"Public floggings and massive humiliation will continue until morale improves". That is a very neat description of the vast majority of sales meetings I have participated in over the years. We read a lot about how to hold more productive work meetings – standing up, distributing pre-meeting agendas, minutes being kept with follow up designations, strict start and finish times – but I am struggling to think when I last saw something on sales meetings. You might think this is a limited and specialised function within an enterprise and that the Sales Managers knows what they are doing. Keep dreaming!
The vast majority of Sales Managers are untrained and merely parrot what they have seen in their previous companies. They were recognised for their individual sales production and were promoted to a leadership role. This usually occurs without gaining any training on the way through, on how to morph from one of the sales team to sales leader. In the new role, they run the same sales meetings they have seen, so there is terrific continuity. Unfortunately it is of the lowest value.
A sales team’s time is one of the most high value resources in any enterprise. There are two reasons for this, the time in front of the client face-to-face has the highest value and everything that happens outside that frame, should support that activity. Anything that doesn’t is an opportunity cost of potential not realised. There is also the cost of salary wasted on low return activities. If you have large numbers of people participating in the sales meeting and you calculate the hourly cost for them to be there and then add in the hourly opportunity cost of not being out in front of clients getting sales, then the costs become substantially scary.
Most sales meetings are a review of the current results and some feedback on key clients. When 20% of your sales team produce 80% of the results, this is a very challenging time for the 80% of people producing 20% of the results. It can involve some pointed questions, harsh tones, accusatory glances, outright haranguing or humiliation on a devastating scale.
Rather than speak with an individual separately, the choice to metaphorically chain them to a post in the town square and flog them for their sins is a not uncommon preference among sales leaders. Sales Managers throwing inanimate objects, accompanied by verbal abuse, at failing salespeople is the thing of legend in Japan. This is especially so in the over 50’s age bracket, who saw plenty of that in their youth and now share the experience with this generation. A Sales Manager meltdown is a thing of terror and decimates the motivation of the team.
When I rode Space Mountain at Disneyland many years ago, it reminded me of a sales life. There are moments when you are calmly cruising along at a controllable pace, there are major ups and downs and then there is the buffeting by wild swings in every direction, over which you have no control. Your emotions are never steady in sales. The exhilaration of the sale is numerically rare, while the despair of failure is the norm. Given this fact, we need to consider the psychological component of the activity and the appropriate structure of the Sales Meeting to lift the spirits of a team facing rejection on a daily basis.
- So let’s begin with an inspirational opening to the meeting to set the tone. It should be brief and inspiring and each time taken by turn by each person in the meeting.
- Communication of key information about events, schedules, new products or processes should be kept brief.
- Goal reporting should be against annual targets and goals broken down to weekly targets. If the target has not been achieved, the sales manager instead of telling them how useless they are, can focus instead on getting them to realise what they need to be doing to improve the results. In a sea of rejection the Sales Manager must offer them words of hope, so they can keep going and try harder.
- Customer updates are great opportunities to share information about what everyone is doing. This often flags that two salespeople are talking to the same company, but to different sections, so some coordination requirement is revealed. It also offers great Best Practice ideas and examples which are learning opportunities for everyone in the room. This needs to be worked on pro-actively and the key learnings drawn out from the salesperson by the Sales Manager.
- Training components in the sales meeting don’t have to be elaborate. Simple role play practice on specific components of the sales call can be isolated out for attention. Questioning skills review can never be overdone for sales people. The Sales Managers role is to coach the activity and praise what is being done well and articulate what can be done better.
- Recognising people is a like a lost art in the rough and tough world of sales. It shouldn’t be like the 1950s revisited, it should be there prominent in the sales meeting. Don’t save the praise up for a rainy day and have drought until that time. If good is being done, recognise it, praise and encourage it – go early, don’t wait. Also don’t forget to recognize the support team, who make the "star" sales person’s life function more easily.
- Get salesperson commitment to the activities which will drive the results. We should all know our ratios. How many people do I have to call, in order to speak with a certain number of people. Of those, how many can I expect to gain an appointment with and of those, how many will buy from me. What is my average size of sale and how does that relate to the target I have to achieve this week? It all hinges around having the motivation and the commitment to put in the effort to drive the activities in the volumes required. Get their commitment each week to make the effort.
- End with an inspirational close to end on a "high" note.