Bringing it Home: The ROI of the Sales Conference

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By Ben Moorsom

When the sales conference is over and your teams are back in the field, are they applying what they learned?

Selling is one of the toughest jobs in any organization. It requires the right mix of motivation, personality and skill to persuade a potential buyer to commit to a deal. And it’s a grind — pursuing leads, relentlessly following up, making them the right offer, all while keeping a close eye on the competition. It’s not for the faint of heart, this job.

To keep the motivation going, organizations stage sales conferences. As with all such events, the aim is to get attendees fired up enough to remain motivated long after it’s over. Unlike contests, which are aimed at generating raw competition within a limited time period, conferences often include an educational element with the expectation that salespeople will retain the learning and ultimately use it to improve their performance once they are back in the field. So how will you drive retention?

Getting Your Priorities Straight

It’s important to ask what you want your/your client’s conference to accomplish. What are your organization’s priorities and how will this conference align with them? What do you expect your attendees to do differently as a result of this conference?

Sales conferences are ultimately opportunities to continue learning about and honing one’s craft. A motivated salesperson will seek out the latest in techniques and technologies and will want to hear from their leaders and other leading practitioners on how to grow their skills and their careers. While the quality of speakers, interactive sessions and presentations is of obvious importance, more critical is that they are selected and designed in such a way that aligns with the themes and priorities of the conference and your organization.

Getting Emotional

Everyone in sales knows that what they do is ultimately an emotional proposition. You don’t close a deal on logic or information alone. While those things are important along the way, they are not what ultimately gets the buyer to sign. The deal closes when you have created enough of an emotional impact with the buyer that they trust what you have to offer. The appeals you make to your sales force at an event need to do the same thing: Create enough of an emotional impact to inspire not just trust, but also retention and action.

Recall is highest when the content is emotionally compelling, regardless of whether it’s a document, a graphic or a cinematic experience. Imagine you are introducing a new, life-saving medication to a gathering of pharmaceutical sales reps. You could jump right into sales tactics, or you could show a video that tells the stories of patients who’ve had their lives saved by the medication. Putting the product into the emotional context of a patient’s life suddenly imbues it with a human dimension, evoking an empathetic response from the audience. This kind of emotional reaction enhances recall for any subsequent material, especially sales strategies and tactics, and helps salespeople emotionally identify with their organization.

Keeping It Positive

One of the mistakes sales organizations make is to use comparisons to improve group performance. The comparison of individual sales results doesn’t capture the fact that performance is determined by a more nuanced combination of motivation, hands-on experience, market conditions and skill, attributes that are essentially unquantifiable. Sales volumes alone don’t tell the story.

The approach therefore needs to be more positive. There should be a constructive, forward-looking emphasis on goals as opposed to past failings. Even if a salesforce has outperformed expectations, motivation can lapse without clear, challenging goals and the support of one’s organization.

Positive feedback is another important consideration. Communicating favourable feedback is an excellent opportunity to encourage salespeople to build on their strengths and tackle even more challenging goals. The concept of positive messaging should be integrated throughout an event platform, interactive sessions, keynotes and multimedia presentations.

Intensity vs. Recovery

The ongoing stress of continuous learning and engagement at a typical conference is just as important to consider as the emotional impact of its messaging. As we have discussed elsewhere, regulating the emotional intensity of the event is key to ensuring that attendees have time to recharge, remain engaged for the entire program and don’t burn out. The timing, frequency, duration and nature of breaks is therefore of vital importance.

Some programs are reliant on intense, persistent messaging throughout the entire event. Attendees become worn out by the volume of content earlier but if the later days of the conference are not adapted to allow cognitive, emotional or physical recovery, exhaustion ensues, along with prolonged recovery time. Thus, more recovery time should be allocated during the latter part of an event. Doing so increases sustained attention.

In addition, it is important to provide enough free time for each attendee to engage in activities that they prefer. When given this freedom, attendees tend to be less emotionally exhausted after the break and report less physical symptoms of strain such as headache, eyestrain and/or lower back pain.

Peer to Peer

It’s easy to forget that bringing people into a single location is a rare opportunity for peers and colleagues who do not often cross paths to connect, socialize, share and learn from each other. Support by peers and supervisors has been linked to applying, to a higher extent, newly learned knowledge and skills. Sales conferences are perfect venues for practitioners to meet, greet and exchange experiences.

As well as providing breaks, event designers should create different opportunities for people to break into small groups for both working sessions and informal networking. Who doesn’t like to share war stories? It’s a way of bonding, finding commonality with your peers, and building team solidarity.

Conclusion

All of these considerations reflect the interplay of emotion and information, of individual and group, and activity and recovery that make up the design of a successful sales conference — one which not only motivates, but penetrates the mind to the extent that attendees return to the field both renewed and equipped to achieve their goals.

Ben Moorsom is the world’s leading practitioner of neuroscaping. Since founding the Debut Group in 1997, Ben has made it his mission to challenge and disrupt ineffective conventions of business communications, pioneering new approaches that engage people and truly capture their attention. By applying advances from psychology and neuroscience, Ben and his team turn audiences into participants. Ben is a frequent keynote speaker and co-conspirator at global conferences on communication thought leadership. www.debutgroup.com

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