"The Navigator" News Blog

How To Make Sales Meetings Meaningful

When should you stop training your salespeople?

If you answered, “never,” you got the right answer. Training never stops.  Effective training for your salespeople should cover your products, your services, and sales technique, and it should be ongoing.  In fact, I recommend that you do at least a small training exercise at each weekly sales meeting (you ARE doing weekly sales meetings, aren’t you?).

That means that 52 times per year, your salespeople get some level of new knowledge and professional development.  Since “inadequate training” is cited as the reason about 70% of the time that salespeople change jobs, good training retains salespeople.  I think that the reason that sales managers don’t do much training is that the task seems daunting – to come up with new topics every week is seen as a significant demand on the manager’s time.

It doesn’t have to be.

Here’s an exercise that I have always found to be effective, and it’s simple.  For a given unit of time (say, 8-10 weeks at a time), each salesperson must come into the meeting with a NEW question that they have created.  This question should be one that customers and/or prospects can be asked on every sales call.  Notice that I said, “new.”  The point of this exercise is to get your salespeople to THINK about selling, and to think about new ways to get knowledge about your customers that could benefit them in making more sales and building better relationships.

In my opinion, about 80% of your chance to win or lose the sale is determined by the questions you ask – so if you’re asking more and better questions than your competition, you give yourself a big edge on outselling your competition.  Challenging your salespeople to be the ones to come up with new questions also involves them and engages them in their own training.

Here’s how this works.  On week 1, tell them that for the next (however many) weeks, your focus is going to be on becoming better questioners.  In fact, you are going to become the best questioners in your market.  Tell them to take five minutes and come up with one potentially-great question that they have never asked a customer.  After five minutes, they present their question to the group.  They should explain why they think it’s a good question and what they think they will accomplish by asking it.

During this time, you should instruct your team to suspend judgement on the questions – this is a criticism-free zone to try things out.  Once everyone has presented theirs, then everyone on the team must ask each question the following week at least once (preferably more), and then report back at the following sales meeting how well the questions worked.  Take a vote – the good questions become part of your boilerplate questioning structure (again, you do have one of those, right?), and the ineffective ones get discarded.  Then repeat the exercise, except that this time, they should already have a new question when they arrive at the meeting.

Do this for at least eight weeks, and your team’s effectiveness at questioning and discovery will go up significantly.  How significantly depends on their openness to new knowledge and their creativity in creating questions.  You can also take a vote each week on which question worked the best, and whoever came up with it gets some sort of a prize – a restaurant gift card, perhaps.

There are a few things to remember about this program to make it a success.

First – no matter how badly you want to – don’t supply your own questions or criticize theirs before the team puts them into real-life action.  For this program to succeed, they have to be the stars of the show (not you), and they have to be the ones that are taking the risks.  If you supply your own questions, then it’s just the boss ramming things down their throats.  Besides, given room to work, you’ll be amazed at the quality of questions they come up with.  As my friend and fellow trainer Ed Tate likes to say, “Often, the answers are already in the room.”  This is one of those times.

Second – make the emphasis be on NEW question creation, not a regurgitation of what’s already being done.  As soon as a salesperson says, “Here’s one I like to ask,” thank them for the contribution but tell them that you want them to dig into their heads and come up with something new.  Your salespeople are smart; this respects their intelligence and creativity.

Third – you should be doing ride-alongs as the program progresses to see that the new questions are really being asked in live sales calls.  This program only works if it’s being put into action, and not just discussed in meetings.  The whole idea is to improve their SELLING skills, not their MEETING skills.  So, as they say, inspect what you expect.

Fourth – be prepared to discard some questions that your salespeople used to ask in favor of newer and better ones.  In fact, this might be a topic for weeks 6-8.  “Since we have these new and more effective questions, what ones can we, or should we, jettison?”

If you do this, by the end of eight weeks, your team’s questioning skills will have gone up exponentially, which means that their sales will go up.  You should repeat this exercise at least once per year, to continually refine the questions and skills.  Besides, market conditions may dictate that questions get modified or discarded over time.