Maintaining contact with all members of a sales force, wherever they are located, is essential. Regular communication is key; sales representatives must always be kept abreast of the latest information on business objectives, products, company policies, and support that is available to them. Sales conferences can accomplish this. These events also play an important part in motivating sales teams.
National sales conferences are typically held for major events, such as the launch of a new product or a presentation of annual results. Because of their high profile, national conferences can be used to generate high levels of enthusiasm, commitment, and effort. For example, high achievement by an individual or a team might be recognized and rewarded at the national conference. In addition, a national conference provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the organization's overall strengths, and can be leveraged to build consistent standards and increase performance.
Regional business meetings, on the other hand, are smaller, lower-profile sales meetings involving employees in a defined geographical area. Usually lasting less than a day, these meetings can be a valuable way of maintaining personal contact between the organization and its sales teams. Branch briefings and teleconferences (or videoconferences) comprise additional options for communicating with a group of sales reps at one time.
It is true that sales representatives need to spend most of their time with customers, but if they are not fully aware of company policies, products, and support, that time will be less productive. A well-run sales meeting equips representatives with the skills and knowledge to do their job effectively. These events also play a key role in motivating sales teams and building team spirit—an important factor for people who spend most of their time working alone.
Sales representatives like to think that their organization cares about them, and a low-key meeting could give the impression that their event—or their contribution to the company—is not valued. Thus, the experience of attending the meeting deserves some focus. Some sales meetings are exciting, theatrical events that motivate, but convey very little hard information. However, such events often succeed, because they are designed to create impact. An emphasis on excitement in a sales meeting is beneficial, provided it is backed by simpler business presentations that communicate hard facts about new products or corporate development.
Networked teleconferencing or videoconferencing is a valuable business tool, making it easier to hold regular meetings and saving valuable sales reps' time. For that reason, it will play an important part in the overall sales force communications program. However, personal contact and team building are important benefits of live meetings which are not accomplished as well with networked conferencing. Thus, live meetings, at appropriate time intervals, should also remain an integral part of the communication program.
Contact and communication are vital to the smooth operation of a sales force. How many times has the local office accused head office of being remote and out of touch? Can head office employees be certain that local sales representatives are knowledgeable about the latest product information or the current operating policy? Is there a feeling that certain members of the team are better informed or supported than others? To enable the effective operation of the sales force, it is essential to maintain contact with all team members, wherever they are located.
Formal and informal information channels can be used to maintain effective contact with local sales representatives at all levels. The key is to define your objectives of any given channel. A sales conference can help sales representatives to:
- recognize current business objectives;
- understand corporate operating procedures;
- be aware of the business and marketing support available to them;
- be committed to success;
- acquire current product knowledge;
- understand how to implement company policies;
- feel valued by the organization;
- understand their career path within the organization.
A national conference is an event to which the entire sales team is invited to attend. This type of event may last for a longer period than a normal meeting. The conference is usually held for a major occurrence, such as the launch of a new product or presentation of annual results, and is designed to generate high levels of enthusiasm and commitment. It also presents an opportunity to raise awareness of the organization's overall strengths, and to build consistent standards and performance.
A national conference has the additional benefit of bringing together employees from around the country who would not normally meet each other, so it offers a valuable team-building opportunity. A national conference should have purpose and it should be planned and executed flawlessly. Many product launches have a high theatrical content, because the intention is to create impact. Car manufacturers, for example, may take their sales teams to exotic locations when they launch a new model. The focal point of the event is the launch itself, which must be impressive, but the remaining time can be spent building the level of team spirit within the sales force. By assembling employees who are usually separated by physical location, a conference presents a unique opportunity for them to create stronger relationships, understand each other's strengths, and form alliances, thereby increasing the team spirit within the organization.
High achievement is often recognized and rewarded at a national conference. Many organizations run annual incentive and recognition programs for sales employees at different levels. Making individual presentations to the winners at the national conference confers special status. Leveraging the national conference as the occasion for the award ceremony also raises the profile of the incentive program among the entire sales force, encouraging higher levels of participation and effort. Inviting executives to present the awards creates an even greater impact.
National and international conferences have an important role in an organization's sales communication program. However, these events can be expensive and time consuming and should be held sparingly, when they are deemed crucial to business development or building team spirit. Between such high profile events, it may be more satisfactory to consider a regional business meeting, for which travel requirements and time commitments are reduced. The regional business meeting format allows groupings of local outlets, and provides a concentrated opportunity to bring local sales teams up to date with key events.
Regional meetings have a lower profile than national conferences, but they facilitate regular contact at a high level. Such events should include presentations by senior management from headquarters, and should cover national policy as well as matters of regional interest.
Many organizations adopt a half-day format for regional business meetings. Delegates might arrive at midday for an informal lunch, followed by a series of afternoon briefings covering new products, corporate developments, management changes, promotional activities, pricing, marketing programs, and/or objectives for the next quarter. The amount of time required will depend on the topics being covered. This type of sales meeting provides the head office team an opportunity to update local sales employees on current activities, and helps maintain contact between the teams.
Gathering the sales force presents unique opportunities for two-way communication. A sales conference should provide opportunities for sales reps to participate in and contribute to corporate policy. Discussion groups, question-and-answer sessions, feedback forms, and forums are effective two-way communication formats that encourage sales force participation and boost morale.
While regional business meetings provide a convenient, lower-profile alternative to national conferences, drawbacks do exist. If the objective is simply to brief a local sales team, or if the briefing is applicable only to one particular area, then a regional meeting may not be practical.
In this situation, the solution is to deliver a presentation tailored to local needs, at the local office. The location is convenient and the meeting consumes very little of the team's time. However, it should not be seen as just another optional meeting. Wherever possible, the branch briefing should also be treated as a special event, with a formal structure, a dedicated meeting room, and professional, polished presentation.
A good addition to live meetings of all kinds is networked teleconferencing and/or videoconferencing, which bring sales teams together quickly and easily, wherever they are located. Networked conferencing supports effective teamwork when sales representatives work in different locations or different countries, and it can help meet communication objectives efficiently and productively. Networked conferencing also reduces the costs associated with traditional live meetings. Videoconferencing remains a popular type of networked conference, but Webcasting over the Internet or a secure IP-based network has become another viable alternative.
With a networked conference, attendees need only allow the time for the meeting itself. Unnecessary travel time is eliminated, which allows busy sales representatives to concentrate on customers. The real cost of conventional meetings is quite high when you consider the salaries of people traveling as well as the costs of travel, food, and accommodations. If your organization operates internationally, the potential cost savings are even higher.
The freedom and flexibility of networked conferencing provide a quick and easy way of briefing sales teams, reporting, training or coaching, reviewing progress, or dealing with specific customer issues. Senior executives can communicate easily with sales teams throughout an organization by broadcasting annual reports, for example, or announcing significant corporate changes.
Sales reps often complain about being required to attend too many meetings. Major events, such as a national conference, are beneficial for important announcements. However, many meetings that cover routine matters can be handled alternatively—for example, with written or networked communications. Look carefully at your communication program to determine where you can eliminate unnecessary meetings or arrange alternative virtual events.
Many conference presentations are flashy but not substantive, designed for visual impact rather than communication. As a result, sales teams come away impressed but with little hard information. Support theatrical presentations with business presentations and documentation to guarantee longer term benefits.
A sales conference always involves a fair share of presentations, a fundamentally one-way communication mechanism. It is important to integrate two-way communication into the agenda as well—consider discussion groups, or Q & A sessions, for example.
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