G.M. Filisko is a Chicago area freelance and former editor for REALTOR® Magazine.
Can't-Miss Sales Meetings
Hold it and they will come, but only if you make it time well spent. Here's what to do, and not to do, to get your team to gladly attend.
February 1, 2009
If you gave sales associates an option—attend a sales meeting or clean their sock drawer—all too often, the sock drawer would win. Right next to the genes for independence and entrepreneurial spirit in sales associates' DNA, there must be another gene that makes them bristle at sitting in an office meeting and listening to a sales manager drone on about office policy.
But you can overcome sales associates' innate aversion to sales meetings and foster better office morale, teamwork, and productivity if your sales meetings provide true value to associates. Here's how to create sales meetings that sales associates will gladly attend.
In today's technology age, why do you even need a sales meeting? You can deliver all the information sales associates need through e-mail, voice mail, or your intranet, right? Not so.
"In the past, without voice mail and e-mail, sales meetings were the principal way to get information out to sales associates. We needed to get people together to keep them updated on new regulations and office policies," says Roger Turcotte, president of Roger Turcotte & Co. LLC in Contoocook, N.H. "Today, the real purpose of a sales meeting is to make sales associates better salespeople—period."
"A sales meeting is where your office's company culture and sales momentum are built," agrees Carol Johnson, president of The Recruiting Network and publisher of Recruitingpipeline.com in Schaumburg, Ill. "Sales associates are very competitive, and when they hear other associates talking shop, telling stories, and asking questions, it ramps up their competitive spirit. Sales meetings also allow you to give recognition to successful associates, which again feeds that competitive spirit. Sales associates who are lagging behind get a nudge by seeing they're not measuring up."
Market Your Meetings
With so much riding on sales meetings, your first big challenge is getting associates to attend. To achieve that goal, make the meetings "can't miss" events.
Start by showing that you consider sales meetings important by doing your own homework. "When managers wing it and don't have anything worth sharing, a couple of those meetings a year kill office momentum," says Johnson. "Sales meetings are just like parties. You have to plan all the ingredients, know what you want to accomplish, and publicize the meeting. Say, 'At this meeting, we'll discuss this and this.' And at the end of each meeting, hype the next meeting."
Promotion begins with the title of your sales meeting. "The title should be about helping sales associates make more money," says Turcotte. "And rather than just posting a flyer, I'm going to leave a voice mail for sales associates; when I see them, I'll ask them to attend. I also use face-to-face encounters to do some informal research. If a particular associate hasn't made many meetings, I'll say, 'John, you haven't attended a meeting in three months. I need to know how you think I can improve the meetings. What can I do to make you feel the meetings are worthwhile?'"
You'll also go a long way toward getting full attendance if sales associates see that top producers are showing up. To get top producers to turn out, make them the stars, suggests Johnson. "Tell them, 'I'd like to have you come and do such and such. Would you do that for me?' Or if you take a top producer out for lunch, you might say, 'I'm really disappointed I haven't seen you at meetings. I could use your support because other sales associates look up to you.'"
What Did You Teach Today?
Another way to make sales meetings a must is to strengthen your own presentations. "One of the biggest mistakes managers make is to use sales meetings as an opportunity to discuss who left the coffee pot on or didn't lock up the office," says Darryl Davis, a speaker and president of Darryl Davis Seminars in Wading River, N.Y. "I'd characterize it as focusing on the logistics of taking care of an office. But that's not who the company is. Every office meeting is a moment of truth to revalidate the company's mission and focus on what's being done to move forward as a team."
"Sales meetings aren't about managers making speeches," adds Turcotte. "Get out of the speechmaking business and focus on the takeaway value of the meeting for your sales associates. After you walk out of a sales meeting, write down the answer to this question: 'My sales associates are better after attending this meeting because . . .' If you can't answer that question, you reassess the value of what you're offering."
Creating value in meetings is easier than you think. "Often managers set a goal for the company and never bring it up again," says Davis. "The office meeting is an opportunity to keep drilling that message home." Davis suggests setting quarterly or monthly company goals, and then using sales meetings to both remind sales associates of that goal and give them the tools to achieve it.
