Despite reports to the contrary, the old-fashioned, in-person sales meeting isn’t dead.
Technology gives us a thousand ways to avoid actual face-to-face interactions with our clients. We can video calls, phone calls, email, text, or send LinkedIn messages.
Technologies like Zoom and GoToMeeting make it possible for large groups of people to convene from locations all over the world, all at once. They reduce the travel necessary for salespeople to talk and present to buying committees.
So, why do we keep doing the in-person thing?
“Hello? Hey. Hi, are you there?” “Oh, sorry, my mic was off.” “What I … was that … elevate the … cushun and” “Sorry, what was that? You’re breaking up.” “Is that better?” “Yeah, but now we can’t see you.” “Where’s Laura? Is she coming?” “Sorry everyone, technical troubles. I’m here now.” “Uh oh. Looks like we lost Scott.”
Does reading those lines fill you with anxiety? Writing them did for me.
Video conferencing is great for sales because of its ability to get a lot of people together in distant locations for presentations and discovery conversations. But it has its limitations, and technical troubles are only the tip of the iceberg.
In a complex b2b sale, perceived risk is high and trust is critical. While phone calls, emails, and video conferences are great, there is nothing like in-person physical presence to establish and cement trust and alignment.
Hand shakes, eye contact, body language, shared laughter, and the opportunity to socialize and enjoy an experience together are an important human component in trust-building.
Video conferencing just doesn't quite cut it, especially not in a long-cycle, complex deal. As a result, most salespeople in this environment still conduct in-person meetings… unfortunately, however, many are doing it wrong.
Compared to other types of meetings, the in-person meeting is resource-intensive. It takes more time, plus the cost and time involved in transportation. Plus, there are often ancillary costs, such as the coffee, donuts, or lunch that your team brings. If the meeting is out of town, add in the cost of plane tickets, mileage, lodging, and meals.
Compared to a quick join on a video call, this adds up.
For this reason, it’s even more important that in-person meetings be carefully strategized and optimized to make the most of the time and resources.
Yet, in many cases, sales teams are still “winging” this portion of the process. This is partly due to the bad assumption that salespeople are born, not made – so we trust that they just know what they’re doing. It’s also partly due to the assumption that an in-person meeting will be beneficial for its own sake, even if not much is “accomplished.”
To make matters worse, most off-line sales meetings are something of a blind spot in our data, because salespeople don’t record what happens during them. They should be recording this, but they often aren’t, and you can’t really blame them.
Recording the contents of a meeting is a hassle that salespeople usually don’t get much benefit from. It means going back to the office after a long day, opening up a computer, opening up software, and making notes that perhaps no one will ever read. Or, if co-workers do read them, it’ll be to tell them what they’ve done wrong or to steal their “secrets.”
Even when they do record details, it’s often the next day or the next week, when they have some open time to focus on the tedium of it. And a lot of the details have been forgotten.
What if, instead of winging in-person meetings and turning them into a data black hole, our sales teams were engaging in productive pre-planning, with clear goals and activities for each in-person meeting? What if they were accurately and consistently recording the activities and outcomes for each meeting? And what if that data were then used to improve performance in future meetings?
To get the most out of in-person sales meetings, you have to start with a solid foundation of sales strategy, process, methodology, training, and coaching. Then you can apply these steps to ensure your technology enables your in-person meetings just as much as it enables online interactions.
1. Have a clear agenda, prepare well and use technology to augment your efforts
To make each meeting count, make sure that you have a clear agenda that has been agreed upon with the client ahead of the meeting. If you need participants to do some preparation work, make sure to inform everyone well in advance, and remind them ahead of the meeting.
Plan the meeting with your team. Are you clear about the expected outcome? Will everyone that need to be in the room actually attend? If we get drop-outs, what do we do? Reschedule or go ahead without that person? (Usually not a good idea.) What is the first thing we say in the meeting? What should we not say? Do we know what we need to know to provide value in the meeting, or do we need to do more research?
If possible, and applicable, bring a good microphone and connect to a Zoom meeting in the room to record and transcribe what’s being said, so that you can focus less on note-taking and be more attentive (make sure to explain why and get permission.) If there are many people in the meeting, draw an image of your seating with everyone’s name on it, so that you can better remember who said what. Also, if making notes, write down what the client actually says, not your interpretation of what’s being said. I use quotation marks to remind myself of this discipline.” Also take notice of body language when you speak about certain key topics, as they can be difficult to remember later on.
Make sure that your CRM and sales enablement software is focused, and reminds salespeople of the purpose of each meeting, the information they need to gather, who should be present at the meeting, and what actions they should take during the course of the meeting. And remind them to always record the critical information in the same workflow.
2. Hold salespeople accountable to the workflow with reinforcement and coaching
The technology itself can do some of the work of reinforcement by requiring completion of certain stages and checklists before allowing a project, to move forward. But you will also need to reinforce the correct interactions with the software through your training, coaching, and management.
Make sure your training and coaching is aligned with your strategy, process, and workflow. Train your managers and coaches, and hold them accountable to holding your sales team accountable.
Also build training and reinforcement content into the workflows, so that salespeople are prompted to view this content to help them stay on track and build their skills.
3. Use the data from your technology to enable more effective pre-call planning
When your teams are consistently using your workflows and recording correct and accurate information, you will quickly establish a solid set of data for analysis.
You can use this data and the insights from it to optimize your Way of Selling and reinforce changes to your process throughout your sales organization.
Establish a cadence for pre-meeting planning and coaching based on your current best practices, as understood from the past and from data analysis. Make sure the pre-call planning is in the salesperson’s workflow as a required part of their process, along with the agenda and steps for an effective planning session.
In this way, every salesperson will be armed with a clear agenda, tasks to accomplish, and relevant information that will enable them to get the most out of every meeting. Further, these meetings will continue to improve over time as you optimize the process based on the data you collect.
Of course, I believe Membrain is the ideal platform to serve as your sales team’s primary workflow. We would love to show you why–contact us for a demonstration.
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.