Recalling lots of sales meetings in my 22 years as a rep, plus speaking at national sales meetings over the course of the last three years, I have seen some lavish venues — Las Vegas, Mexico, Maui — and many have really been fun. (One of the best was the annual Epson Components national sales meeting at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua, Maui, in January!) I’ve also attended many sales meetings conducted in business venues where the focus was almost entirely on business — and that’s okay too.
There are many reasons why to have a sales meeting (and sometimes they aren’t even necessary) but I think the circumstances of the last ten years have shaped a completely different agenda for having manufacturers and reps meet.
First, let’s tackle the why in having a sales meeting. Whether it’s a national, international, regional, or even a Rep Firm sales meeting, the focus should always be on SALES. As obvious as this may appear, sometimes we need to remind everyone of the fact — “Heck, it is a ‘Sales Meeting,’ right?” If you really think about it, in the Manufacturers – Reps world, the total focus should be on SALES period — growing sales, maintaining customers’ sales, and finding new customers to grow sales. It’s all about NBOs (New Business Opportunities).
A large portion of the meeting should be dedicated to addressing the manner in which each party is going to do everything to (1) focus on the customers’ needs and problems, (2) make business processes easy, and (3) work together to keep those customers happy (and find new ones). The agenda, schedule and presentations should be decided upon with inputs from reps, perhaps from the manufacturer’s rep council. Pre-planning and a dress rehearsal of the entire program are essential for conducting a great sales meeting.
Product presentations need to be concise. I’m not a big fan of “product” training — what manufacturers really need to do is show reps where to sell the product and how it successfully fits into the customer’s application or need. It’s really more about “application” training — showing reps where and how to sell it. The best example of this was a really good one-day sales meeting that our rep firm used to attend. The product engineer would present for 30 minutes or less and then the marketing/product manager would talk for 15 minutes about the types of customers and/or industries (often reviewing 4 or 5 customers) with major application successes. The manufacturer would cover 5 or 6 products which were either new or were focus products for the company — and this would really capture and keep the reps’ attention (successful and new products).
In recent years, we’ve seen webinars on product/application training really becoming more popular; I think these are a great follow-up tool and source of reinforcement for what was learned at the sales meetings. I’m not sure that an annual meeting is always necessary; it may be more fitting to have a sales meeting every 2 to 3 years, in which case the webinars make good fillers for the in-between years.
Meeting location is important; today I’m more of a fan of having it near the factory for three primary reasons:
- “Rookie” reps (those new to the line or new to the rep firm) could come in a day early for Rookie Rep Training.
- All the reps should have a brief factory tour to see what’s new (you always learn something on those tours).
- The factory people get to mingle with the reps and should be invited to some of the evening dinners to get to know the reps better, and vice-versa. Establishing and/or enhancing these relationships is an integral component of increased sales success.
(Keep in mind, all of the above only makes sense IF the factory is still here in North America!)
There should also be some time during the sales meeting for candid and open dialogue. This town hall style question and answer period is good for reps to learn about future strategic directions and for manufacturers to hear what’s really going on in the field. Sometimes a pre-survey of the reps facilitates more candid discussions. There should also be a wrap-up meeting where the president/CEO/owner gives an overview and announces rep awards, followed by some resounding motivation on how the manufacturer-rep team is focused on mutual success.
Don’t forget to have some good productive fun too!