Let's say your goal is to achieve a certain percentage of market share. You can say, "Here's how we're doing with market share." Then use the rest of the meeting as a brief training session to help sales associates achieve the goal by doing something like targeting expired listings.
"At the meeting, tell them you're going to track who has captured the most listings from expireds by a certain date," explains Davis. "Then focus on how to talk to expireds." Tell associates, "We need to discuss how to respond to the common question from expireds about why our company is better than the one they previously listed with. As a team, let's make a list of why our company is stronger than any other company." After every meeting, sales associates should leave the room pumped up because their manager gave them a message or lesson they can hang their hat on for the next week, says Davis.
Another example: Focus on overpriced listings. "You can tell associates, 'I want to spend 10 minutes talking about overpriced listings and why they aren't good for you,'" explains Turcotte. "Do a mini training session offering suggestions for handling sellers whose listings are overpriced. Then set a goal. You might say, 'If we have any properties on the market for longer than x days, and if after doing a CMA you feel the price isn't in line with other properties on the market, I'd like you to talk to the seller about a price reduction. Can we get 50 percent of our long-term listings repriced between now and our next meeting in two weeks?'"
For the next two weeks, when you see sales associates, ask them how they're doing on repricing listings. At the next meeting, revisit the issue. "Ask whether any associates have had success in getting properties repriced," suggests Turcotte. "An associate will say yes and explain how he or she did it. Now you have the sales associate giving credibility to what you've suggested. That closes the circle and encourages others to do it. If you haven't met your 50 percent goal, you can ask, 'Can we keep driving on this for another week?' You'll be surprised that it becomes infectious, and salespeople will want to do it." You'll have both a successful series of meetings and, in all likelihood, more listings that will sell.
"A real estate company exists to make money—period," says Darryl Davis. "Sales meetings should inspire and motivate sales associates to get the heck out of the office to get listings and make sales. Anything that doesn't make that happen means you're moving backward, not forward."
Meeting Dos and Don'ts
Some techniques are perfect for meetings; Others are buzz kills that essentially guarantee sales associates won't attend in the future. Here are the best and worst techniques.
- Get sales associates to interact with you and each other. "I ask questions, ask questions, and ask questions to get sales associates involved," says Scott Nordby, broker and co-owner of Innovative Real Estate Group in Denver. "I ask, 'What are you seeing on your listings? What are buyers in the market saying? Have you heard of any new loan programs?'"
- Encourage shop talk. "We have a round robin and give everyone a chance to participate," says Staige Davis, CEO and broker of Lang McLaughry Spera in South Burlington, Vt., and Hanover, N.H. "Sales associates love it because they get to talk about their new listing or something in the marketplace or to ask a question that somebody else can answer. They get to share, and they get information."
- Acknowledge good work. "Four times a year, we take 10 minutes at the end of the meeting and say, 'This is your opportunity to acknowledge somebody who's done something nice for you,'" explains Nordby. "It's a good team-building exercise."
- Add surprises. "Have unexpected bonuses so that sales associates who otherwise don't think they need to come will," says Turcotte. "Provide sales associates with a physical takeaway, maybe a document from REALTOR.org, a PowerPoint presentation from your franchise, or a research report from your local university's real estate department. When associates who didn't attend come to you and say they didn't get the takeaway, you can say, 'No, you didn't, and I want to ask you why you didn't attend the meeting.' That gives you the opportunity to chat with them about why they didn't come."
- Ask for recruiting leads. "Always ask whether sales associates have worked with a co-op associate they believe you should meet or who they think would be good on your team," advises Johnson. "Some sales associates don't want more competition in the office because they think it hurts their business. It doesn't. It helps everyone because it takes someone out of the competition's camp and draws prospects to your office."
- Reward latecomers or no-shows. Start on time, and don't restart the meeting each time another sales associate wanders in. "We don't ever congratulate people for accomplishments unless they're in the meeting," says Nordby.
- Be a downer. "Never go over policy or anything that could be described as negative—ever," advises Nordby.
- Criticize. "If I have to criticize, I do that in a one-on-one counseling session with the sales associate," explains Turcotte. "Some managers don't like the conflict that comes from sitting with a sales associate so they say at a meeting, 'This might not apply to all of you, but some of you are . . ..' That anonymous criticism is alienating and causes people not to attend."