Making the most of the meeting

I have good news and bad news.The good news is that you have been given responsibility for the company's next sales meeting. The bad news is you have been given responsibility for the company's next sales meeting.Vote of confidenceOn the one...

I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that you have been given responsibility for the company’s next sales meeting. The bad news is you have been given responsibility for the company’s next sales meeting.

Vote of confidence

On the one hand, it is a vote of confidence. On the other hand, sales meetings are high-stress, time-consuming activities that demand seemingly endless planning, management and patience – all in an effort to please many different masters.

Quite often the process of getting the meeting done overwhelms and obscures the reasons for doing it in the first place.

Is it all worth it?

Yes. An effective sales meeting can electrify your salesforce, instantly push your business ahead and deepen commitment to the company’s brands and marketing strategies.

Few other tools in the marketer’s arsenal have such power. Yet few are so misunderstood and poorly utilized.

An investment

As a marketer, you owe it to yourself to consider money spent on a sales meeting as you would advertising expenditures – an investment from which a measurable return is expected.

Planning is the key to accomplishing this and reducing the strenuous nature of the enterprise. It will smooth out the process and maximize the results.

1. Start with a clearly written brief. ‘The better the brief, the better the meeting.’ Simple but true.

A proper brief clearly lays out your meeting objectives, specifies your requirements and clarifies your expectations. It creates a yardstick by which the meeting’s content can be developed and against which success can be measured objectively.

Questions

To develop the brief, ask yourself these questions:

- What message do you want to deliver?

- What action do you want your reps to take when they leave the meeting?

- What do they need to believe and feel during the meeting to take the desired action?

- What information must you provide in order for them to act?

The process of writing the brief will crystallize your own thoughts and those of others involved.

Yes, the brief takes a lot of effort. But once it is done, you can use it to get agreement on all aspects of the meeting from all those who will be involved, especially senior management. In addition, the brief is a terrific guidebook when talking with any suppliers.

2. Suppliers, suppliers, suppliers. Is it best to go outside, or do it all on your own?

Your answer depends on three things: the time you have available to commit to planning and executing the meeting; the money you have available to hire a supplier to save you from doing it all yourself, and the expertise you have in-house to successfully pull it together on your own.

Smaller meetings can usually be handled with internal resources, but beyond a certain point, it is false economy not to hire an outside supplier.

Outside help

If you choose to seek help outside, be aware that suppliers fall into two broad categories: ‘production’ and ‘communications’ companies.

(The names are mine – you will hear different terms in the marketplace, but I believe you will find these two categories hold up.)

Generally speaking, a ‘production’ company is staffed with creative people who develop a theme and produce what you request – from slides to videos.

A ‘communications’ company provides this service, but also helps you define what you need in the first place.

Both are viable alternatives. There are reputable companies in both categories. Your choice should reflect your needs, budget and company culture.

Production companies – whether they are producing slides, shooting videos or handling staging – are ideal if you know exactly what you want.

Do not waste each other’s time by briefing them on every detail of your sales and marketing strategies, but do explain your overall objectives, describe your audience and the tone or style of communications you are seeking.

Another set of legs

Hiring a communications firm gives you another set of legs that understands your business and your audience, and can manage the entire meeting process on your behalf. This leaves you free to concentrate on what only you can do: manage the meeting content.

Start working with a communications company by sharing your detailed brief so the company knows exactly what you are trying to achieve. Then, give the firm time to go away and develop a creative treatment for the entire meeting.

In its proposal, you should expect suggestions on which communications tools it feels are appropriate for each section of the program to create the emotional impact that will generate your desired action.

3. Appoint a travel and hotel co-ordinator.

If you are the chief organizer for the content part of the sales meeting, you have got enough to do. Designate someone else to handle all the travel arrangements, to be a liaison with the hotel and look after the million details that crop up on-site.

It is a whole other job – and one that is just as important to the meeting’s success, especially from the audience’s point of view.

Make sure you deliver the same service to your audience that you expect them to deliver to your company’s customers. This sends an important message.

4. Meeting taskforces need champions.

If your meeting is being handled by a joint committee of sales managers, product managers and senior executives, do everyone a favor and delegate one person as the meeting champion.

Not only does this simplify matters internally with information flow and consistency, it also makes life considerably easier for suppliers.

