Think Outside the Event

The key to a good meeting is making sure the adrenaline rush lasts way past the last session.
Apr 01, 2007



The pharmaceutical industry spends untold millions per year on various events, such as plan of action meetings, national sales meetings, and launch events. But is this money well-spent? If a speaker pumps up your sales force in a convention hall, does that message have any effect on your numbers the following week? The following month? Six months later?

The answer can be yes, if you do some other things right.

In my experience, the typical impact of an event looks like Figure 1. Impact on the sales force and market share spikes briefly, then settles close to previous levels.

Begin with this simple idea: An event is always more than just the event. Pre-meeting activities can optimize the on-site experience, while post-meeting activities can reinforce the event's messages. This type of thinking enables a sales force effectiveness strategy that:
  • focuses attention on both the emotional and rational feelings of the audience
  • starts with a blueprint that clearly defines the event outcomes, the desired behaviors, and the tactics that will drive those behaviors
  • combines learning with incentives to encourage participation
  • heightens enthusiasm at the event while allowing ample time for practice
  • ends with post-meeting analysis that helps you refine your tactics and sustain enthusiasm long after the event.

The Logic of Emotion

Anyone who has ever attended a sales meeting knows they can be high-energy affairs. But the role emotion plays in your long-term success might surprise you. Consider these findings from Harvard University's interdisciplinary Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative:

  • Ninety-five percent of thought, emotion, and learning occurs in the unconscious mind.
  • Decision-making and behavior are driven more by unconscious thoughts and feelings than by conscious ones, although the latter are also important.
  • Reason and emotion are not opposites—they are partners who occasionally disagree but depend on one another for success.

Because emotions precede cognition in the decision-making process, they exert a powerful influence on behavior. You need to keep emotional engagement at the forefront during the meeting planning process.

Don't Greenlight Without a Blueprint

Although assessment and analysis are time-honored business tools, companies don't often apply them to meetings. This is understandable: Meetings are so logistically challenging that it's easy to let the tactic wag the strategy.

But proper planning and assessment can help make every event uniquely successful. It's important to bring together a cross-disciplinary team of experts at the planning stage. While each meeting has its own requirements, such a team typically consists of creative directors, producers, organizational development strategists, instructional designers, and project managers.

The first question this group must address is: What are the event objectives? To yield useful insights, this question should be posed from three perspectives.

First, what do you want participants to know as a result of the event? Determine what information the participants need to know—that they don't already know—to be more effective. This may include content related to clinical studies, disease states, the sales process, etc.

Second, how do you want participants to feel as a result of the event? As they return to the field to drive sales volume and market share, what should their emotional state be? Should they feel challenged? Confident? Optimistic? Maybe even a little over-zealous?

Third, and most importantly, what do you want them to do? What specific behaviors will drive share and volume? These actions could involve delivering particular messaging, planning before a sales call, closing a deal, and handling objections.