Bryce Sanders gives TJ a few options for keeping sales training sessions busy.
Getting commission-based salespeople to show up for sales training can be like trying to herd cats. You survey them, asking ‘How can the firm support your business?’ They say more training would be great. You plan it, they do everything possible to skip it. Is this a game you can’t win?
Commission-based salespeople are hunters: they ‘eat what they kill’. They are paid based on new relationships they open or sales they close. Any minimal salary they officially receive is often expected to be offset by the commissions earned on the revenue they are producing. Commission-based income is their major revenue source.
The rationale often used for skipping meetings is ‘They aren’t paying me to be there.’ They know their time is split between looking for new business, which pays them and doing paperwork in the office. Although they might do business in the office over the phone, doing paperwork doesn’t ring the cash register.
Many firms live in fear of their commission-based salesforce. They are on the revenue side of the equation. Managers and home office personnel are on the expense side of the ledger. An expression I heard years ago in the financial services industry was ‘HOG’. It’s an acronym for ‘Home Office Guy’.
Because firms often give their commission salesforce lots of latitude, it’s difficult to get them to attend sales meetings and training. They assume the couple of hours spent away from their desks is time they aren’t lining up business or doing paperwork. They will need to hurry and catch up upon their return. They just skip the meetings instead.
Not surprisingly, the one meeting everyone attends without cajoling is when they announce the new sales compensation package.
Eleven ways to get them to attend
Here’s the scenario: Your salesforce works out of the main building. There’s a meeting in the conference room today at 4:00 PM. It’s sales training. You are bringing specialised trainers in. This either costs the firm money or is sponsored by a product provider who wants a full room.
You’ve taken the logical steps like giving plenty of advance notice, writing the announcement in their language, so they know what they will learn and how it will benefit them. You schedule it during a slow part of the day. You ask them to confirm attendance and follow-up the laggards. Amazingly, this isn’t working.
Let’s consider eleven ways to get commission based salespeople to attend:
- Pleading. A junior member of the management team visits people in their offices. These sales folks see them coming and pretend to be on the phone.
- Sales manager sweep. The sales manager corrals as many people as they can. They are able to get the newer folks who are still on salary while training along with the borderline producers worried about being fired. They have a tough time getting the top producers in.
- Branch manager attends. Nothing says unimportant like a meeting you are asked to attend, but the manager feels isn’t a good use of their time. Manager attendance shows commitment. Managers have perks they can distribute discretionally. Salespeople want to be seen as team players by the manager, so they attend.
- Senior manager attends. These folks are corporate rock stars. Getting onto their radar screen can be good for your career. Getting on their bad side can be a career breaker. If they are attending, it’s assumed the topic will be important. Maybe your manager is moving elsewhere and they will be introducing the new manager. Some outspoken salespeople have awkward questions they want to ask. Attendance increases.
- Feed them. Although they make great incomes, salespeople will show up for free food. Now you have a captive audience. Ideally the training is presented in one shot. If there’s a break, you will lose some people.
- Continuing education credit. Continuing professional development is a requirement for many licensed professionals. Often, there’s a rush before the deadline to meet the requirements to maintain your licence. If attending the training also counts as one credit, that’s a major motivator to attend.
- Present awards. Many sales people are high achievers. They are proud of it and seek public recognition. If you announce the awards will be given for the top producers in the recent sales sprint, you should get the award recipients to the meeting along with their friends to cheer them on.
- Bell cows. You have several top producers who are team players. They are mentors. They are respected in the office. Get their commitment to attend. Ask them to speak with their circle of friends in the office, encouraging them to attend.
- Give something away. Although your salesforce is paid well enough to buy anything they want, they usually like giveaways. If they know they are getting a book or a promotional item they consider useful, they often attend to get their free gift.
- Take names. It’s the fear factor. Attendance will be taken and the list will be reviewed by someone they fear. It’s the carrot, not the stick. If the firm is going through a restructuring or doing layoffs, most people want to keep their heads down. You don’t want to attract unwanted attention or not be considered a team player.
- Celebrity speaker. In the financial services industry, this might be a portfolio manager for a widely held mutual fund. Hopefully the fund manager has rock star status and is a household name. Senior financial advisers will attend for the opportunity to ask a question. It’s great to tell clients: ‘I know you were concerned about (X). When I saw Mr. Golden-Touch, the lead manager at Golden-Touch Investments I asked him about (X). Here’s what he told me…’
Some approaches are encouraging. Others use different motivators. Different situations often require different approaches.
About the author
Bryce Sanders is President of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc.