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December 2017
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The Annual Sales Meeting

Most companies create and initiate an annual sales meeting where they bring all the sales people together – drink the same Kool Aid and hope that next year’s sales rise significantly as a result of this fabulous National Sales Meeting theme and agenda. Issues discussed include everything from upbeat new product introductions, anniversary celebrations, corporate reorganizations, acquisitions, geographic expansions to new marketing strategies. Annual sales meetings are often used to recognize and reward the top performing sales people from the prior year. This “Thank You” theme is a good way to increase sales morale and loyalty.

Well planned sales meetings will have a definite inspirational theme and a clearly defined area of necessary improvement or success opportunities. This could include a product line focus, a geographic focus, customer stratification initiatives or simply a focus on individual targeted account development. A good well planned sales meeting will also allocate time for additional skills training even if it is reinforcement of prior training issues.

Make sales planning a key component
The annual sales meeting is the one time your entire sales force gets together to share ideas, experience and just plain brainstorming. Have each person prepare in advance a presentation of their territorial sales plan to be presented to the entire group. Set aside time for discussion, questions and brainstorming.

A sales plan is a schedule of events and responsibilities that details the actions to be taken in order to accomplish the goals and objectives they have laid out. The plan ensures everyone knows what needs to get done, coordinates their efforts and keeps close track of progress.

Sales plans must define the objectives, timelines and resources required to meet the growth objectives of the business unit, department or branch. The sales plan should detail how the company will achieve growth, profit and product objectives.

Establishing revenue goals without an agreed to, detailed, plan of action is simply a formula for failure.

What about roadblocks
All sales people whine. It’s part of their DNA. That’s okay. Some whining is necessary to bring to the attention of management roadblocks that may be standing in the way of success and the meeting of goals. These roadblocks could range from inadequate inventories, service crisis, computer issues, lack of competitive pricing or positioning or even poor internal support. As the year progresses management often succumbs to the complaints of their sales people that externalize their reasons for not meeting quotas. Too often, instead of dealing with the root cause of the problem (not having the appropriate staffing levels in customer service)) they compound the problem by investing more into advertising or creating promo’s and price adjustments deteriorating existing margins.

Be prepared to discuss sales roadblocks at the annual meeting.
Another response instead of solidifying their core team by training them and providing them with the necessary tools to become more effective, they begin fantasizing about recruiting that “Superstar” that is going to bring a major book of new business to the company.

This mentality supports the often heard evaluation of the sales force that goes like this:

“On a scale of 1 to 10 --- I would rate our salesforce between a six and a seven!”

Listen to what you are saying. You are saying that our sales team is only 60% effective. If that’s really true and it is definitely determined to be 100% the fault of the individual sales person, maybe we should cut their pay and expense reimbursement to only 60%.

Let’s get real – if any sales person is truly totally responsible for only performing at the 60% level they need to be replaced.

Why don’t we do just that?? It’s simple, because it is very rare that a reduction in a sales person’s performance or their performance not meeting expectations cannot be directly attributed to them personally in many cases.
Does sales management seem to be lost in the wilderness at your company? Did your sales manager used to be your top rated sales person that you promoted based on sales performance? Did your sales manager ever receive any formal sales management training? Do you think your sales force needs to be more aggressive? Are you following best practice principles?

These can be telling questions. Often the power of solution is in the question more than the answer because if you ask the right questions, the solutions seem to become much easier to create. Managing a sales force in any industry is no easy task. Sales management is a science but it requires a substantial amount of personal leadership built on the concepts of coaching and mentoring the sales force.

If an employee’s performance is not what is expected, it generally can be traced to:

• lack of training,
• lack of support,
• ineffective management
• lack of competency
• Poor coaching and mentoring

Poor performer competency will increase if they are surrounded by an effective team and are coached by an effective sales manager. However, by the same token a top performer’s competency will eventually decrease as they acclimate to their surroundings if the majority of their teammates are not top performers and they are led by a sales manager that is not an effective coach.

Critical annual sales meeting objectives
Make sure you understand your entire sales team. Know individual strengths and weaknesses. Direct the meeting flow to make sure you have provided the help and support necessary on an individual and personalized basis. A key objective should be personal individual growth by providing training, coaching and mentoring toward specific individual needs.

Regardless of whether your company calls it the annual sales meeting, yearly sales conference, or once-a-year sales rally, the annual sales kickoff meeting is the most important sales meeting of the year. The structure of the meeting’s agenda is one of the key factors that will determine the meeting’s overall success.

Make them enjoy and find value
Salespeople don't like meetings. They'd rather be calling on new customers, closing sales or visiting their top accounts – in other words, doing things that will make them money. Every minute that a salesperson spends in a meeting is a minute he's not using to generate revenue. Regardless, sales meetings are a necessary part of running a sales team.
• Treat sales meetings like prospect presentations.
• Show how you're benefiting the sales team by having this annual meeting
• Make sure your salespeople know that you're not wasting their precious time
• Utilize mini case studies to encourage idea exchange
• Present Sales Success Stories
• Show Appreciation
• Create a Party Atmosphere

Stay on point --- It seems fairly obvious that an annual sales meeting should create discussions of sales-related subjects, and yet topics like expense reports, housekeeping and a variety of other non-sales related topics sometimes creep into the meetings. Some of the topics that come up in sales meetings will be unpleasant. Don't let those issues bring the team down. If you have bad news to deliver, put it in the early part of the agenda and always try to end on a high note.

It’s very important that sales people are provided meeting takeaways. First, all of the presentations and meeting information should be available online over the internet. Second, you should provide some type of sales skills self-improvement takeaway (a copy of book like “Lone Wolf to Lead Wolf the Evolution of Sales”.) Finally, some type of internal marketing hype that is in alignment with your “Sales Mantra – Meeting Theme” should be distributed. Pens, stress balls, leather binders or wrist bands like “WIIFTC” (What’s in it for the customer”) any type of promotional material that keeps your message on-going and fresh.

FUN!!! Life’s too short not to have fun and some self-deprecating humor should always be on the agenda. You could put together a funny satirical video about a fictitious sales call, Hire a Comedian or Elvis Impersonator. I once hired a twelve year kid as an Elvis Impersonator for a leadership seminar and it was a major hit.

Dr. Rick Johnson is the founder of CEO Strategist and a veteran of the wholesale distribution industry with more than 30 years of executive management experience. Sign up to receive “The Howl” a free monthly newsletter that addresses real world industry issues. – Straight talk about today’s issues. E-mail to learn more or to arrange to have him speak at your next event.