Making Sales Meetings Work

by Rick Phillips

For decades, the sales meeting has been used as the critical link between the company and the sales team. The sales meeting traditionally has been used to update sales staff on product knowledge, selling skills, sales goals, marketing direction, administrative and service needs, etc. It should also be used as an opportunity to encourage, reward and inspire.

Let’s face it. The front-line salesperson takes enough of a beating from competitors and the occasional unhappy customer. He or she should be able to look forward to the atmosphere of the staff sales meeting. There should be anticipation and enthusiasm for these meetings.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

These are just a few comments about staff meetings out of hundreds I’ve gathered over the years:

  • “The meetings are boring.”
  • “The meeting has no agenda, it’s going nowhere and getting there far too slowly.”
  • “My manager can’t run a meeting.”
  • “The meetings cover old ground, seldom settling the issues.”
  • “The meetings are an opportunity to get together and gripe.”
  • “The meetings never accomplish anything.”
  • “Too many meetings focus on paperwork, form and administrative trivia.”
  • “The meetings don’t focus on real-world customer situations.”
  • “The meetings waste people’s time.”
  • “The meetings are an opportunity to berate the sales staff’s efforts.” Here are some ways to make your sales meetings work:

Make an agenda and stick to it

Pre-plan everything you will discuss, and be prepared with handouts, product samples, questionnaires, overhead transparencies, etc. Some managers I know will distribute the agenda several days before the meeting. The agenda is considered a commitment of what will be covered and who will be talking about each item. Further, the sales staff has the opportunity to get their thoughts together and ask better questions.

Announce the successes

Nothing starts a meeting better than recognizing the winners. Take a few minutes to congratulate and thank the people who are contributing, meeting goals and closing the deals.

Keep the staff involved and in the learning mode by asking them non-threatening questions. Being made to look bad is seldom pleasant. Get the sales team directly involved by having team members present product demonstrations or sales tips at each meeting. The presenter should be given ample time in advance to prepare. This should be seen as a reward for some expertise. Talk about information and ideas that will help the salespeople make more money.

At least one positive war story should be a part of every meeting. Again, involve individual team members. The story does not have to be a David vs. Goliath epic to be informative and educational. The manager should pick the story several days before and then give the presenter some written general guidelines:

  1. Tell us how you made the first contact.
  2. Tell us the customer’s situation. Who was the competitor, what did they do right, and what did they do wrong?
  3. Tell us what you think you did right and wrong.
  4. Tell us who helped in the sale Credit other sales staff, service, administration or coaches in the customer’s organization.
  5. Tell your story in two to five minutes. It’s entirely possible to have a boring war story if it goes on too long.
  6. Send your people to Toastmasters if they can’t tell a good sales story. It’s my feeling that all salespeople should be involved in Toastmasters for at least two years to learn how to make a professional presentation.

Meeting guidelines

Never go over the scheduled time without notifying the sales staff well in advance This establishes an unspoken respect for their time. It lets the sales staff know that they can set appointments on the morning of the meetings and be certain of their schedule.

Reward people who are on time instead of trying to punish people who are late One way to reward individuals might be to have a product knowledge contest at the end of meetings. Those who score the highest get company-paid lunches or dinners, tickets to sporting events, etc. (Incidentally, the late ones would probably not be late if they had really wanted to come in the first place.)

Talk about prospects

Each of the sales team should expect to talk about his or her top 10 prospects for about three minutes. This puts pressure on some of the team and gives others the opportunity to brag. Peer pressure is very good to promote sales activity on the team. (This event should also offer your sales reps the opportunity to ask for help or support and expect that other team members will offer it when necessary and desired.)

Talk about expectations

The sales meeting is the forum — talk about where the team and the company are going. The goals of the team should be discussed here in a positive, upbeat manner.

Make it fun (while being tasteful)

If you are not creative on the fun-making side of things, assign fun to one or two of your sales team who are. Take advantage of the creativity of your people. Let your “fun” directors have five minutes near the end of the meeting. This will cause some anticipation throughout the meeting, as well as end the meeting on a positive note.

Don’t let visitors take over your sales meeting If people are coming from out of town to talk about a new product, hold a product meeting. If a corporate big shot wants to talk to the team, great! Show them the meeting agenda, and ask if they would like one of the slots or prefer a special meeting at a different time. Unless it’s something very special, they would probably appreciate the fact that they will only be expected to talk for a few minutes.

Sales meetings should be an event your people look forward to If they don’t, it’s time to go to work on making the meetings work for everyone.

10 ways to insure a sales meeting will be a disaster:

  • Publicly make a bad example of one sales rep.
  • Let someone else humiliate one of your sales reps.
  • Concentrate on administrative forms and policy, etc.
  • Try to put on a meeting without a plan.
  • Don’t plan for fun.
  • Don’t let the sales team talk or get involved in the meeting.
  • Invite or allow someone from outside the team to talk down to your sales professionals. (Administrative people are usually best at this)
  • Allow one sales rep to dominate a part of the meeting.
  • Let the meeting drag on longer than expected.
  • Allow the meeting to sink into a “pity party,” concentrating on gripes and whining.

© Copyright 1996 Rick Phillips. All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.

Rick Phillips is a management, sales and customer service speaker and consultant based in New Orleans. He is president of Phillips Sales and Staff Development (PSSD), a nationally recognized training firm he founded in 1984.

You can contact Rick at:

Phillips Sales and Staff Development
P.O. Box 29615
New Orleans, LA 70189
Phone: 504- 241-7704
1-800-525-PSSD (7773)
Fax: 504-242-4179
E-mail: pssd@web-net.com