Sales meetings, properly run, have a tremendous impact on sales performance.
But most sales managers are reluctant to run them and, when they do, they run them in precisely the wrong fashion because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of motivation.
Why run a sales meeting?
We should touch on why before we get to how.
If you believe all of the common assumptions about sales commissions, you could be excused for presuming that sales meetings are redundant. After all, if salespeople are motivated to sell by the comp plan, why interrupt them with a sales meeting?
Of course, the comp plan does not guarantee positive behaviors (although it’s pretty-much guaranteed to drive a handful of negative ones) so it’s incumbent upon managers to engineer environments that harness salespeople’s natural motivation.
Sales meetings are the most important element of a carefully engineered sales environment.
- Enable salespeople to understand the relationship between their activities and the performance of the overall organization
- Provide salespeople with short term feedback on their performance – which is particularly important when they are working on longer-lead-time deals
- Enable salespeople to benchmark themselves against their colleagues
- Enable salespeople to drill critical communication techniques
How NOT to run a sales meeting
I suspect many sales managers are reluctant to run sales meetings because they believe that they need to put on a show for their salespeople. They need to train them and motivate them, after all.
But a good sales meeting is not a training session and it’s definitely not a motivational talk. A good sales meeting is an opportunity for salespeople to get reacquainted with the larger machine to which they belong and to compare their performance with that of their colleagues. For salespeople, this is inherently motivational.
Sales managers should be facilitating sales meetings, not presenting them. (It’s all about the salespeople. Not the sales manager!)
Sales meeting: run sheet
Let’s start with a run sheet for an ideal sales meeting.
[table id=5 /]
The first thing that you should notice about this sales meeting is that it’s data driven.
The sales environment is a complex one. Sales opportunities are complex. The sales value chain is complex too (with researchers, campaign coordinators, sales coordinators, salespeople and project leaders all working together to originate and prosecute opportunities). And the larger organization adds still more complexity (with sales needing to interface effectively with customer service and engineering, etc). Plus, to add insult to injury, each salesperson is likely to be engaged with up to 100 sales opportunities at any one point in time.
It’s simply impossible to have a meaningful discussion about sales without all team members staring at the one dashboard. It’s okay to voice opinions as long as they are opinions about data – as opposed to opinions masquerading as data!
You should design your dashboard around your sales meeting – and not the other way around.
If you don’t have a fancy dashboard, at a minimum, examine salespeople’s calendars in your sales meeting (in conjunction with opportunity lists in CRM). Get salespeople to use group calendaring properly – and to color-code meetings by type.
To have a meaningful conversation, you must look at both the progress of opportunities and the effort expended to generate that progress. You and your salespeople must develop an intimate understanding of the relationship between effort and velocity.
Most sales managers are reluctant to ask questions of salespeople.
Not me! If I’m talking to a salesperson I want to know why a prospect is likely to buy. I want to know why it makes sense for the prospect’s organization. And I want to know how the prospect will benefit if they say yes and suffer if they don’t. I want to know the name of the prospect’s manager and their key subordinates. I want to know all kinds of stuff.
It’s not that I really need this information. The issue is that I want to know that the salesperson has a profound understanding of the opportunity. And I also know that verbalizing this understanding is likely to result in breakthrough ideas.
If you suspect that your sales manager isn’t digging deep you need to sit-in on their sales meetings and show them how it’s done. There’s no avoiding the fact that a sales manager must be a true leader (especially given the nature of salespeople).
On the subject of leadership, the sales manager needs to foster a collaborative environment in sales meetings. Team members should feel free to praise and criticize their colleagues’ performance, so long as there’s a clear understanding that team members are, in fact, members of a team (who share a common goal).
If you’ve ever had a great coach in a sporting environment, you know how this works.
Drill means role play
If salespeople are not role playing then they are not training. It’s true that in sports and the military there’s classroom instruction – but this instruction is preparation for the training, not the training itself.
You learn skills by doing drills. And in sales, you drill by role playing. End of story. Salespeople (like athletes) should ideally do drills every day (whether they enjoy it or not). At a minimum there should be 10 minutes reserved for drills in every sales meeting.
I like to divide a typical sales conversation into a set of subroutines with a transition between each pair.
Salespeople will discover that sales conversations tend to take the form of a small number of patterns. Each pattern consists of a set of subroutines, with transitions between each.
It’s unrealistic for salespeople to learn an entire sales presentation verbatim but they can certainly learn the ideal patterns (the sequence of sub-routines). And they can – and probably should – learn transitions verbatim.
I learned many transitions as a salesperson, some 25 years ago, that I still hear myself using (unconsciously) to this day. Here’s an example (works great when you’re facing a skeptical executive and you’re keen to take control of the conversation):
Well, Susan, in order to determine if I can add any value here today, I just need your answers to three simple questions; do you mind if I go ahead and ask them?
When I was a sales manager, we didn’t try and teach our salespeople these transitions. We drilled them on them. We had them role-play back and forth (in normal-time and double-time) until they became reflex. My salespeople used to joke that they didn’t think these transitions worked but they couldn’t help using them, anyway!
Duration and frequency
You can see from the run sheet above that the sales meeting should be 40 minutes. No more.
When you first get started, it may take a little while for everyone to learn how to cover all this ground in 40 minutes. But you need to practice until you can.
That means, no small talk, no posturing and no extra-curricular discussions of any kind. I’m a big fan of stand-up meetings. If you can’t meet in person, GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts works fine. Just make sure everyone has a video, and good headset and a reasonable data connection (these are mandatory, by the way), as are sales meetings themselves.
On frequency, if you have an inside sales team, your meetings should be daily. If you have a field-based team, sales meetings should be twice weekly or weekly. Preferably the former and NEVER less than weekly.
A capable sales manager can discharge a significant percentage of their management responsibilities in a well-run sales meeting. And, as I advised at the outset, a properly-run sales meeting will have a significant impact on your team’s performance.
How ’bout I run a sales meeting for your team?
If you’d like me to come run a sales meeting for your team, let me know in the comments. I don’t have a lot of a capacity but if it looks like it’ll make sense for both of us, I’ll find time. (You will have to pick-up my travel and living costs, of course.)