Agenda

5. Develop your agenda.

Of all the material you wish to cover, decide what is most important. Think about what is best presented when everyone is together (the theme launch, product reveals, motivational segments, etc.), and what is more appropriately done in the smaller, hands-on environment of break-out sessions and workshops (detailed marketing plans, training sessions, regional programs). Turn this into a day-by-day agenda.

If other people are presenting at the meeting, brief them clearly on the meeting’s objectives, audience and tone. Tell them how much time they have, and give them the agenda so they can see where their session fits.

Keep the agenda from becoming overcrowded. Remember your audience’s attention span, especially since they are away from home (often in a resort location) with lots of socializing the night before.

6. Review and rehearse.

Give yourself enough time to review every presenter’s script and speaker-support material. Consider length and conciseness. Avoid letting each speaker repeat the same basic information that is best covered once at the beginning. This review also lets you spot any conflicts or omissions ahead of time, when they can still be corrected.

For visuals, try to review every presenter’s slides on paper, before they are produced. (How many times have you paid horrendous rush charges for slide changes that could have been avoided by reviewing them earlier?)

One strategy I have found useful is holding an internal ‘content rehearsal’ before leaving. Get each presenter’s suggested slides put on overheads (before they are produced.)

Lock up everyone in a boardroom (including senior management) and run through the whole show. Check for slides errors and sequence problems. Listen to presentations for consistency and adherence to the overall theme.

Refinements

At this stage, changes can still be made and refinements are still possible.

Once all the slides are finalized and produced, plan on one more rehearsal before you leave.

(I have never found there to be enough time to do this properly once on-site.) In any case, your key goal on-site is to focus on your delivery so your presentation comes to life.

7. Tailor your message to your audience.

Material that is important to you, on your side of the podium, may mean little to reps in the audience. Resist the urge to define the meeting content in terms of what is important to you. Ask yourself instead: what is important to the audience?

Your aim is to better equip them to serve their customers, not understand how the commercial was made and the package graphics developed.

Consider who you are talking to: how many are new recruits, versus company veterans? What is the male/female split? Average age?

Ask the audience

If you are unsure of what is relevant to the audience, ask them. Phone up 5% or 10% of your salesforce, and get their opinions. Always ask yourself: what will help our people sell more effectively and confidently?

8. Plan the whole meeting experience.

A meeting is more than 100 or so people in a dark room for a few days.

It begins when the meeting is first announced, and its effect lasts in the memory of the audience for months afterwards. Throughout the event, your goal should be to educate, motivate and entertain your audience.

Build excitement for the meeting with a teaser campaign. Get people talking and excited ahead of time. Be sure to make the meeting memorable.

Something of value

Remember, your audience has been taken off-territory, away from home and families. Make sure they leave with something of value. A good meeting theme or visual device can be the ‘hook’ that ties everything together.

Try to follow up the meeting in some manner, to reinforce content and sustain the enthusiasm. Perhaps a highlights piece, or a souvenir video. Get the biggest bang for your meeting buck.

9. Build in time for play.

During the meeting, you should plan time for your audience to relax and socialize. If you do not, they will resent it and do it anyway. There is a natural urge for reps to socialize, relax and party with their peers. So channel this energy into one or more specified time slots.

Come up with special activities people can do together socially, such as team challenge sports. Or just leave the time free, so reps can get to know one another and digest the information they have heard. Remember, the informal exchange of ‘war stories’ is an important and productive part of any sales meeting.

Avoid candy floss

10. Avoid candy floss.

Try to resist the temptation of unnecessary flash. Keep your meeting dynamic with interesting and relevant content, delivered by enthusiastic and polished presenters.

When you do use communications ‘bells and whistles,’ whether lasers, pan screen a-v, live talent, singers and dancers, or multimedia, make sure they make sense for the message you are delivering.

Your reps cannot be fooled with ‘candy floss’ presentations – briefly dazzling and sweet, but ultimately empty. Without credible content, they may have more fun, but your real objectives will not be achieved.

There are, no doubt, times when you believe meetings are not worth it. But remember: effective meeting experiences do indeed get talked about and acted upon for years.

Bev Roberton is vice-president, account director of The Mariposa Group, a Toronto-based company that creates and produces sales conferences, multimedia events, sales promotion campaigns, incentive travel programs and corporate television programming for companies.