Bad sales conferences are like bad sitcoms. And for the exact same reason.
Sitcoms often suck because sitcom writers have no source of inspiration beyond other sitcoms. Something that seems reasonably amusing or comfortingly familiar is then endlessly repeated, from series to series and season to season. So it is with the annual sales conference. The rooms, the slides, the cocktail parties - what they lack in inspiration they make up for in consistency.
Having attended, planned, hosted or spoken at a few dozen sales meetings over the years, let me offer a few dos and don'ts to help you program and execute the Seinfeld of conferences.
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Start with Why. Ask your senior leaders why you need to be doing this meeting at this time. What behavior are you trying to change? Which team members are you trying to elevate or retain? Be specific. Let all your decisions flow from the answers you generate.
Guard the Main Stage. An endless parade of execs and department heads armed with "updates" is just bad programming. This is not T-Ball and they don't all get a chance to bat. Only what's universally new and universally critical gets shared in the big room.
It's the Small Rooms that Matter Anyway. Create a lot of small, planned spaces and breakout groups so that your team can really interact with your execs and with one another.
Tell People Where to Sit. They only get to feel like a full team once a year. If they all sit with their normal packs, you squander that opportunity.
"Imagine There's No Cell Phones..." It's easy if you just do it. Have everyone drop their little cellular children in the day care box. It's transformative.
Spawn Lots of Small, Busy Groups. Assign people to discussion pods. Send designated groups on a digital scavenger hunt. Have them solve a problem.
Plan the Transitions, Skip the Breaks. 200 people can't leave and re-enter a room in 15 minutes. So skip the breaks: they're grownups and can see to their own biological needs. And the space/time continuum dictates that you can't end one session and start another the very next minute, especially if they're in different places.
Don't Over-Program. Nobody's ever said "I just wish there'd been more PowerPoint!" In trying to say enough, you will invariably say too much. Great connections and relationships happen in the white space. So stop filling it all in.
Stop Obsessing About the Answers. Focus on the Questions. I'd love to see a CRO or CEO get up on stage and say "We don't have all the answers...but THESE are the questions we'd like your help answering over the next two days..." Uniting your organization around a common quest like this reframes the entire meeting. Again, transformative.
It's All in the Doing. Nobody ever comes home from a sales meeting raving about what they heard or saw. It's always about what they got to do. So challenge yourself and your senior team to create memorable experiences for your team. They deserve them, and so do you.
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