MAITLAND – Sometimes, Eric M. Shulman said, it’s like confronting a room full of six-year-olds.
The only problem is, the people in the room are adults, and your task at hand has nothing to do with babysitting. The business owner or manager’s goal is to remain competitive by ensuring they have a highly motivated and productive sales staff.
And those are the keys to staying in business: keeping the salespeople motivated, and ensuring they’re out selling all they can. But it’s not easy when the weekly sales meeting is tedious and boring.
“Your sales team has a lot of six-year-old in them,” he said. “They all want to go out and play.”
So when owners and managers schedule weekly sales meetings with their staff, what are the critical ways to ensure your sales people are happy?
“The word is engagement,” Shulman said. “You’ve got to get people engaged.”
In a very rough economy that’s spared fewer industries from pain and multiple layoffs, a couple of sectors have managed to buck the trend and create new jobs while others keep shedding them. Health care has been one, and education, another.
Across Central Florida, it’s also not hard to find plenty of ads for one particular group: people in sales. With the exception, perhaps, of temporary workers, a wide selection of businesses seem most eager to find people to do sales for them. The question is, how do they pick the right people, train them, and then make them highly productive?
Shulman has some thoughts on that. A behavior modification specialist who works with sales teams, he operates New Horizons Professional Development Inc. in Maitland, and held a seminar at the Sandler Sales Institute on Friday titled “Staging Effective Sales Meetings.”
It’s a program he coordinated with Paul Castaneda, the owner of Castaneda Sales and Marketing, a firm that provides sales, marketing and business development solutions to help businesses maximize their potential.
Castaneda said he wants other business owners to understand that a weekly sales meeting doesn’t have to be a painful event where the leader screams about bad sales numbers and the entire team feels demoralized. There are better ways, he said.
“I have over 20 years in phone prospecting experience, and we’re putting that experience to good use helping other businesses,” he said. “For me, it’s keeping the focus on the subject at hand.”
Shulman agreed, saying “There’s nothing better than a good sales meeting, and nothing worse than a bad sales meeting.” Figuring out the difference, he said, is what keeps the team so happily productive.
Bad sales meetings, he said, are ones where the leader demonstrates a lack of control and has no clear goals, where the sales people head off on tangents, and where the entire meeting goes on too long.
It’s more likely to be a good meeting if the leader has an agenda, controls the substance of the discussion, sets ground rules and clearly defined goals – and figures out how to engage their sales team and give them some energy, so that “When they walk out, they’re feeling confident,” Shulman said. “Leave them cheering when they walk out the door.”
So it’s critical that the leader or manager plan each meeting in advance, and understand what it is he wants to accomplish.
“I’d want to go in knowing what I want to get out of the meeting,” Shulman said.
Give the sales team an opportunity to learn something new and challenging in the meeting, he said. That helps avoid making it monotonous and flat.
“If they come in to learn something, they come in with a whole different mindset,” Shulman said. “If I come in to a meeting saying ‘I’m not going to learn anything here,’ then I won’t. If I come in with an open mind, I will learn something at every sales meeting I go into.”
So set the pattern early: the meetings won’t be a big snooze.
“Let’s say the last sales meeting that we held was boring,” Shulman said. “So they’re coming back the next Monday, and what do they expect? Boring. So give them something that is not boring. Give them a little control. They want to be outgoing. Let the participants know up front what you expect them to do, and what you expect them to respond to. Have an action plan, where everybody knows what’s expected of them.”
It’s also important, he said, to remind the sales staff that they are, after all, part of a group effort.
“We’ve got to build a sense of team,” he said. “You hired a bunch of lone rangers to go out and sell for you, and yet you want them to work together as a team.”
Also be willing to jettison aspects of the meeting that simply are not effective, Shulman said.
“What percentage of the meetings that you hold do you think could be avoided?” he said. “Just because you scheduled a meeting doesn’t mean you have to hold it. Holding meetings can be very, very expensive.”
Managers and owners should also avoid long conversations, and keep a careful watch over what he called “non-productive” members of the sales team, which he broke down into four categories.
The first is the Hostage.
“The hostage doesn’t want to be there,” Shulman said. “They’re hostile and they’ll probably make their feelings known.”
The second is the Vacationer.
“He views the meetings as a vacation from work,” Shulman said. “They’ll say, ‘For two hours, I don’t have to make any calls.’ “
Deal with both of these members before the meeting starts, Shulman said.
“Engage the hostage,” he said. “Don’t give in to them. And give the vacationer a task to do. Now it’s not going to be a vacation. He has to do some homework.”
The other two are the Devil’s Advocate and the Grandstander.
“The devil’s advocate is the one who keeps saying, ‘Yeah, but what if ….’ “ Shulman said. “The devil’s advocate questions other positions and is looking for controversy.”
The grandstander, on the other hand, “won’t let go of a topic. He has the need to steal the limelight and impress others with his opinions. Ego-driven, he wants to be the center of attention.”
Deal with both, he said, by requiring them to stand up their convictions.
“If they bring it up, tell them ‘You’ve got to believe in it and defend that position,’ “ Shulman said.
Most of all, he said, acknowledge what doesn’t work and change it.
“We learn more from our mistakes than our wins,” he said.
To learn more about New Horizons Professional Development, call Shulman at 407-740-SELL. To learn more about Castaneda Sales and Marketing, call 407-376-0637.
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