Are you having an annual sales meeting this year

January 25, 2010
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A lot of annual sales meetings were cancelled last year, for a lot of different reasons. That does not seem to be happening this year. In spite of appearances — and warnings from people who have never had real jobs — executives have decided to put the incentive back into the selling process.

Why? Easy answer: It works.

An annual sales meeting is integral to the success of the year’s sales performance. It's a one-time opportunity to recognize past performance and inspire achievement for the next 12 months. It's also an expensive endeavor.

To make these meetings successful requires a lot of work months before the meeting takes place. Planning one? How will you take advantage of yours?

Here are some ideas and challenges to make you think and rethink the process.

(Note: If you're on the sales team and “not responsible” for the meeting, please copy this article and send it to the powers that be.)

Pre-plan. Choose an environment for relaxed fun, and learning — a resort or hotel with sporting options, nice sleeping rooms and nice meeting rooms.

Pre-question the participants. Ask them about problems and needs, about strengths and frustrations, about themselves and their goals. Use the questionnaires to personalize the training portions of the meeting.

Pre-budget. A nice place. Transportation. Lots of fun. Great food. A first-class speaker/trainer. Awards. And more fun.

Seek professional help. Have someone in charge inside and/or outside who can make the dream meeting a reality. Arm them with a set of directives and objectives, and specific walk-away items that the meeting must accomplish. Partner with a professional meeting planner. Note that I did not say hire; partner means “work with.”

Create a realistic, relatable theme. Have an internal contest with a $1,000 prize for the winner.

Start with a bang. Do group fun first. Play a round of golf. Have a big dinner. Show pictures of last year. Have a karaoke party (the best way to have everyone get to know the others).

Have a regal welcome. A short and sweet welcome from the CEO at the first formal gathering — 10-15 minutes. Tell a few personal stories about the climb up the ladder. A personal thanks for the group's hard work. And issue three challenges.

Spotlight one or two people. Have them tell the group how they made a big sale, saved a deal, or used a new strategy.

Thank everyone. Thank (and applaud) the people who made it happen. People love applause.

Award the best. The best salespeople deserve to receive awards from the CEO, vice president of sales and sales managers. Have high-quality plaques, trophies and prizes. Have several categories so there can be lots of winners: biggest sale; most new customers; highest volume; fewest lost customers; most improved; best AR collections; fewest returns or cancellations.

Plan your future together. The next 12 months has got to be a big focus of the meeting. Let the salespeople be part of the plan. Don't just give them the game plan. Let the salespeople help make it. If you want salespeople to take ownership of sales goals, it’s only possible when they participate in the goal-setting process.

Goal everything. Let each team member agree to his or her goals and create a personal action plan to achieve them. Create daily, weekly and monthly numbers — not just ending numbers, but what it takes to get to the end. How many leads it takes to make one appointment, how many appointments it takes to make a sale. The goal should not just be an end number. There should be a goal for leads and appointments, as well.

Train professionally. Hire an outside professional to present to the group. Plan the training to be inspirational, customized, personalized and real world. Use the pre-questionnaire to set the agenda and personalize the training. There should be workbooks, workshops, role-play and videotaping. The training should be a combination of inspiration and motivation with actual selling situations and answers. Training should be at least 50 percent of the meeting time. Every participant should be personally energized and empowered to achieve his goals for the New Year. EVERYONE should attend the training — from the CEO down (unless they already know everything).

Success tactic: Management's sales philosophy can be embraced and reinforced by the trainer as a third-party (and expert) endorsement of your company’s practices.

A note about speakers: Often meeting planners or companies have a budget, and are looking to “fill a slot.” This is a big mistake. If you seek to transfer knowledge, hire someone who is qualified to do so — and not just qualified on the subject, but entertaining, as well. Have a flexible budget. The speaker can be the highlight of the entire meeting and the outside emotional reinforcement of the theme or message of the conference.

Eat like kings and queens. Have the best food that money can buy — even at breaks during the day. People will remember the quality of the meeting by the quality of the fun, training and food. Mostly food.

Have recreation time. But this should not mean “get drunk and act stupid” time. Golf, tennis, side trips, dinners and entertainment are worth it and worthwhile. But having people stagger into information-packed conferences and seminars from “a night on the town” is a big waste of a meeting and defeats the purpose.

Build relationships. Have “free time” for people to get to know each other.

Network for answers. Salespeople face problems alone, but can solve them together (with the help of a professional facilitator). Leave a few hours for problem solving, informal meeting and socializing time.

The CEO issues A Final Challenge. Ten minutes of a prepared (memorized) inspirational message will keep the team talking (and achieving) for the next 12 months.

Free Git-Bit: Want a list of the 25 most popular sales training programs for annual meetings? Go to www.gitomer.com and enter ANNUAL MEETING in the GitBit box. Jeffrey Gitomer can be reached at (704) 333-1112 or e-mail salesman@gitomer.com.

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