The weekly sales meeting is the hub of the Part-Time Sales Management System. Most salespeople love to talk, so when you engage your sales team by facilitating a discussion among the team members in a weekly meeting is much more effective than simply presenting information to them in a top-down fashion. To become a good facilitator, you need to develop or refine your ability to:
- Listen and Learn
- Ask Questions that Invite Discussion
- Be in Tune to Visitors
Coincidentally, these skills are the same ones that every salesperson needs when working with customers. It’s wise to avoid filling up your meetings with too much information, so instead, facilitate discussion, learning, and the making of decisions. This will engage your sales team in a way they enjoy and will have them looking forward to future meetings. I had to learn this lesson the hard way as I’ll share with you, but its paid dividends and my teams are now more engaged and the meetings are part of their improved performance.
Early in my consulting career, I led High-Performance Leadership training programs. My selling skills had landed me a five-session training program with a well-respected group of leaders in my community. Many had Ph.D.’s in leadership. I had been certified with the highest quality training programs available and that was recognized by the groups’ director. But the program was cut short because my facilitation skills were not as sharp as this group wanted. As it turned out, what they were really seeking was more time for discussions they could learn from—instead of completing all the training material for each session on the agenda. They were fine with me not getting through all the material each day as long as they came away with items to grow with. It was a valuable lesson for me to learn about facilitation.
From that experience, I discovered why it’s so important to be clear about the purpose of meetings. I also learned the importance of being sensitive to the unplanned learning that is transpiring and to know what your audience wants. Listening to learn will help you engage your sales team.
The definition of the word “facilitate” is: “To make easier, help bring out.” When facilitating we should then ask ourselves, “What can I do as a sales manager to make things easier and more helpful during the sales meeting?”
Listen and learn
Facilitation will require you to engage in more focused listening than talking. An easy way to gauge how you’re doing with facilitating a meeting is to keep an eye on what percentage of time you’re talking in a meeting compared to how much time you are listening. Listening should win out at a well-facilitated meeting. Your speaking time should be limited to the questions you ask and the specific informational or educational comments and training you present.
When you’re facilitating a discussion, some people will keep the meeting on track and others will take the discussion a little north or south. A prepared facilitator can allow for “rabbit trails”—diversions from the main agenda—because facilitative managers always know they can pull the meeting back to the intended purpose at any time. Some of these rabbit trails are valuable discussions so you don’t want to cut them off too soon, while at the same time, you don’t want to let them run on too long either. If you do have to stop the “off-road” discussion before it’s finished, that topic might be placed on the agenda for a future meeting.
In your sales meetings, it’s sometimes great to allow team members to solve problems or help each other with sorting out a tough deal. In other meetings, you might hear excuses about why they are not performing—which is the perfect moment to ask them what they will do differently next time. We want to help or facilitate learning, commitment, and growth, not just get through an agenda. At the same time, it’s good to keep in mind that salespeople need time to share their wins and challenges, discuss problems, and offer ideas. They don’t need to drone on for hours and hours (like they can!), but they do gain energy from being engaged verbally.
Ask questions that invite discussion
A wise friend once told me that if I could master getting my point across by asking questions, the people I’m talking to will not only provide answers, they will also confirm their understanding of issues in the process. And isn’t that what’s most important in teaching? That others learn or clearly understand your intended message?
Asking questions that not only provide your answers but also invites discussion is a learned skill and one that serves a manager and salesperson. Push yourself to ask more open-ended questions rather than telling people what you want. For example, let’s say you want your team to increase cross-selling of your products. You can simply say, “I want you to bring samples of our other products with you to increase cross-selling.” Or, you can ask a question such as this one: “What can you do—and what can the company do—to improve cross-selling of our product?” By asking this question, you are getting the team involved in solving the problem rather than carrying out your orders—or ignoring them. A by-product of getting the team to participate in problem-solving is that they tend to follow through more often than when the sales manager simply tosses out orders or presents new requirements.
This blog is an excerpt from Chapter 6 on Meetings in the book, Part-Time Sales Management by Rene Zamora.
Be in tune to your visitors
We should always consider inviting one or more people from support departments or vendors to a sales meeting, with of course the primary purpose of helping your sales team sell more. Are you wondering how they can help the team sell more? I’m glad you asked.
Every person and department at the company influences sales. All employees are hired to either support what the customers are buying or to support the people who are supporting the customers. All efforts lead back to customers and potential customers. When there is more frequent communication between support departments and vendors there is more energy to grow sales and fewer internal roadblocks to slow sales down.
One of my clients thought it would be a good idea to invite his Customer Service Manager in the sales meeting to foster more communication between the departments. I was thrilled! Over the course of six months, three major initiatives came out of this time together. A new lead generation program for the customer service team is flourishing, more focus has been put into getting new customers off to a good start, and the customer service manager is learning how to have better sales conversations that she is now teaching her team. In addition, there is better communication between both sides and a weekly forum to keep building on it. When salespeople are confident that support departments are serving customers well, their confidence will spill over onto their selling efforts. Including customer service into the sales meeting at this company has “helped the salespeople sell more.”
Likewise, it’s a good idea to invite vendors to come in and promote their products as it will stimulate, motivate and engage your sales team. I have usually found that when vendors come in there is a renewed energy and focus on the products they provide the company.
So, what did I mean about being in tune with visitors? Actually a few things. One, be in tune with the point that visitors can help your salespeople sell more. Secondly, be in tune with how sales can help their department or company, and lastly, be in tune with what is important to your visitors.
Here are a few key points to keep you in tune with different visitors.
What I’ve found to be important to support departments when they attend sales meetings is:
- A safe place to communicate
- People who will listen to their feedback
- Freedom to leave the meeting when their agenda item is complete
It’s important to not let the sales team get too rowdy with the support team and make it unsafe. You’ll also need to facilitate a meeting that will not become a complaining session.
When it comes to vendors, they appreciate the following:
- A venue to educate the sales team
- The time to build stronger relationships with the team
- Constructive feedback from the sales team
As with support departments, it’s fine to provide feedback but don’t let it become a venting session if issues need attention. Let the vendor rep know what is going right as well.
By product of effectively facilitating your sales meetings
I mentioned earlier that being able to listen, learn, and ask good questions are the same facilitation skills that every salesperson needs when working with customers. By improving your ability to facilitate your sales meetings you are at the same time demonstrating to your team how to effectively work with their prospects and clients in a way that is engaging and valuable.