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How to hold a kick-butt, kickoff sales meeting

By Corey Sommers, Corporate Visions

It’s the start of a new year and across the world, large and small sales teams are gathering – or preparing to gather – to kick off a new season of selling with new products and new and improved ways of selling them. Though the expense of gathering people together can be astronomical – in some cases $10,000 or more per attendee – organizations believe the money spent will, in the long run, improve sales effectiveness.

And yet, the mere mention of a sales kickoff meeting or sales training frequently elicits groans from even the most enthusiastic of salespeople. Sales meetings all too often signify work and personal time wasted; wilted hotel food; metal pitchers sweating and clinking with ice water; dark, cold conference rooms laid out with overly starched tablecloths; and the clicking of one PowerPoint slide after another morning until night.

You know these meetings. The typical agenda looks like this:

1. Opening session
2. Product sessions (slide presentations)
3. Sales methodology training (with or without hands-on role play)
4. Motivational speaker
5. Dinner
6. Team building activity
7. Closing session

Everyone bunkered in for the day – or several days – bombarded with presenter after presenter talking through slide after slide of the latest and greatest product enhancements or pipeline strategies. And you, their fearless sales leader, hoping that they’re absorbing all of this information and will be able to translate it into unprecedented sales in the coming months.

Painful reality

Not only is the process painful for everyone involved, but also, it doesn’t work.

Studies show that people retain less than 20% of what is presented to them. The “first three slides and last three slides” retention rule – which is scientifically proven – is in full effect. And these presentations are typically limitless, in that there’s almost no limit to the number of slides or amount of information crammed onto each individual slide. Slide-based training is about knowledge transfer, not equipping the salesperson with the information in a way that can be used to facilitate customer conversations.

And, except for the possible Q&A session at the end of presentations, these sessions are not normally interactive, so attendees are easily distracted by their PDAs, coffee in the back of the room, or anything else that they find more interesting than what’s being presented. It’s no wonder salespeople hit the bar and wolf down the apps at the end of the day.

A better way

There is hope.

Just as you shouldn’t subject your prospects to droning PowerPoint-based sales presentations delivered in the dark, neither should you force your salespeople – whom you’re trying to teach and inspire! – to sit through one (or more), either.

Instead of telling them what they’re selling and how to sell it, use the session to practice and perfect the whiteboard approach to selling. Start with a “why whiteboard” keynote (PowerPoint doesn’t work, information isn’t retained, sales execs want a conversation, not a presentation, etc.) and then have a subject matter expert or sales leader present a “gold standard” whiteboard presentation. After the stage is set, assemble small teams to work together and leverage a role-play-based, repetitive, simulated sales call approach to present the whiteboard to one another other using a flip chart and markers. You could even end the day with a competition of top performers in front of the entire group.

But you’re not done there. Developing a whiteboard is a great first step, but stopping there really misses the whole point of the endeavor, which is equipping sales with a set of tools, skills, and ultimately, that critical element of knowledge ownership to “raise their game” when engaging with customers and prospects with confidence. You want to give sales mastery of the whiteboard content, structure, and flow; key questions to ask; and objection handling. You also want to equip them with basic whiteboarding skills and best practices so they can confidently present a visual story to a customer or prospect and interactively exchange information.

It works

There are several studies that show participants retain ~70-90% of material when learning in a hands-on, visual fashion. In other words, with pen in hand. It’s not just about memorizing new product information – a whiteboard-based training is designed to be an interactive learning mechanism to transfer solution knowledge quickly and effectively to field personnel who may not possess the “situational flu­ency” and deep domain expertise of tenured and proven salespeople.

When surveyed, participants in whiteboard-based sales training identified a few key factors that contributed to their overwhelming satisfaction with these sessions:

1. The sessions were interactive, with participants able to ask questions, add things to the whiteboard, and share their opinions while learning from others

2. The training was 100% hands-on, facilitating “active learning”

3. The activities encouraged team members to come out of their comfort zone to learn new skills and present in ways they did not think possible

So gather your team, turn on the lights, arm them with a pen and an easel and set them to work. They’re bound to not only stay awake, but be much more effective in the year to come.

 

Killing them Softly with PowerPoint? Wake them up with Whiteboarding!


We’ve all heard the term “death by PowerPoint,” or worse, experienced it.  It refers to the lack of interactivity and boredom engendered by the typical slide presentation.  The term invokes an arresting image that reminds us that, if you want to engage your audience while standing out from your competitors, slides aren’t the answer.

