Getting their attention

September 1, 2002
Kimberly A. Farrell
Kimberly A. Farrell

Kimberly A. Farrell is the CEO of Los Angeles based Unlimited Performance Training(R) Inc. UPT(R) is an educational services corporation specializing in integrated and blended instructor-led and virtual learning and development programs for executives in healthcare. For more information send requests to: or call (800) 877-5755.

Pharmaceutical Representative

Five steps to facilitating a great district meeting.

The meeting concludes and the video camera scans the room to capture the fast departure of sales representatives bolting for the door. But wait – this meeting is different! No one is racing home? Representatives are exchanging ideas, strategies and handouts from their workshops, and laughing? Whose meeting was this? Next time, with five easy steps, it could be yours!

District meetings happen two to six times a year, depending on the life cycle of your products, your company and the need to meet with your sales teams. Most people would agree that district meetings are a great opportunity to educate, train and have representatives practice (role-play) their selling skills. But there can be more to a meeting than educating, training and role-playing. What about motivating? Yes! Inspiring? Yes! Let's look at what it takes to do more than deliver the new marketing message. Let's explore the five key steps to facilitating a great meeting that motivates and inspires.

1) Plan. The best way to have a great meeting is to begin planning it the minute you find out what date it's on. Start thinking about the new product focus, review pre-sent manager meeting material and ask yourself the following questions: How will these new materials fit into our call continuum at this point in time? How will we impact our strategic plan using these resources? What additional material might I need to incorporate?

2) Collaborate. Once you have thought through where the new plan fits into your existing strategic plan, focus on who can help implement the new strategy based on their strengths, career goals, desire and accountability. It is time to shine the spotlight on representatives who love to contribute and be challenged, and who have great ideas to share.

Representatives will often pay more attention to their peers (if they respect them) when they present than they will their manager. It isn't that you weren't the best rep in the region (it is one of the reasons you got promoted, right?), but rather because their team members do what they do today. That matters. Job affiliation is the key phrase in this section. Pick the most creative representative to design the theme around the meeting. Choose the most clinical representative to present the updated product data, and have the district trainer create experiential exercises to involve and reinforce the knowledge and skills needed to implement new sales aids. Pick people who have already demonstrated competency in the area they are leading.

3) Communicate expectations. Make sure all representatives understand that their job is to facilitate a wonderful meeting environment that is productive, useful and motivating. Meet with each of the representatives involved in the design and delivery of the meeting to clearly explain your expectations as to what a successful outcome would look like. Give them creative leadership, but be clear with them about what sales, marketing and session goals they are responsible for delivering in their session. Ask them to put together learning objectives for their session, a timeline, a materials list and activities that will ensure their session is facilitative in nature instead of didactic.

Now focus on the participants. What are they expected to bring, and how should they prepare for and behave during the meeting? Let them know before they arrive. They will feel better knowing they can shine during the facilitative workshops by preparing for opportunities that may allow them to contribute as participants and team members. Now let go. They know how to deliver; it is time to start the meeting!

4) Deliver. Often, when district managers delegate meeting content, they either maintain too much control or interfere with the developmental and creative opportunity for their sales representatives. Reassuring well-prepared representatives that you are confident in their abilities is very important before, during and after their sessions. Spotlighting their work in front of peers is key to their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.

Allowing others to lead sessions is great, but don't forget the role you need to play as the moderator, facilitator of the entire meeting and supporter of the process. Think through a motivating opening that sets the stage for involvement, focus and a high-energy meeting. Demonstrate what it looks like to be well-prepared as the facilitator and coach. Tie in session points from one workshop to the next. Introduce each presenting representative with your reason for choosing him or her to lead on a key subject. This will allow everyone to know you are in charge, supportive of development and willing to model the high standards of delivery you expect from each of them, both in front of their peers and in front of their customers.

5) Follow through. The meeting is over, and your work is still ahead of you. Review all evaluations of the district breakout sessions, and prepare copies for each of your presenters. Send personal notes of appreciation highlighting key strengths that were demonstrated and which you would like to reinforce.

Keep the fire burning! Utilize all modes of communication - letters, faxes, e-mail, voice mail, cell phones - to ensure the key messages from the meeting are used with customers. Think of your one-week, one-month and two-month plans for reinforcing the great behaviors and skills just discussed and practiced. Look at your field travel review form and plan specifically to make observations during each team member's field days on the topics, skills and behaviors covered in the meeting. Recognizing and rewarding these areas of focus is key to follow-through for you as the group leader.

Delivering great meetings is something that happens with your team, not for them. Bringing out the best of your team's talents, and sharing ownership of the meeting, will keep them engaged long after they have left the meeting room. PRMG

Kimberly A. Farrell is the president of Highland Park, IL-based Unlimited Performance Training Inc., an educational services corporation specializing in integrated training solutions designed specifically for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. She is a frequent columnist and speaker, specializing in selling skills programs for district managers and sales representatives selling to customers within the healthcare industry. For more information on Unlimited Performance Training, see its Web site at, or call (847) 681-8815.

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