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Vincent Barberger, Montreal | FRANÇAIS

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Sales meetings can help you win more business, but if not handled well they can cost you time in front of prospects.

While no salespeople like to spend time out of the field, effective sales meetings can deliver value to them to increase the likelihood of winning business. And truthfully, if your sales meetings are not doing just that, you need to make some changes and make them fast!

As the sales manager -- the sales leader -- you are responsible for ensuring sales meetings provide that value through action orientation and client focus. It's often accepted as an occupational hazard in business that many meetings are time-wasters. That simply can't be accepted by sales teams and sales leaders. Leave the boring, rote meetings to other areas. Sales teams cannot afford them.

Focus on implementing these five valuable tips to insure that your sales meetings are about winning - not about wasting!

1. Promote Up-Front Contracts and Team Communication

As is the case in client meetings, laying out the ground rules helps insure success for all parties in the meeting and keeps everyone focused. And the up-front contract provides the forum to remind the team of a key principle in team communication. That key point to remember is that no news of significance should be shared at a sales meeting.

Really? What does that mean?

With electronic communication promoting team collaboration 24/7, items of consequence should be shared as they happen and not as part of a milestone meeting. In other words, significant news, good or bad, should be shared on a real-time basis.

In our just-in-time world of team selling and client service, anything short of constant communication falls short and breeds competitive disadvantage. With team communication part of your culture, the sales meeting has more time available for the sharing of lessons learned and best practices. And the stage is then set in the meeting for the sharing of constructive and often strategic ideas to help win business. That's what team selling is all about.

And when creating your up-front contracts, be direct and to the point. As with up-front contracts in client interaction, make sure the objectives are clear. Salespeople will appreciate the candid nature of your up-front contracts and, as the sales leader, you will be role-modeling behaviors that you want emulated in the field.

2. Set, Follow and Beat your Time Contract

As the sales leader, it's also your responsibility to instill accountability in your team members to ensure they show up on time for the sales meeting. They wouldn't be late for a client meeting so why should they be less diligent for the sales meeting? And remember, this sales meeting, as we've discussed, is designed to deliver value to help win business. If your meeting truly embodies that, your reps will be excited about being on time and being prepared.

Communicate the meeting's start and end times with your team and, as a practice, beat your time contract, giving the team back five or ten minutes at the end of the meeting. This will make it clear to the team that, while you expect compliance with the schedule, you also respect the team members' time as well.

To ensure the meetings move quickly, set "5-minute drills" for team members to present and share material. This will help them understand the importance of "headlining" - covering key points with brevity and avoiding rambling war stories.

Your facilitation skills will likely be required to help this along for the first few meetings until the team gets the hang of it. When they do, the newly-honed ability to concisely present the key elements of a highlighted theme will serve all team members well especially in client meetings! And at all costs, schedule no meetings for longer than one hour. Longer meetings can be seriously counterproductive.

3. Clear the Path for Success

As the leader of the meeting, be sure all team members are attentive to the meeting's topics at all times. Electronic devices should not be used during the session, and team members' schedules should be cleared of all other activities during this "sacred" time slot. You must take the lead in role modeling this behavior. It's vital that everyone pay attention to one another's "5-minute drills" to maximize the likelihood of the sharing of insights and valuable collaboration team selling at its best.

If you really do your job to keep the flow moving, allowing you to give time back at the end, team members will be appreciative and much more likely to stay engaged. Always use a "parking lot," a flip chart to capture topics that surface in the meeting that are not connected to the main themes of the session but are worthy of noting for other discussions. This allows for the clearing of the path to stay focused on the issues at hand while not being dismissive of items brought up by team members.

4. Set the Stage for Collaboration

Each "5-minute drill" should be followed by "Q&A&I" (Questions, Answers & Ideas).

Here's where the magic of the meeting occurs. After a sales rep has shared the headlines of key opportunities, significant problems and strategic issues, the floor is opened for input from the team. Position, if possible, some early wins from insights shared by the team members in support of a colleague. Nothing breeds success like success. And sales reps are competitive animals.

With sales-focused meetings structured correctly, reps will be eager to share insights that will help advance a teammate's pursuits or attack problems. And they will likely feel the warmth of exhibiting their insights in front of their peers, prompting further collaboration.

5. Commit to Team Selling and Forward Motion

Remember that the collaboration and idea-sharing that occurs in the sales meeting are generated by the actual sales team members.

Think about it. Who is better equipped to engage in the Q&A&I than the people in the field? The reps are pursuing prospects, growing clients, teaming with partners and strategizing against competitors.

Every transaction builds their experience portfolio and positions them to share wisdom and strategy to move your business forward. It's your job, as the sales leader, to provide a welcoming platform for this team selling -- to unlock the doors for open teamwork.

With team sharing and collaboration actively in play, your job is only begun. Because it's all about forward motion, insuring that the meeting drives time-bound actions and next steps driven by accountability. Close each session with clear, S.M.A.R.T. action plans that are shared with all team members.

With these templates generated routinely as session output, new fertile ground for that real-time team communication is set. And doing this effectively can even drive culture change. Change for the better. Change driving wins.

Sales meetings can be fundamental drivers to growing business or they can be wastes of time. Using carefully planned, up-front contracts and continual communication are critical. Structuring the sessions for success and collaboration versus administration and compliance is a game-changer. And keeping client focus and a penchant for action are simply mandatory. It's about leadership.

If your sales meetings don't have these key attributes, you owe it to yourself to make some changes. More importantly, you owe it to your team.

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