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November 28, 2007

National Sales Meetings that are 6 Months Long?

Filed under: Business Meetings — Jeff Youngs @ 12:27 am
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That’s right. National Sales Meetings, Sales Kickoffs, Annual Meetings of any kind have the opportunity to be 6 months long! At least in the hearts and minds of your attendees. Sales Meetings, for most large corporations, are in the neighborhood of 3 days long. Often consisting of morning plenary sessions (or general sessions), with breakouts or district/regional meetings in the afternoon and maybe an Award Ceremony on the final evening. They often use a “Sales Meeting Theme” to help get their message across. In the scheme of things, and in the life of your typical, hard-driving sales rep, it’s flash-in-the-pan. Merely a moment in time. You’ll have to really impress her to make the take-home value stand out. I’ve heard many, organizers and sales executives ask “How do I get better sales meeting ideas?”

It doesn’t have to be that way. I know, you’re saying to yourself, “How can I possibly keep them out of the field any longer? You don’t. One of the most-overlooked opportunities for communication is the maximizing of the National Sales Meeting.

This moment in time exists in the reps mind as a meeting concept, or a destination. “Oh, yeah, I remember that one, wasn’t it the Space-Race meeting?” Or “That was when we were in Phoenix, wasn’t it ‘ and we did those goofy Olympics?” Typically, your sales people forget the “message” of the meeting, or what they are supposed to do, fairly soon after the event.

The way to avoid making your meetings a “moment in time” that exists for a long weekend in November, or for 3 days in January, is to begin to build excitement and enthusiasm for the event a few weeks, or even as much as 3-months earlier. And not in just any-old way. Make sure that you do this with a purpose. What’s that? “I just want then to sell more!” you say? Of course, that’s always the goal. So let’s look closer at the opportunity. If your sales team has been kicking butt for the past year (or most of it, remember, you are starting out 3-months early, plus a month or so of planning), and they have significantly increased the bottom line, and your stated plans require that they keep up the growth for another year. Further, if you have determined that with greater customer focus, you will retain more customers ‘ which costs less than developing new ones, then that becomes the message for your meeting ‘ and your Pre-Meeting Communication Campaign.

Create a lasting impression. Plan your meeting, thematically, several months out. Devise a backdrop for your current scenario that embraces the idea that Customer Focus is critical. 3 months prior to the National Meeting, you send out a communication to the field in the form of a flash-email, or postcard, or even a voice mail from your VP Sales that sets up the theme of your National Sales Meeting, and the concept of Customer Focus in a fun and creative way. You’ve just started your meeting. Over the next 3 months, send another communication every 2-3 weeks setting up another concept or take-away you would like them to have. If these talk about, “The Customer is Always Right” and “Customer Focus Keeps Business”, and “Success Begets Success”, you begin to show your reps that you mean business in this Customer Focus thing.

Then, your folks arrive in Phoenix (or Orlando, or Chicago) for your event. It is all geared round the message of customer focus. They have been hearing about it from “corporate” for 3 months, now, and in fact, you are beginning to see it show up in the numbers. Your opportunity at the meeting is to celebrate! This does not mean to party, and forget the business, but you can give everything an air of celebration ‘ with more…

During your event, announce a contest that runs for the next 3 months. Have reps contribute their stories of Customer Focus and their successes. The best story wins. The prize can simply be a gift certificate to dinner, or an i-tunes gift card. Sales reps love to compete. Use it to your advantage! In the meantime, you publish the best stories every month to keep it top-of-mind for everyone!

There you have it. A 6-month long sales meeting that your people will remember long after it is over as “The one about Customer Focus”. The message stays in their minds, and, more importantly, in their actions. Over this time, you have established terrific new habits that will serve your sales people and your company for years to come.

November 1, 2007

What Should Executives DO at National Meetings?

Filed under: Business Meetings — Jeff Youngs @ 5:56 pm
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Jeff Youngs

OK Mr. or Ms. Corporate Exec, How could you be spending your time at National Meetings? I’ve been to meetings where the VP of Marketing or the VP of Sales, or even the President is hovering over the control table, making sure the right sound clip is ready to play, or sitting in their room with their laptop putting final touches on their PowerPoint. In case you haven’t gone there yet, I think that this is a terrible use of your time.

 

Many execs think that the reason that they are there is to deliver their annual address, and to hang with their boss and colleagues. While these things are important, I submit that this is only part of your role. Think about it. This is the one time in the year that you are with the entire field sales force, or distributor network, or whatever the group. Your opportunity is to be with them! Hanging out and having a beer? well, maybe. But there’s more.

 

First, though, is the question you may ask “How do those things get done if I don’t do them?” The answer to that is simple: Delegate. There may be a person within the organization that you can appoint to this role. But ask yourself, are they qualified? Do they know how to run a meeting or do my PowerPoint? Do they have another job that they were hired to do? Some companies have enough experience and enough meetings to have someone handling that full time. They are experts and can handle many, if not all of these issues. Most often, in my experience, this is not true. It is usually someone’s assistant, or perhaps the Training Director, relegated to handling the one large meeting they do all year. It is one of the most significant sales expenses that a company has. Not only in actual dollars, but in the intangible dollars of removing an entire sales force from the field for 3 or 5 days.

