Today we’re talking about talking heads, and how to manage a traditional – and limiting – staple of the sales meeting.
In my last article, we looked at the unique value of sales meetings – the chance for sellers to:
- Interact with the company
- Learn from each other
- Practice their craft
These are active, lab-type things – not the lectures you’re subjecting them to when your VIPs fire up the PowerPoint.
Unfortunately, most sales meetings miss the mark. Instead of the peer-driven, interactive, lab-like experience, sellers are subjected to a parade of talking heads: Executives and managers delivering lectures, usually heavy on big words and complex slides no one can read. This is possibly your most important meeting improvement opportunity: Cut off the heads!
I’m a realist. (And a behavioralist!). I understand that most sales meeting organizers can’t revolutionize their formats, and must settle for, and focus on, evolutionary change. That doesn’t mean we can’t discuss aspirational goals. Even getting partway there will dramatically increase the value of your sales meeting for your most important attendees – your salespeople.
The Key: Strong Learning Objectives
So how do you get that session on compliance (important) or “What’s new in X department” OUT of your sales meeting? In every situation where I’ve been able to help clients make the turn toward more valuable sales meetings, the linchpin has been focusing the meeting around strong learning objectives.
But not just any learning objectives! I mean higher level learning objectives that go beyond simply understanding information. For this work, I rely on Bloom’s Taxonomy, the most-used and most-respected framework for developing learning objectives.
To summarize Bloom’s Taxonomy: There are lower-level learning objectives (understand and recall information), and then there are higher-level learning objectives (apply, analyze, create, evaluate). And these are just in the cognitive domain!
You can leverage Bloom’s Taxonomy by making sure your learning objectives include higher-level learning objectives. Why? Because by definition, mastery of higher-level objectives requires more interactive, active sessions where sellers do and not just listen.
Armed with the right learning objectives, you can now approach the challenging, politicized task of managing all the stakeholders that “need time with the sales team” at your meeting.
Get Ruthless About Meeting Real Estate
The truth is, your stakeholders may want time with the sales team, but the sales team doesn’t necessarily need to hear from them, at least in your sales meeting.
The first and most proximate solution is to cull the VIP talking-head sessions that are the staple of almost every sales meeting. In a recent survey of past and current clients, I found that these sessions account for OVER HALF of a typical sales kickoff meeting.
You know the ones: The C-something shares company results. The other C-something shares some sort of road map. A VP of Something Else provides an update. Product marketers “train” sellers on new products or updates. Et cetera, ad nauseum.
The problem? Besides being corporate-centered and not sales-centered, these sessions are simply out of place. One-way broadcasts on long-term or big-picture topics are NOT the way to use the unique value of sales meeting time.
- Use a more suitable medium. The beauty (if there is beauty) of many talking-head presentations is that you can use other communication channels to communicate. For example, one of our clients and Specialized Sales Systems has replaced all sales meeting product training with virtual product training conducted just prior to the sales meeting. That way, sellers can access the lectures on-demand and devote sales meeting time to applying the information (higher-level learning objectives!). Pro Tip: Make sellers accountable for learning on-demand information via technology. The adaptive learning platform from Area 9 Group is the standard
- Cut them out completely. Use a better medium – like your company’s learning management system, intranet, or even email – to deliver one-way messages that aren’t urgent and don’t require live processing. Save your times for sessions that ARE urgent and DO require live processing. (NOTE: This requires an enlightened leader with strong political will – you’re telling the C-something to save their lecture!) Pro Tip: This directive needs to come from the top! Without an enlightened leader with strong political will, you won’t be able to sell executives, marketing, product, HR, Ops, etc. on the value of less of them.
- Cut them in half. Let’s be real – most of the VIP sessions you had last year will be on the agenda this year – it’s politics. But there’s no reason they must be that long! When we coach executive presenters, we find the average presentation length can be shortened by 30-50% simply by streamlining the presentation and communication. Pro tip: Show your people what you mean by demonstrating a “typical” (long, complex narrative) session against the same session delivered in hard-hitting, bullet triads (more on this in my next post). Most executives get enthusiastic about streamlining when they see they can still get their message across – they don’t want to be boring!)
- Combine them. Usually, the reason executives demand face time at your meeting is so they can be visible and communicate feelings, not just messages. So why not combine complementary sessions? What kind of feeling would it create for sellers to see products and marketing and operations on the stage together modeling cooperation and collaboration? Pro Tip: To make sure combined, collaborative sessions flow smoothly, have an experienced facilitator/moderator. This person should be an agenda-less discussion lubricant, not another talking head with a viewpoint!
Once you’ve cut, streamlined, and combined your talking-head sessions, our guess is that you’ll still be looking at a number of sessions where your VIPs can either bore your sellers – or engage them. We recommend the latter.
In my next article, I’ll share very specific ways you can work with the material you have to create more engaging, dynamic presentations.