Brandt On Leadership -- Sales Prevention 101

3 steps to really sticking it to your reps at this year's annual sales meeting.

Well, it's January again, with yet another ridiculous sales forecast hanging over your head like a giant crate full of dynamite and cow pies.

As you sit banging your head against the spreadsheet on your desk, moaning softly, it suddenly comes to you: Why should I suffer alone? Why can't I spread the misery? Why don't I dump my anxiety and the dynamite and the cow pies onto people who'll take the full force of the explosion and complain the least?

It's time again, in other words, to drag your sales people away from their customers and productive work and instead torture them in twisted ways at the annual sales meeting. To help you plan for this hostage crisis in the making, I've prepared a helpful list of essentials, including:

Budget Location: You could spend a lot of money on a great resort, but your bosses would call it a boondoggle, increase your sales targets, and then -- worst of all -- show up themselves, introducing each session with tearful memories of how they started with the company in 1967 in Wichita. Instead, pick a location that hasn't been updated since the 1980s (chrome glamour lights in the bathrooms are reliable indicators) and make sure your reps know that you specifically forbade the hotel to give them keys to the mini-bars in their rooms. The reps will grumble, but you're not going to give them any free time anyway, so what's the diff? This is a working meeting, for cripes sake, not some smarmy Thank You for all their hard work achieving last year's ridiculous forecast.

Cheesy Theme: No bad sales meeting is complete without a motivational theme, logo and slogan that your sales reps can make fun of behind your back. Particularly effective examples of this are corny alliterations and plays on the company name -- GO GlObal with GlObex in 2005 -- or shameless, half-baked rip-offs of recent business best-sellers (Butthead Industries is BUILT TO LAST! in 2005).

Another top tactic is using the carrot of a terrific sales meeting next year (Hawaii in 2006!) if they all work like amphetamine-crazed beavers this year and somehow hit plan. The fun of this approach is that although your reps know you're full of crap (your bosses would never sign off on Hawaii), they'll have to whoop and cheer and order watered-down Mai Tais as if you aren't.

Horrible Agenda: One of the things that your sales reps always appreciate in lieu of time with their families is the opportunity to again hear Bob from accounting summarize the dramatic (if overlooked) achievements of the Controllers' Department over the past year. In fact, don't limit Bob to 45 minutes this year -- give him the extra 45 minutes he deserves and let him explain the new expense form line by footnoted line. Make sure, too, that Bob and the rest of your Home Office presenters use a minimum of 43 fonts for their 87-slide PowerPoints, and that they interrupt themselves to laugh at cryptic inside jokes.

Most important of all, make sure that whoever explains the new forecast and accompa-nying sales materials is a 24-year-old MBA with zero experience in the field. This junior marketing associate should make it abundantly clear that he is not only smarter than everyone in the room, but that he also will get all of them fired if they can't make this sales strategy work. They're just sales reps, after all. He's from the Home Office. His career path is assured.

He may even get your job.

John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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