 

A word about Meeting Planners. I have the greatest respect for Meeting Planners. they handle a vast amount of logistics and details. They coordinate individual travel for hundreds or thousands of people, book and schedule rooms, venues, events, and all before going to bed each night. They are not, generally speaking, Communication Experts, (other than the communication that is inherent in their palette of tools, i.e.: destinations, accommodations, menus, etc.) They generally don’t work in business messages, audience receptivity, and changing behaviors.

 

“OK, so now what?” you may ask. “How do I get it all done, and make the most of my time on-site?” Here are my suggestions:

 

  • Hire a pro. Someone who will handle the details and make it happen for you…

There are may individuals and agencies out there who can help you design, build and execute a terrific, meaningful meeting. They call themselves Communication Agencies, Consultants, or Meeting Producers. (See http://www.youngscom.com or http://www.aileroncreative.com.)

 

  • Develop your Presentation early (see point above)

Plan your time efficiently. If your Communication Pro hasn’t done it, make a schedule for completion that has you done and rehearsed long before the event. Even if you have
last-minute info to plug in the your speech, don’t let that hold you up in your preparations. If you have challenges in managing your time well, I recommend Getting Things Done by David Allen. He’s the guru of Productivity and as a colleague recently put it “It’s my new religion!” (www.davidco.com)

 

  • Plan events and activities on-site that give you up;close and personal time with your people.

These don’t necessarily need to be big, expensive events. They can be small “town meetings” with the 30 top-performers, or hosting a special luncheon for the district that has sold the most XX. Most importantly, do your best to cover everyone.

 

Again, your Meeting/Communication professional can help you with these. The bottom line is: I suggest that when you are there, be THERE, with your people. That is your opportunity.

October 15, 2007

CLARITY FROM THE TOP

Filed under: Executive Responsibilities — Jeff Youngs @ 7:48 pm
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Jeff Youngs

Why it is Important for Leaders to Clearly Communicate their Goals?

If you have ever wondered if good communication from the top of the organization is important, wonder no more. There is a recent study put out by Melcrum Publishing(www.melcrum.com) that surveyed over 1000 communicators from leading organizations and the results are, at least to me, not too surprising. Over 70% of respondents feel that senior leaders communicating a clear vision of the future is a critical action to build engagement, and only 44% of employees believe senior leaders are trying to “do their best” for their employees. (Effective Communication from the Top – Melcrum Publishing)

There are many things that get in the way of effective communication within an organization. Many executives assume that if they know something, then everyone else must know it, too. Or if they told someone something, then it will get handled. And there is my personal favorite: “They don’t really need to know this. We can handle it ourselves.” While this approach may be effective some of the time, it is probably used far more often than necessary in many organizations. There is a vast “brain-trust” that goes untapped in many organizations, large and small, that when applied to challenging situations can potentially result in remarkable outcomes. The Melcrum report breaks the barriers to successful communication from leaders down to Time, Willingness, Skills and Behaviors of top management.

With the amount of internal “goodwill” and attitude (read: effectiveness) riding on the leaders’ willingness and ability to engage their people, they can’t afford NOT to communicate with clarity. Employees that are kept in the loop by their leaders can better support their organizations. And this isn’t so only for large, corporate behemoths. It’s also true for smaller companies, and even departments within larger companies. Larger companies in particular, with staff spread out over many locations, know that quality internal communications programs that keep employees up-to-date about company objectives and activities are critical to an organization’s success. Less formal, but equally critical, are communication plans and initiatives in smaller outfits.

New communication technologies are gaining ground at forward-thinking companies from all industries. Technologies that are on the rise and available to leadership include blogging, (If your CEO doesn’t blog, they may want to look in to this very accessible channel), RSS feeds and Podcasting. Employees are up-to-date on technology, leadership needs to be too. With the advent of so many new and accessible “Hi-Tech” channels becoming available, it would be easy to forget the “Hi-Touch” methods that have always been around, and have yet to be replaced effectively.

More seasoned technologies such as National and Regional Sales Meetings, Management Round-Tables, Town Hall Meetings in corporate sites, and other forms of personal contact are still irreplaceable in all sizes of organizations. We may be able to wait a little longer beteween these events now, but it would be a mistake to eliminate them altogether. There is still a certain “magic” that happens when people gather that recalls the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. Of course all communication is most effective if it is carefully strategized, planned, rehearsed and executed with minimum confusion and maximum impact.

The bottom line is this: Leadership can be more effective if they meet their people where they are and share their vision regularly with openness and clarity. And right now, their people are on-line, plugged in, and downloading. CEOs that believe that they don’t have the time or interest in communicating this way, may soon find that they have lots of time on their hands…

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