Today I saw a question on a B2B expert network website that I found helpful in re-lighting the TLOTL blog boiler, which had been silent since my vacation to Southern California in mid-August. I literally have 5 post concepts from that trip that I have committed to banging out at some point. But sometimes, seeing a business problem in the form of a question is all it takes for me to overcome a mild case of writer’s block. Here is the question I saw, and my response below it. Enjoy! And, as always, your comments, questions, and protests are encouraged!
The Question: “I just read this blog post from Cloud 9 Analytics (http://cloud9analytics.com/2010/09/02/3-tips-running-a-successful-weekly-sales-meeting/ ). I was inspired to take this to the Focus Network. What are you (sic) tips for running a successful sales meeting? What have you seen that doesn’t work?”
My Answer: Great question! We’ve all been in good and bad weekly sales meetings. And since the stakes are usually high, these meetings are always educational, regardless of how good or bad the numbers are.
The tone and substance of the article you referenced is nicely even-handed and process-oriented. So I’ll go the other way, perhaps erring on the side of bluntness. Here are my 8 tips (4 “WHAT WORKS” vs. 4 “WHAT DOESN’T WORK”) for a good weekly sales meeting.
1) Right audience. The weekly sales meeting needs to strike a balance between too few and too many participants. It can’t be a back-channel meeting exclusive to lobbyists and senators, but neither can it be an unruly town hall. To promote continuous improvement, there needs to be an atmosphere of transparency and collaboration. In my experience, there’s always a point of diminishing returns in meetings, where the honesty becomes a bit less rigorous with each additional attendee.
2) Solid routine. If every week’s meeting seems like bad Reality TV, there may be a lack of structure to the meeting. Call a side-meeting with the stakeholders where you propose a “time budget” for how the meeting will be run. Also get agreement on the specific reports and forecasts to be reviewed each week, and who presents them. Establishing familiarity allows people to focus on analyzing results and proposing improvements.
3) Meeting discipline. This is the weekly sales meeting — a necessity for most companies. For those who need to attend, it needs to be treated with respect. It starts on time, and it ends on time. Habitual lateness and random absences are not tolerated. If you’re on the road and your schedule allows you to conference in, do it, even if you are not presenting. Usage of mobile devices during the meeting must, by definition, be more important than sales (which keeps the lights on and probably pays for, or subsidizes, your mobile device usage). So if you’re using your iCrackoid during the meeting, there must be a family emergency — in which case you should excuse yourself — or a sensitive corporate transaction that can’t wait till the meeting is over. Holster that nerd-gun for the next 60, sit up straight, and pay attention.
4) Facts vs. fiat. If we want to help drive sales, then color commentary must take a back seat to black-and-white truth. The functions that support sales (finance, marketing, operations) often resist quick changes without a logical justification. If they resist for a personal agenda, or no agenda, that’s a “sales prevention department” problem. But if they’re being good stewards of scarce resources (money, people, time), they should be able to review data, and collaborate on solutions. In the long run, this approach builds a broader base of support for the sales team, and drives better results on the top line.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
1) Hand-waving. If you present at this meeting, you must inspire confidence in your audience. For most of them (especially your CEO) this probably isn’t their first rodeo. They know it’s hard, and that’s why they hired (or had someone hire) a talented guy/gal like you to figure it out. So if you’re not yet performing to plan, show them how you’re getting closer to that goal. And ask for, and accept, help.
2) Learned helplessness. If you took an action last week to fix a problem, please be prepared to discuss either (a) how things are better now, or (b) how things will be better next week. This is especially true if you serve the sales team in a support role. But it’s also true for sales managers who enforce policy.
3) Needless sparring. Some bickering is inevitable when building cohesive teams. But frequent food fights not only waste time, they discourage contributions from smart people who prefer not to enter the Sales Thunderdome — i.e., “two men enter, one man leaves.”
4) Empty proclamations from the ivory tower. I’m talking to you, Marketing-executive-giving-the-monthly-update. We actually do care (a lot) about the focus group or web site usability study you recently conducted. And the Google Analytics reports showing the “engagement lift” from last month’s social media push are interesting (really). But unless you can discuss, numerically, how these projects grow revenue in the current quarter, let’s save it for later. This is the weekly sales meeting.