May 01. 2012 11:00AM

Stop boring sales staff meetings

By Tim Hagen

  
There is one sacred activity that every sales staff member holds near and dear to his or her heart. Though every company's sales department might carry out this tradition a little differently, it remains true to its core function.

Held on regular scheduled intervals, it calls to gather the constituents who are dedicated to its purpose and guide them to greener pastures. You may know this sanctified ritual as the sales staff meeting. The typical sales staff meeting serves as a platform for all sales staff members to gather either weekly or bi-weekly to discuss the progress and necessary course of action to meet both individual and department-wide sales goals. In most cases, a department manager or leader will stand before his or her sales people and dictate to them that sales need to increase and all goals must be met.

The paragraph above depicts sales meetings as riveting, edge-of-your-seat inspirational gatherings that any employee would be grateful just to be able to stand outside of the room it is being conducted in, let alone have the opportunity to be one of the chosen sales people who get to have great knowledge and vast wisdom bestowed upon them. So why is it that if I walked into an actual staff meeting right now I would see bored faces, disinterested eyes, faces glued to cellphones or altogether absent bodies? - Because sales staff meetings are anything but wisdom filled, awe inspiring, performance driving assemblies.

Unfortunately, managers and leaders consistently fail to utilize sales staff meetings to their full potential. Managers have been misled to believe that using cliche rhetorical questions such as "everyone is going to hit their numbers, right?" or "who is in risk of missing their sales quota," will somehow urge their staff into meeting quotas and hitting goals but in fact it promotes silence and cuts performance off at the knees. Employees are not going to willingly become the source of disappointment by yelling "no" when asked a question like "everyone is going to hit their numbers, right?" Yet week after week managers continue to hold staff meetings using the same tactics and week after week employees fail to meet goals. According to a CSO Insights , A Boulder Colorado sales research firm, almost half of all sales people never meet their quota.

The reason why sales staff meetings do not produce satisfactory results does not lie within its original intent, a platform for all sales staff members to gather and discuss the progress and necessary course of action to meet both individual and department-wide sales goals, but in the manner in which its intent is carried out.

When managers take a leader-centric approach to conducting sales meetings we often hear statements similar to those listed above, "increase sales," "everyone has to meet their goals this quarter." Do statements like this really drive performance? Does saying something out loud make it come true? No! Attempting to drive performance to achieve a goal using the goal itself has proven to be very ineffective. It also signals to employees that managers are not interested in "how" goals are met but that they just need to be met. We call this "Results-Oriented" management. If I told you that I had set a goal for you and the goal is to fly a plane, but when you ask me how to fly a plane my only response is "fly the plane," how do you think you would fair? In order for sales people to reach their goals they first need to know how, what knowledge is needed, what abilities are required, and what skills should be practiced. A good sales leader will divide performance into two main areas: knowledge and skill. For example, handling price objections is a big issue in today's selling world. Most sales people do not have specific knowledge as to what to say and/or do; therefore, how can a sales person develop a skill in something they do not know? Yes, many sales meetings have leaders stating "you have to overcome those objections" again missing out on the "how".

Managers will improve employee engagement in staff meetings when an employee-centric approach is used to conduct sales meetings. Managers should focus on employees by asking questions to identify and understand any shortcomings. Incorporating activities that facilitate knowledge transfer and skill development will improve performance and help employees reach their goals.

Sales meetings will be transformed into weekly sessions that are designed and dedicated to engagement, knowledge transfer, and skill development when sales leaders stop managing employees and start coaching them. The following are examples of how to use coaching at your next staff meeting.

1. Product training. Ditch the product PowerPoint dump by breaking employees into groups and assigning each group with the responsibility of learning about a specific area or attribute of the product. Have each of the groups teach and demonstrate their assigned area or attribute to the rest of the staff – to know something is to have the ability to teach it.

2. Presentation skill development. Yes, dreaded role-play hated by all employees. But much like meeting goals, employees won't improve just because you arbitrarily told them to. Employees should practice working through a designated case study in groups of two. Have both partners in each pair act out the case study twice, once as the customer and once as the employee. After employees have completed playing the role of the customer have them provide their partner with feedback as to what they did well and where they have an opportunity to improve.

3. Continuous learning by way of books. Assign your entire staff with the task of reading a book in the field of selling. Every sales staff meeting choose an employee to share with the staff one thing they have learned from that period's chapter or section and one thing they have successfully incorporated into their job from the previous chapter or section. Reading a group assigned book can be used as a tool to continue to develop your staff on a continuous basis.

4. Objection handling. In the field of sales, as we know it, most sales people will experience objections and barriers to the sales process. Often times the success or failure of a salespersons career will depend on their ability to handle these scenarios. Provide sales people with the techniques and strategies to overcome objections and barriers by facilitating dialog between small groups of employees. Present the groups with a typical objection or barrier the entire team often faces. One by one have each group present to the whole team how they would go about handling it.

Your sales staff meetings should be treated as sacred time segments that provide an incredible opportunity to learn from staff as well develop them!

Tim Hagen is the founder and training reinforcement and coaching leader at Sales Progress in Cedarburg.

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