For most of you, this month will include a chance to really make a difference in how you approach sales this year—your Annual Sales Meeting. This week’s sales hack is about wringing the most value out of that conference into which someone is pouring great expense and effort. It’s up to you to treat it with a corresponding preparation to see it translate into bigger sales this year.

I think sales reps equally love and hate their annual sales meeting. They love getting together with people they may only get to see once a year. They love picking up on new tips and war stories. They love being thanked for a job well done. They hate the extremely long days sitting in windowless rooms kept colder than the average meat locker, long slide decks featuring bullet after bullet and the sales VP’s rally session where he fist pumps along to: “Let’s hear it everybody — We’re going to crush this year’s goal–Yeaahhh!”

If you’re a sales person reading this post, recognize it’s quite a lot of work to put on this show; a type of work that isn’t everyone’s “thing,” and CEO’s will rarely fail to engage in the most awkward casual conversation ever. No matter how great or awful your Annual Meeting is, your attitude will control what you take away. You can apply the following strategy to any meeting including professional development sessions you attend independent of your company. Let’s dive in.

  1. Plan your conference. First of all, read the agenda in advance. Make any choices in “choice sessions” where you pick between concurrent subjects. Write 2-3 questions or takeaways you’d like/expect to receive from each session. If not answered in the session, you’ll have intelligent questions at the ready to ask. This will forever endear you to the person delivering the session.
  2. Dress appropriately. This is a bigger deal than you’d think as management pays a lot of attention to this. The message you want to send is professionalism. No flip flops, no shorts, no sleeveless shirts, no graphic t-shirts. If there is a cocktail party or more formal dinner, boys wear jacket and tie, and ladies, this is not senior prom. Your goal is not to be remembered for your attire.
  3. Don’t be THAT guy/girl. In life there are times to kick back, knock back a few drinks, and let it all hang out. Your sales meeting is most definitely not one of those times. It is also not a time to engage in any social behavior you wouldn’t want to explain to your mother. If you think indiscretions or pro level partying won’t get back to your boss, think again. Gossip, especially juicy gossip, has strong legs.
  4. Rest, hydrate, eat. Take it from a person that loves to socialize, even seemingly harmless reminiscing and laughing late into the night can throw a wrench in your conference performance. Personally I’m a serial laryngitis sufferer at conferences and have to exercise real discipline not to have to sit out speaking on the last day. I’ve also seen reps fall asleep at conference sessions, miss sessions due to hangovers, and yes—even be hospitalized for over-indulging.   Even a fun-loving boss can’t un-see certain behavior. You know your limits and what it takes for you to be fresh, clear-headed and ready to work at 8 am.
  5. Network. You just never know who is the next regional manager, Sales VP, or even who has the CEO’s ear. Network to meet everyone you can at the conference and leave them with a positive impression. You can do that by shaking their hand warmly, asking them a few genuine questions about their work, avoiding negative talk such as “can you believe what she did,” and by jotting down a few notes about that conversation in your notepad when you have a free minute. The week after the meeting, send each person a short follow up email letting them know it was delightful to meet them, perhaps even connecting on LinkedIn, and you can refer to your notes to add a sentence of detail if you are drawing a blank.
  6. Collect war stories. You will have some great stories to share, but it’s better to receive than give in this case. Particularly when your conference agenda doesn’t include time to share best practices and experiences, you need make this happen on your own. Strategically sit near the top performing and most senior reps who can give you the best advice. Take every chance to ask them, “What’s the best idea you have for prospecting?” Or “How did you start that big district sale you closed?” “What do you think has changed the most about selling to schools since you started?” is a great one for a seasoned rep…you’ll probably get two stories for the price of one as they compare yesterday and today.
  7. Make a note-taking buddy. Nerd out with a colleague by forming a notes-sharing pact. Each of you takes notes at the conference, types them and swaps a week later. This is especially helpful for “choice” sessions that you can’t get to, but even when two people attend the exact same session, you’ll find they can grab different take aways. And since we’re all in education I probably don’t have to add this but I will any way—writing notes and re-typing them adds to your retention by tenfold.
  8. Reflect. On the plane ride home or the next day, schedule an hour or so to review the agenda again, plus your notes. Jot down things you learned from the seasoned vets. Put in your mind’s eye the person you thought cast the most successful image at the conference and think about why you got that impression. Think about who won the top sales awards and what advice they had for the team. Mentally write your acceptance speech for top rep next year!
  9. Send some thank you’s. Many reps are great at thanking customers, but not great at doing this internally. It is totally appropriate to give everyone from the VP’s assistant that booked your travel, to the CEO, to the friend that lent you hairspray a quick email of thanks. And to anyone that helped you have a good experience above and beyond, a handwritten thank you note is a rare and impactful way to show them you appreciated it.

To keep with professional theme, I won’t close this post by wishing you “Have a great time at your Annual Sales Meeting,” but rather, “Learn a lot at your Annual Sales Meeting!”

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