How to Plan an Effective Annual Sales Meeting
As organizations go through process of planning their upcoming annual sales meetings, we thought we’d share a few thoughts and lessons learned we’ve picked up along the way from working with our clients.
Two questions we like to ask of executive sponsors and meeting planners are basic ones, but all too often forgotten. The questions are:
“What are you trying to accomplish with this meeting?
“What do you expect the participants to think, feel and do differently as a result of this meeting?”
Many times the goals of the meeting aren’t well defined – it appears as if someone is attempting to fill timeslots so that everyone is engaged for two or three days, but with no cohesive message or desired outcome.
While there may be multiple priorities and objectives that the meeting is attempting to accomplish, it is very important to consider which of the numerous objectives are realistic and attainable in a relatively short period of time. To assist with this prioritization, here is a helpful memory device: M.E.E.T.I.N.G.S.
A good sales meeting may accomplish several of the following objectives – but not all at once and rarely by one speaker.
Motivational speakers are often the hallmark of annual sales meetings and there is an entire cottage industry focused on providing upbeat, inspirational speeches for these meetings. Former athletes, military veterans, retired government officials, pop-psychology authors and many others provide fantastic options for these motivational sessions.
What is often missing is a solid linkage between the polished presentation and the priorities facing the organization. While the motivational component might be uplifting, it’s important to ask the speaker what the participants will take away from the session and how they can link it to their jobs moving forward.
For better or worse, many participants at an Annual Sales Meeting have come to expect to be entertained. This can be a valuable opportunity for the team to get together and blow-off steam, while taking away a positive memory from the event.
This is a great objective, but it is often combined in an ill-fated attempt to do too many things – e.g. motivate, entertain, team-build and train – all at the same time. Our suggestion is to keep any entertainment separate from other training and information sessions.
3) Education and training
We frequently get requests to make a two day intensive sales training program “fit” into a 2 to 4 hour slot. To make matters more challenging, the session is often scheduled on day two or three of a four day program that is packed with non-stop speakers and networking events.
This setting is not ideal, nor is it realistic to expect people to be highly engaged and tuned in at this point in the program. Our recommendation is to either begin the meeting with training (coming in a day or two early and focusing on the training content), or using the meeting to simply kick-off a more comprehensive training program and follow it up at a later date.
Providing an engaging overview and interactive session can provide a great orientation to the training material, but do not expect to train the complete curriculum during the sales meeting if only a few hours are available. The training material can be followed up with Virtual Instructor Led Training sessions or by in-person workshops scheduled at later times during the year.
4) Team building
Team building activities all too often get the brunt of jokes regarding annual sales meetings. While these sessions are scheduled with the best of intentions, participants are often suspect of anything designed to coerce them into working better together.
If Team Building is one of the objectives of the program, ensure it is well vetted, consistently receives high-marks by participants, and is tailored to the unique culture of the organization.
A poorly designed and executed program put on by the hotel or a third party can actually have negative effects on the overall program. If a quality team-building program isn’t available, then the organization might be better off giving everyone the afternoon to seek recreation (golf, hiking, sightseeing, etc) and let the team-building become more organic than forced.
5) Information sessions
Having the entire sales organization together provides a great opportunity to relay information about new products and services, industry trends, competitor threats and other corporate communications.
While a necessary and critical part of any sales meeting, the question again should be what are the participants being asked to do with this information? Are there tools and reference materials available to support the information? Why should they pay attention and what’s in it for them?
Continuing to ask these types of questions can help to focus in these sessions and make them more meaningful and productive.
For many sales teams, the annual sales meeting may be the only opportunity they have to meet face to face and network during the year. The value of these interactions should not be underestimated.
Often, these sessions are where participants informally exchange best practices, support and coach one-another and discuss what they’re seeing in the marketplace. Our suggestion is that networking should be reinforced and supported throughout the conference by providing many opportunities for the participants to interact through small group working sessions, break-out groups, and allowing informal networking time between sessions.
In addition, the event planners should provide for a means for everyone to stay connected after the session (via social media, participant lists, internal applications, Chatter, etc). Building on the sales professional’s desire to connect and interact can have a profound impact on the organizations ability to adapt and grow.
7) Goal Setting
Setting and discussing annual sales goals for the year is a traditional activity conducted in a sales meeting. Whether done at the divisional, regional or team level, this allows for each group to really dive into their plans for the year, discuss as a group and commit individually to what they will do to achieve the desired results. A few questions that can help drive the annual sales plan:
- What is the vision for the sales team this year?
- What are the goals that will be measured that support the vision?
- What are the strategies and tactics to achieve this vision?
- What are the personal commitments to achieve the results?
- What is the follow up/accountability plan?
8) Strategic direction
Finally, no sales meeting would be complete without a discussion of the future. Typically covered by a key executive or several executives, this session will cover where the organization is headed and what the plans are to get there.
This should be delivered prior to the divisional and team breakouts if possible so that each group can tailor their plans based on the strategic direction of the company. The goal of the strategy session is to have the participants feel positive about where the company is headed and to inspire the sales team to achieve higher goals.
Remember, it is not realistic to accomplish all of these objectives at one meeting, at a time. However with careful planning and engagement with the right partners, the sales meeting can be a motivating, informative and productive kick-off to the new sales year.
About Ray Makela
Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.