In this post, we’ll look at five ways salespeople can boost performance using “visual storytelling” instead of slides.  Whether using a whiteboard, a flip chart, the back of an envelope or a tablet PC via desktop sharing software, you can integrate the visual storytelling model into your existing sales methodology and apply the approach as a powerful differentiator in competitive and complex selling environments.

Five Ways to Tell Your Story Visually

1. Develop a Powerful Whiteboard “Story” Instead of Bullet Points

Your presentation should be much more than just a list of bullets – it should be a compelling visual narrative designed to showcase your products and services and how they deliver unique value.  For example, you could create a story about a tragic hero (an anonymous customer) who overcomes adversity (the current situation) to attain ultimate glory (the desired state, achieved uniquely by your solution/service).

The story also needs to be visually intriguing, with humorous iconography, and should have a script that goes along with each step.  The whiteboard story should include planned “interaction points” where you’ll engage with the customer to ensure a two-way dialogue.  Stay away from features and benefits. Instead, ask and help answer these specific questions: what’s the impact of sticking with the status quo, and what’s the value of making a change?

2. Stick Figures are More Powerful than Photography

One way people have attempted to fix the PowerPoint problem is by using large photographs and metaphorical imagery with just a few words on the slides.  While this may help make a keynote speech more interesting, it doesn’t advance the cause in a sales cycle, make abstract ideas more concrete, or make complex concepts simpler.

Stick figures and symbols get it done – boxes, circles, arrows, dollar signs…stuff you can draw.  Even more importantly, these hand-drawn visuals can be redrawn by your prospects after you leave the room.  You want your story to “walk the halls” in your absence, right?  You want your prospect to feel smarter and more empowered to promote your story?  Well then, give them the gift of a simple story and visual that helps them understand and react, as well as own and distribute.

3. Visual Storytellers are More Consultative

With the visual storytelling approach, it’s essential that you immerse yourself in the content.  Prospects perceive salespeople with a clicker in their hand as “PowerPoint jockeys.”  You are telling a story that someone else created.  A visual story that you draw, and explain along the way, gives you the credibility.  It confers the knowledge and expertise to you, not the marketing department that created the pretty slides.

In a world where every salesperson wants to appear as a trusted advisor or practice consultative selling, visual storytellers are seen as adding more value, facilitating more engagement, and delivering insight and expertise.  Storytellers get the room to think about their challenges and opportunities in a fresh and interactive way.  Turning on the lights and taking a pen in your hand, as opposed to closing the shades and standing in the shadows of the LCD panel, create an entirely different perception of you and the role you are playing in the room.

4. Create a Sticky Virtual Experience

If you’re part of an inside sales team, or spend much of your sales cycle dealing with prospects over the Web and on the phone, visual storytelling can create a huge point of differentiation. Just because you aren’t face-to-face with the customer doesn’t mean you can’t use whiteboarding techniques.

Using simple Web conferencing software and an inexpensive pen tablet, you can easily simulate a full whiteboarding experience.  This can be the difference between creating a remarkable and memorable sales experience, and sounding and looking like everyone else.

We’ve found that while 50 percent of WebEx viewers intermittently leave a remotely shared PowerPoint presentation to access other applications, the attrition rate is less than 10 percent using the visual storytelling approach.

5. A Whiteboarding Methodology

Great visual stories don’t happen spontaneously.  They are pre-built based on the different moments of truth in the customer buying cycle.  At the beginning, you need to answer the foremost question in the prospect’s mind:  why should I change?  You need a whiteboard that helps them see why their status quo isn’t safe and why they need to consider doing something different.

The next question you need to answer is: why you?  For that you need a visual story that clearly delineates your differences and strengths in contrast to the status quo and the competitive alternatives.  Finally, you need to address the question: why now?  That calls for a visual story that presents the business case and a relevant example of how someone achieved their desired outcomes and realized the projected value.

Each of these is a different, complementary whiteboard that builds on the previous one and develops your story along the decision-making path.

The Reality

Having a good sales process is important, but having something truly provocative to say when you actually interact is essential.  Visual storytelling is the fuel that powers your sales process engine.

 

Marketing’s Job Doesn’t Stop at “Sales Accepted”

Congratulations, marketer!  You’ve generated qualified leads by the dozen that you’re handing over to sales for follow up. Your job is done, right?  Not even close.

