The year 2018 is all about micro learning and personalization. The implication is that motivational sales training is evolving from an event to a continuous process. While meetings will still happen, they won’t be the only forum or platform for igniting motivation.
“The key to motivational sales training is to make sure that it connects with the learner’s motivation,” says Julie Thomas, president and CEO of ValueSelling Associates, a sales training company based in Rancho Santa Fe, California. “Everyone is motivated — just for their own reasons, not our reason.”
“Motivational sales training is designed to light the internal fire of every individual in the room. For the motivation to last — it has be personal to the individual. External motivation will only go so far to drive behavioral change.”
— Julie Thomas
One of the biggest trends in motivational sales meetings is blending the content of the meeting with relationship and teambuilding goals.
“Blending a service project element is the no-brainer best way to check all of the boxes, and inspire and motivate your people at the same time,” says Lain Hensley, president of innovation and delivery for motivational teambuilding and leadership training company Odyssey Teams, based in Chico, California. “Not separating them as unrelated, but blending them to model the key elements of your meeting and bring to life the values of your organization and culture.”
Thomas also touts teambuilding activities to include in an agenda. For instance, a few years ago, she included a cooking challenge where the team was divided into small groups that each prepared a different part of a meal. The event was called “Holy Moly Ravioli” and it was a big success.
Nancy Friedman, president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training in St. Louis, regularly gives training and sales sessions to the insurance industry, including being a two-time speaker at The Million Dollar Round Table, a major meeting of insurance brokers and financial advisers. She notes a time-honored tenet that still rings true: Audiences need and want content as much as they want to be motivated.
“Motivation doesn’t last long without content. I have found our programs receive great feedback because I’m providing them with information they can use in their daily work lives and that motivates them to do their jobs better,” she says. “By giving them the information they need to provide better customer service to their clients or shoppers, they become self-motivated. And this makes them better salespeople.”
Sales meeting activities are still popular and buzzworthy but today, presenters need to consider all genders and physical abilities. Activities need to be engaging, but participants can’t feel forced to cross personal or social barriers for fear of being overlooked when it comes to promotions or recognition.
Bryan Mattimore, president of Growth Engine, based in Norwalk, Connecticut, runs a wide variety of sales training and motivational meetings in the world of finance and insurance, as well as other industries.
He recently was hired by a large insurance company to give a keynote to 100+ brokers in New York City on creative thinking techniques to improve sales performance. Mattimore has seen a trend of clients underwriting creative thinking approaches for their broker network as a way to add value and solidify relationships.
One client, Fiserv, asked Growth Engine to design and facilitate a national sales meeting with eight of their divisions to find cross-selling opportunities. In the day-long session, approximately $125 million in cross-selling opportunities with 25 different banking clients were identified. Less than a year later, the company had realized $72 million in new revenue from this one sales meeting.
“This is a trend of using sales meetings to achieve a direct ROI, in this case by identifying new cross-selling opportunities with current clients,” Mattimore says.
He also was hired by the CEO of a medium-size Midwest insurance company to train its salespeople in creative-thinking techniques and ideation session processes in a two-day meeting.
“One technique in particular (the problem redefinition technique) was used to generate ideas for new selling strategies and tactics that in a year’s time generated an increase in sales for the company of 52 percent,” Mattimore says.
“The trend here is training salespeople how to be more creative in generating new selling ideas, opportunities and markets.”
— Bryan Mattimore
When it comes to audience engagement, speaking from a podium and reading from a teleprompter won’t work, but walking among the audience and interacting with the crowd will.
“It’s key to show there are no physical barriers and that you’re comfortable within their group,” Friedman says. “Also, PowerPoint slides are becoming a big turnoff. As a professional speaker and management trainer, I am always in the audience — and use no PowerPoint. ‘A relief’ many have told me.”
Joan Cooney, assistant vice president of field development and training at Combined Insurance, a Chubb company, has engaged more than 2,000 insurance agents throughout the U.S., and shares that guest speakers and/or peer trainers are a must when possible, as there is no better way to motivate and learn than from those who are successfully doing it.
“We believe these meetings provide a great opportunity for our agents to come together, share tips with each other, discuss areas of opportunity, learn something new and be motivated and ready to go back into the market and sell when the meeting is complete,” she says. “Aside from the motivation and recognition of jobs well done, we also use these meetings to share important information so that we can help ensure everyone is receiving the information they need, on the same day, from the same materials.”
ValueSelling Associates believes the focus has to be on taking action after the meeting. “Training is only part of the process — it is not the be all and end all,” Thomas says. “Training and education are critical when skill and knowledge are deficient or incomplete. Training and education will not fix a motivation or attitude problem.”
Recently, in speaking with a client about the barrier to performance in her sales organization, Thomas’ client identified that the biggest difference between her top performers and everyone else was work ethic. Unfortunately, work ethic is a trait that is very difficult to teach. The first step in executing and adopting any new skill, she says, is the personal decision to change and do something differently.
Most people have their own opinion about what a successful meeting looks like, and it often depends on the group itself and the key messages that need to be delivered to that specific group.
“As a speaker, I always get that information from my meeting planner in advance, prior to even stepping on an airplane,” Friedman says. “Most people putting the meeting together are quick to share audience needs and wants.”
