From the July 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

For many sales pros, daily or weekly sales meetings rank just a sliver above cold calling on the "dreadful work stuff to do" list. Sales meetings that are poorly run or too long can become more a source of grousing than of encouragement and team building.

It's critical that managers are mindful of why they hold meetings at all: "The purpose of a sales meeting is to create consistency in an organization's message, cross-pollinate information and build confidence," explains Jerry Ervin, principal of Paragon Strategies, a consulting firm in San Francisco that helps maximize organizational and individual performance. Ervin adds that another function for sales meetings is to "inspire a team to produce."

To turn sales meetings from squandered conference-room confabs into dens of deal-making ideas, try the following steps:

1. Plan for regular morning meetings. Whether you hold meetings daily or weekly, strive to get an early start so your reps keep their prime selling hours open. Patrick Lencioni, author of Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable . . . About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business, is an advocate of daily morning meetings: "There's something about daily interaction that keeps people motivated and prevents gradual misalignment." Lencioni believes that if reps know they'll be checking in on a daily basis, it gives them a sense of "urgency and discipline." For daily meetings, 15 to 30 minutes should be adequate; save problem-solving meetings for your monthly or quarterly get-togethers. Lencioni advises using these longer meetings to hammer out strategic, long-term issues when participants can engage in "substantive debate."

2. Set a clear agenda, and keep things moving. Using a template for each meeting will help reps know what to expect and keep things moving. Talk with reps in advance to solicit their input on topics to cover in each session. Ervin suggests an approach of "preparation, objective and process." For example, if the agenda item is to increase networking leads, the preparation would include reviewing leads and preparing a list of action steps to garner additional leads. The objective would be to develop a lead pipeline and increase sales. The process step would include brainstorming sources of leads while organizing and assigning opportunities to reps.

3. For each agenda item, assign a time limit and stick to it. For example, be clear that the meeting will be from 8:30 to 9:00 a.m.; and at 8:50 a.m., give a 10-minute, we're-wrapping-up warning. Ervin suggests giving participants two to three minutes to speak, which will also help keep the meeting within the time allotted. Ervin says there are usually only a handful of vocal salespeople, and keeping them on a schedule will cut down on "verbose diatribes."

4. Laud success in every meeting. In the rush to talk quotas, don't forget to schedule time to publicly praise reps for work well done. "Focus first on successes," says Lenann McGookey Gardner, president of Lenann McGookey Gardner Management Consulting Inc. in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Gardner believes that successful meetings ought not just focus on problems. Some of her clients have a history of only hashing through woes, from dissatisfied clients to rejected proposals. These sales meetings are, as Gardner says, "colossally depressing."

Ervin encourages sales managers to "keep the spotlight moving" by showcasing the experiences of the entire sales team, not just the big numbers-posters. According to Ervin, "Highlighting success will help build confidence."

5. Don't get too comfortable. If your meetings always tend to run over the time allotted, one simple tactic to keep on schedule is to conduct meetings while everyone is standing up. Explains Lencioni, "A standing meeting keeps people from getting too comfortable and settling in for a lengthy conversation."


Kimberly L. McCall ("Marketing Angel") is president of McCall Media & Marketing Inc. (www.marketingangel.com) and author of Sell It, Baby! Marketing Angel's 37 Down-to-Earth & Practical How-To's on Marketing, Branding & Sales.