SiriusDecisions, a leading marketing and sales effectiveness analyst firm, recently published a blog post called, “Sales Accepted Leads: The Most Important (and Most Overlooked) Step in the Demand Creation Process.”In the post, they encourage using a “marketing qualified” to “sales accepted” status change to ensure qualified leads don’t end up lost in oblivion.

Great and necessary step, but your work doesn’t end there.  Perhaps you’ve set up various triggers to remind sales that they’ve got a hot lead and time’s a wastin’, but beyond that, most marketers essentially abandon the revenue generation process – even though it’s the marketing messaging that grabbed the prospect’s attention in the first place.

Here are three steps for adding value after a lead is qualified and in the sales person’s hands:

Get your messages in a row.

If a prospect has been visiting your website and clicking on and downloading content relating to challenge A, you don’t want your sales rep following up with a message focused on challenge B. Make sure your sales rep can easily see, within the lead management system, which message the prospect responded to. Once that’s established…

Equip your reps with follow-up tools that align to that message.

Don’t stop creating compelling content.  Every marketing message needs to be backed with a corresponding sales talk track.  Equip reps with a call-guide document that provides quick-hitting, additional pieces of insight into the challenge each campaign highlights. Don’t spell out the entire call for them (no good rep reads from a script) – but give them provocative industry facts, grabbers and key points to bring to the conversation. Otherwise, the “follow-up” turns into one email saying, “Hi, I left you a voicemail. Are you interested? When are you available to talk?” (You think we’re joking, but we’ve seen those emails come through. You know who you are.)

Track conversion rates by rep.

In any given month, track how many leads went from sales accepted to sales qualified (the lead is now in the pipeline), broken down by rep. Reps that are showing lower-than-average conversion rates likely need additional messaging coaching to increase their follow-up effectiveness.

 

 

 

Are You a Confuser or Clarifier?

question marks on a blackboard

A couple of quotes from really smart people crossed my desk recently. They highlight a core challenge sales and marketing people need to solve with the messages they create and deliver. Here they are:

“While our access to raw information has grown exponentially, our time to process this information has declined rapidly, which has placed an unprecedented premium on the act of meaning-making.” (George Dyson, Futurist)

“People are information-rich and theory-poor. If you can give them a way of organizing their experience, then their minds are wide open.” (Malcolm Gladwell, Author)

So, the question for you is… Are you a meaning-maker? Do you turn information into theory?

Test yourself, are you a confuser or a clarifier:

  • Confusers pile information on their prospects and customers assuming that more is better. Clarifiers cut through the clutter and make sense of the data to present usable insights.
  • Confusers use lots of industry jargon because they assume their prospects and customers like the lingo and it adds credibility. Clarifiers know better and instead use simple, concrete terms along with metaphors and analogies to make sure their audience understands.
  • Confusers ask lots of questions, expecting their prospects and customers to blurt profound pains and answers they are looking for. Clarifiers know their audience is wondering if they need to change and are looking for relevant, unique ideas on why they should do something different.
  • Confusers use lots of words in their campaigns, communications tools and presentations. Clarifiers tell engaging stories and use lots of visual support including hand drawings and infographics.

This is especially important for your marketing lead generation efforts. Brain science research proves that people respond better to emotional, visual and spoken-­word messaging, yet most B2B demand generation still relies heavily on volumes of written content like whitepapers. Talk about being a confuser. If you want to engage prospects and disrupt their current status quo you have to do better. Check out this video to learn about a new visual storytelling approach for your lead generation programs.

Do you have a confuser vs. clarifier example?
Share it with us and we’ll post it so others can test themselves and their messaging.

 

Salesperson in a box: The reality of virtual sales conversations

Each quarter, we survey more than 600 marketing and sales professionals who work in complex, business-to-business selling environments. This quarter, we focused on the unique challenges associated with virtual selling environments. Here’s what we found:

  1. 58 percent of respondents indicated that they receive insufficient, little or no training for selling over the phone and Web. In fact, the survey found that less than 10 percent of respondents actually feel that they have extensive and relevant training for these types of communications.
  2. When asked how well their organizations have armed them with tools to deliver effective messages in a virtual environment, only 13 percent of respondents felt that they were adequately equipped. More than 50 percent of respondents, however, said that they have insufficient or no tools made available to them.
  3. Respondents noted that more than 64 percent of the time their virtual sales calls involve more than one person, underscoring the need for effective, differentiated messaging and a greater focus on speaking tools for group audiences.

Read the full report
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