, you will see a line that represents the current level of performance or knowledge. Above that line, you will see another line that represents the desired level of improvement.
Most companies have the best meeting they can and hope something good happens.
Most companies don’t think this way; they just have the best meeting they can and hope that something good happens. Like most marketing programs, the measures of success tend to be subjective based on people’s opinions rather than actual results.
Sales people frequently tell me that the most beneficial part of the meeting, for them, is the time they get to network with the other sales people. They value networking over the content that the company tries to share.
The energy at a good sales meetings is usually very good. If you look at the top of the diagram, you will see that the maximum level of motivation, knowledge gained and commitment takes place at the meeting.
What people don’t consider is that this drops off after the meeting. This decline is normal, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. What can be done is to slow the rate of decline and to raise the level of information retention and performance that stays with the sales team over the long term.
You leave the meeting all energized and hopefully have thought about what you learned at the meeting to be an even better sales person. Think about what happens in the days after the sales meeting.
It’s Monday morning, and the sales person’s phone starts ringing; voice mails have to be handled, and emails have to be read and dealt with. There are reports that are due and customer issues to resolve. Perhaps there are new products to introduce and new procedures that have to be followed. In order to deal with this, old habits and beliefs start to take over; it is quickly back to business as usual.
See how quickly this can happen?
What was the purpose of your meeting again?
It starts at the planning stage when most companies focus on the elements of the meeting rather than the objectives and outcomes that the meeting should deliver.
They start by picking a location and then trying to fit the previous year’s agenda into this new location. We always play golf at the meeting, where should we play this year. We need a fun evening, what can we do at this location. Should we have a team building event? Oh and let’s get a motivational speaker, like the guy who climbed Mt Everest, who can get everyone super motivated for about 24 hours.
Don’t Hire This Guy!
It starts at the planning stage when they don’t set out clear objectives. What do we want to accomplish at the meeting? Maybe it really is all fun and games and celebrating. If that’s the case, then, by all means, have at it.
If you want the meeting to have more of a business purpose, you need to spend some time planning. And I don’t mean planning the location or the agenda. Too often, the person in charge of planning the meeting is only focused on the location, travel arrangements, and meals. The measure of success is staying on budget and how much fun and enjoyment everyone had.
Do not fault your meeting planner. This is a tough and many time thankless job. It’s a full-time job to manage the logistics of a meeting.
Someone needs to take charge of the business outcomes of the meeting. I suggest that there is a team that includes a field sales person who can call bullshit if they feel your idea won’t get through to the sales team.
Here are a few suggestions:
Identify the top issues you want the sales team to understand, take away and make a new part of their job or sales approach. This should not be more than three. People can only retain so much.
Realize the value of every slot for speaking. Take the entire budget and divide it by the number of half-hour speaking slots. The number will probably surprise you. Would you knowingly waste that amount of your companies money?
Just because the technical leader always speaks, he shouldn’t speak if he doesn’t have something to contribute to the three key messages of the meeting. Perhaps there is someone, like the head of customer service, who has never spoken before who would help reinforce the key messages.
Ideally, every speaker is repeating and reinforcing the main messages. McDonald’s has learned that when they introduce a new sandwich that they need to make sure everyone hears the message at least six times. Too many executives think that, because of their position, if they just say it once it is understood and will be followed.
My view is that it is the speaker’s job to get the message across to the audience. It is not the audience’s job to understand the message when it is not communicated and reinforced in a way that they can understand the message or the reasons why. It is also not the audience’s job to sort through all the messages they receive and determine which are the most important.
Do not try to implement something you are not prepared to enforce. I am seeing a lot of companies today that would like to implement or improve their CRM system. They approach it in a, “If we just show the sales people how this makes sense, hopefully, they will use it.” What a joke, it won’t succeed. When you cover something that they know you are not really serious about, you just gave them a pass. It also makes them wonder what else they can get way with.
Deal with the elephants in the room. If you are having problems with quality, shipping times, warranty claims, customer service, technical support or something else, deal with it. Be honest and believable. And don’t tell me you don’t have any problems, everyone does.
For added credibility have a sales person on your planning team. It can also be a good idea to have a sales person speak and share what he has learned that makes him more successful. If you have a new program, like CRM, have a few salespeople use it first and present their initial doubts as well as why they are now believers.
Make sure that the person the salespeople report to is on board with any new ideas. I frequently see marketing or the CEO introduce a new program that is not fully supported or understood by the sales leaders. The result is, the next week the sales person is back at work, and after they have been introduced to a new direction, their sales boss basically tells them to forget that and get back to do business the way they always have.
Make sure to follow up and reinforce the messages
Another important and often overlooked element is to follow up and reinforce the messages of the meeting in the following weeks. Think of it as a marketing campaign to your sales team to reinforce the message and make sure they understand that you are serious.
For example, in the weeks following the meeting have the CEO, or VP Sales send an email to the field every Monday morning, reinforcing the key messages from the meeting. Encourage them to contact you with their questions and results. Call out individuals who have followed the plan and the successes they have. If you go back to my diagram, you will see how this will slow the rate and amount of “after meeting” performance decline.
I hate to see building materials companies waste their limited dollars on ineffective programs like trade shows, legacy programs, like printing catalogs and sales meetings. I hope I have made you think about how to make your future meetings more effective and given you a few ideas on how to do it.
One final suggestion.
Hire This Guy!
I have never and never will climb Mt Everest. I won’t make you feel that you can achieve the impossible. I will give your sales team a new view of their customers that will result in more sales. An approach that is believable, understandable and just makes sense. Sales people frequently tell me that their sales calls rise to a new level.
Here are some of their quotes.
“I couldn’t believe how open the customer was. He told me things I never thought he would share.”
“The customer was not in a hurry to end our meeting.”
“I feel that he is looking forward to our next meeting.”
“I have a much better understanding of my customer’s issues and what it will take to get him to say yes.”
I don’t have a canned presentation. Each one is tailored to your company and audience. I do speeches as well as workshops for building materials companies.
I also love to play “Stump The Whizard,” in which your salespeople, tell me their toughest sales challenges, and I give them the answers.
Please contact me if you would like to discuss having me at your next meeting. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 720-775-1184.
What Other People Are Saying
“Great message Mark. I’ve been to WAY too many meetings that are a complete and total waste of either owner or shareholders money. Always worse with publicly held companies (sadly)”
Brian Makins –
Southern Pro Sales
“Mark, good comments on improving sales meetings. Normally sales meeting are a large portion of sales budget and should be well planned.”
Angelis Consulting Group
“Great insight Mark!”
Sr. Area Sales Manager
“A very good read. Lots of nuggets in there to help plan better meetings.”
General Manager, Aust/NZ
Armstrong Ceiling Solutions (Australia)