“I’ve found that content — giving them key information that they can incorporate into their daily interactions with customers — is king. Even the very seasoned agents thank me for providing a tip they had not considered.”
— Nancy Friedman
Thomas says the perfect meeting should include everything the sales rep needs to be successful in the future.
“Those creating the agenda and content should put themselves in the shoes of the audience and create agendas and topics that will add value to the participants,” she says. “The best meetings include a mix of product and internal training and updates, messages from executives on the strategic direction of the company, skill boosting and, of course, inspirational and motivational speakers or training. Most successful meetings also include best practices and peer-to-peer success stories and tips.”
Thomas adds that before every annual sales meeting for ValueSelling Associates, she polls the entire organization and asks them what would be the best use of their time and what topics they would like to see included. Their insights always shape her agenda.
Cooney’s best tip is to be diligent in developing an agenda that specifically includes time allotted for learning and engagement.
“For our agents, a perfect meeting contains time to recognize the great achievements of attendees within the past month and the opportunity to share stories about what works or doesn’t work, which allows for open conversation among the group.”
— Joan Cooney
“We also always aim to further educate our agents on sales tactics, product information and more at these meetings because we find someone can always learn something new,” she says.
Still, the perfect meeting is the one that achieves the company’s objectives and satisfies the needs of individual participants.
Meetings are important for a number of reasons. In reviewing the objectives of most sales meetings, there are typically themes such as learning and education, recognition and celebration, teambuilding and collaboration, motivation and inspiration.
“Ultimately, the meeting becomes the format to communicate and create competence and confidence that both the sales reps and sales managers have what it takes to go out and be successful,” Thomas says. “Sales is a communication process, and communication is a basic human experience. I am having more and more conversations with clients about how to humanize their sales process in an age of artificial intelligence and big data.”
Friedman believes that most sales training attendees are there for self-improvement and motivation. Even those who come in dreading the training session usually leave having learned something new that makes them more productive.
“I also think training sessions are a great opportunity to make people laugh, so laughter is a key part of my presentations,” Friedman says. “Most motivational speakers offer humor even if self-deprecating.”
Hensley says sales training meetings are important because, more than anything, people need to feel a sense of purpose — the spark that ignites the fuel of work and life.
“When people share stories of the good and bad parts of their job, it helps put things into perspective, and they realize that collectively they are part of something important,” he says. “We are all so busy with our own jobs. Without some conscious effort to pause the daily challenges of completing email and finishing conference calls, people rarely look to each other for ideas or support unless they are at their absolute last option, and that is too late. We need external pressure to pause in the middle of the game to connect and see each other as resources and share solutions to common problems.”
There are some basic rules that all motivational sales meetings should follow. The program should always be G-rated; Google should not be used as a training ground for an unfamiliar topic; and speakers should never insult their audience.
Friedman also feels that not mingling with the crowd prior to the presentation or not staying after is also a mistake as audience members like to interact with speakers by asking questions, offering feedback and taking photos. This creates a more memorable and satisfying experience overall.
Technology snafus related to webinars, livestreaming, audio-visual aids and the like can trip up a meeting, too, so it’s important to test equipment ahead of time and have a backup plan ready in case something just won’t work properly.
Some of the biggest mistakes Hensley sees are simple to solve. For instance, when creating lanyard name tags, print the person’s name in BIG enough letters to read and put their name on both sides. Also, he suggests not letting the same people sit together in the same place throughout the course of the meeting.
“Make it a rule that at the end of each break they must sit at a different table with different people and enforce this rule,” he says. “Also make presentations short and interactive whenever possible. Be creative. You got people together so they could get together. Connect them to each other and to the information whenever possible.”
The biggest mistake Thomas sees is those who prepare too much content for the time frame. “We can only digest so much,” she says. “When every department (in the company) requires the opportunity to get in front of the sales team, the meetings turn into pure one-way communication and completely lose their effectiveness,” she says. “This can be easily avoided by using the meeting for activities, planning and execution, rather than just knowledge and updates. The key is to keep the participant’s needs in mind when building the agenda rather than the speaker’s needs and desire to be on the stage.”
Above all, Thomas says a meeting must have a call to action. She’s been to too many meetings where everyone’s fired up during the program but that enthusiasm isn’t carried into the field.
“Help the participants create action plans that can be implemented and have the management and coaching support in place after the meeting is over,” she says.
While it may sound obvious, Hensley warns against numbing attendees with lengthy PowerPoints and presentations. For example, if you want to go over the company’s financial numbers for the past quarter, don’t drone on for hours from the stage.
“If this must be part of a meeting, consider at least making it fun and engaging by putting (participants) into teams of five,” he says. “Then give them a pop quiz to guess the numbers on a team answer sheet. Then as you review the financials, get some guesses from the crowd and reward the team with the most correct answers. Have one person from each group of five move to the quiz race area and tell them to ‘Step forward if you get an answer correct.’ ”
Remember, sales meetings can feature the most engaging and inspiring motivational speakers with great stories to tell, but they won’t be successful without a call to action that inspires performance and yields meaningful results. I&FMM